Tuesday, May 31, 2016

How to Help your Elderly Loved One Organize their Personal Business Affairs

Let's face it: for most people, getting and staying organized is hard.  Organizing someone else's finances is not easy either. 

So, let's say that the time has come for you to step in and help your elderly friend or relative with their finances.  If you are lucky, they asked for help at a time when they can guide you in figuring out where they left off and where you come in.   If not, it is going to take a bit more time, but it can be done.

Here are some tips:
  1. Assess the level of your involvement.   Are you going to take over everything?  Just pay certain bills?  
  2. Assess the level of your loved one's abilities.   How is s/he doing mentally and physically?  Is s/he able to make good decisions? How is his/her memory? 
  3. Do you need legal help?   Now is the time to consider what types of "Power of Attorney" documents are available and whether you will need to have your loved one sign a document to give you authority to help. If you are going to need to speak with creditors or bankers you will need to have your loved one with you or have documentation that gives you legal authority. 
  4. What is the current state of affairs? Are there any bills that are behind?  Put bills in order of priority.  Health, shelter, goods, other responsibilities.  First look at health care policies. Make sure that insurance is in effect now, and is being paid without fail.   Then make sure that the rent, mortgage, home insurance and local property taxes are paid, as well as utilities.  Then check on how and when groceries and clothes are purchased and whether there are any credit card accounts or other accounts to be paid. And, finally, check on federal taxes, other insurance policies and other bills that may have been forgotten or put aside. 
  5. Check on current income and assets.  Look to see how much money per month your loved one receives and from which source.   Become familiar with other accounts or assets that are owned and the approximate values. 
  6. Organize all of the above into folders, files and lists. 
  7. How can you make your job easier?  You may want to set up online payments, or pay some bills in a lump sum that were previously being paid in small payments every month. 
  8. Is there an emotional/familial piece of this process that you need to deal with?   Unfortunately, some people deal with medical or emotional issues that can make them mistrustful or forgetful and a person who is upset at losing his or her independence may quickly become hostile.  In addition, other family members may mistrust motives.  If it is necessary to have a family meeting, or involve the family doctor, psychologist or attorney now is the time to do so. 
  9. Do your reading.  If you are under 64 years old, Medicare and Social Security Guidelines and procedures may be a mystery to you.  You can find excellent resources on the web, and you should take advantage of them.  You should also be aware that your loved one may need to sign specific powers of attorney for Medicare and other government agencies to give authority to release information to you. 
  10. Take a deep breath. It isn't easy, but soon you will establish your own routine. 
Your estate planning and elder law attorney can help you in this process by giving you advice and by meeting with you and/or your loved one.  

Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Estate Planning, Elder Law
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Monday, May 23, 2016

How to Help Your Friend who is Going Through a Divorce

Seeing someone that you care about in pain is not easy, especially when there is nothing that you can do to help the situation.

Different people react differently to divorce. Few people feel complete and unmitigated joy (although there are some). More often, the emotional affects of divorce range from upsetting to devastating.

If you are close to someone who is going through a divorce, you may not be sure of your role. You want to support them, without overstepping your bounds.  Here is some guidance:

  1. Ask them what they need.   They may not know, but just having the offer lets them know that you are in their corner. 
  2. Give them what they want, not what you want them to have. Individuals vary, but some may want less help rather than more, especially if they are proud of their new independence.  
  3. Respect their boundaries.  Are they declining your offer of help to be polite, or because you are getting too involved? Do they change the subject when you ask certain questions? 
  4. Make sure that they respect your boundaries.   Your friend may need more help than you are willing or able to give.  You may want to serve as babysitter, counselor, and adviser but you should set your pace so you don't wear yourself out and are able to handle your own life as well. Also, playing a role that you are not qualified to play (acting like their lawyer, accountant or psychologist when you are not) can cause more harm than good.
  5. Help in small ways.   Giving a ride to an appointment, babysitting for an hour or two so your friend can have some time alone, offering to pick up groceries or help with other errands, these are all invaluable to someone who is emotionally overwhelmed and going through a lot of changes.   You can also help by referring your friend to a trustworthy lawyer, support group, psychologist, day care, spiritual leader, accountant, or other professional person or service that can help them through this difficult time in their life. 

"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Monday, May 16, 2016

Ok, Your Divorce is Final. Now What?

The long-awaited day has come. Your divorce is final.  The feelings may be bittersweet, or you may be happy but one thing is certain; a new phase of your life has begun.

