New offices, more attorneys, new name, Oh My!

sun-3313646_1280Summer is always an exciting time.  The routine of the year is shaken up when summer comes – kids are out of school, families take vacations, work is more relaxed, outdoor festivals erupt every weekend.  You may vow to read that book you’ve had sitting on your bedside table since Christmas, or you may just be excited to have longer days to be able to enjoy the sunshine.  Whether you’re excited about summer activities or dreading having the kids home all day, summer is definitely a time where the usual routines get thrown out the window.

More special needs families can work with us

This summer shook our firm up quite a bit, too.  The Law Office of Pamela Parker has been serving special needs families for about a decade now, but Pam knew the need for good information and good legal services for families with special needs children is so great, than more service was needed.  So we’ve expanded.  A lot.

A new name for the same great firm

The Law Office of Pamela Parker is now Parker Counsel Legal Services, although Pam is still heading up the operation.  We’ve also opened four new offices in three states, and now have five attorneys in addition to Pam helping families design and prepare plans to take care of their special needs children long into the future.

Five locations in three states now serve special needs families

Our original North Austin office is still there serving Austin and Williamson County, but we’ve added a South Austin office to serve Hays County and southern Travis County, including Westlake, Dripping Springs, Circle C, Kyle and Buda.    Meet the attorneys here. 

We’ve also opened two offices in Massachusetts serving Western Mass and the North Shore.  Families can visit us in person in Amherst and Newburyport.  Meet the attorneys here. 

And last but not least,  New Hampshire seacoast families can visit our Portsmouth office to do all their special needs planning.  Meet the attorney here. 

Our attorneys are the best team you could want

But the thing we are most excited about is the legal team we’ve assembled to work with our families.  Our six attorneys are all moms or aunts, with children ranging from nearly newborn to fully grown.  Some of us have special needs kids of our own, some of us have blended families, some of us have twins (!), some are adoptive moms,  some are active in the schools, some do volunteer work