After the final hearing, there are a few things that should be done to finish up the transition.
  1. Paperwork should be signed to deed the house (and any other real estate) to the person who was awarded the property in the final decree and it should be filed in the appropriate real property records. 
  2. The proper paperwork should be signed to transfer the autos (and boats, trailers, airplanes, or trucks) to the permanent owner. 
  3. All of the personal items should be split and located with the proper party. 
  4. Bank accounts of all types should now belong only to the person who was awarded them in the decree. 
  5. If it has not already happened, any obsolete joint credit accounts should be closed. 
  6. Paperwork should be started or in progress so that retirement accounts are split. (This may require a separate procedure  from your divorce, talk to your attorney about this. Complexity and time to process varies based on the type of account, employer, administrator, and so on). 
  7. Each person should draft a new will, as a single person.
  8. Any account with beneficiary designations should be updated to show new beneficiaries and life insurance policies should be updated as well. 
It is much easier to take care of these items when the divorce is recent, rather than waiting until years later when cooperation may be lower!  

"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Why do I have to deal with this Annoying Discovery?

During divorce cases, we hear a lot of strong feelings from our clients regarding answering discovery requests.  The feelings expressed are not positive ones and some include explicit language we can't repeat here.

Well, we understand that. Answering discovery requires a lot of organization, searching for information, and TIME.  Yes, it surely does.

"I don't have time for this", our clients sometimes say.   "Why do I have to provide this stuff when my spouse already knows this? It is his/her account too!"    "That is none of his business!",  another client might say.

Yep, it can take some time.   And, it may sometimes be information that your spouse does know or should know.

HOWEVER... discovery (although it can be a pain in the backside) is sometimes exactly what your attorney needs to prove your case.  Why?  Because it is your attorney's job to take and use the facts of your situation to show your point of view.  For instance, say that you are asking for support from your spouse (child support, spousal support, temporary or permanent support or all of the above). Well, it is your attorney's job to show that you have expenses, and that you are well-prepared to document what those expenses are now and what those expenses will be in the future.  Now... would you rather your attorney be well-armed and go into the negotiations (or battle) filled with accurate information that can be used to persuade OR would you rather that she be forced to represent you with a vague allegation that you "just need some money?"   Or, even worse, forced to fight for you using only your spouse's figures because you didn't give her enough information?     Hmm....

So, it only makes good sense to cooperate with this request, even though the last thing you need is one more thing to do.  Oh, and by the way, your active participation  in this process has other benefits!  By putting in your effort, you will not only be more persuasive and confident in mediation or court, there is also a good chance that you will spend less money in attorney's fees. The case may even finish more quickly!  By organizing the information and doing your best, you'll save time and therefore money with your lawyer, and you'll have done everything you can to help move the case along.

See, it's not so bad!

"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Monday, May 2, 2016

What happens if you become Ill or Injured while your Divorce is Pending

So.. you've filed for divorce.  You are certain that the marriage cannot be saved.

If something were to happen to you after your divorce is filed, but before it becomes final, what would happen?  Who would make the medical decisions if you couldn't speak for yourself?

In Texas, there is no such thing as a "legal separation". You are either married, or you aren't.

Let's explore what would happen if you were ill or injured and unable to speak for yourself.


Do you already have a Health Care Power of Attorney or other such paperwork in effect? If so, have you appointed your spouse to speak for you?  If the answer is "yes", you should know that those documents are in effect until they are legally withdrawn or replaced.  So, if you have named your spouse, legally that is who would still be able to speak for you.

However, in the above situation, your "alternate" who is listed in your current documents or your other adult family members may bring it to the attention of the doctors and hospital that you are in the process of divorce and that they wish to speak for you instead. Of course, the health care facility would need to perform their own "due diligence" and "risk management" and look into the facts and legalities of your situation, and quickly.

But meanwhile, time is passing.    And you are in a critical situation. Someone has to be able to step up and make that important decision about whether or not the surgery is going to proceed that may save your life....  Result? Will your spouse or another be your "voice"?  It depends on the situation...


In the second scenario, you are unable to speak for yourself, but you have no paperwork in effect.   However, your spouse is still your spouse, and there can still be a delay while your spouse is contacted, the legalities and practicalities of the situation are sorted out, and the health care providers are comfortable that they have the proper persons(s) making decisions.  Final result? It will depend on the circumstances and facts of each situation.  Who will it be?


In the best scenario your health care power of attorney (as well as your durable power of attorney for conducting day-to-day financial business) is current.  That means that you have signed a current document that names someone other than the person that you are currently divorcing as the proper person to make decisions or conduct business for you when you are unable to do so for yourself. There are no surprises and no guesswork.


What if you still want your spouse to speak for you, despite the fact that your marriage is ending? You have two choices a) do nothing or b) sign a new document or addendum that confirms your choice of your spouse as your agent, despite the fact that you are divorcing. This removes guesswork, assures the health care providers that they will not be facing legal liability for honoring your choice, and puts other family members at ease. Otherwise, you are putting your spouse in a difficult situation and precious time may still be wasted.

We advise all of our divorce clients to consider allowing us to update their Health Care Powers of Attorney and Durable Power of Attorney documents when they file for divorce.

Family Law, Wills, Powers of Attorney & Estate Planning

"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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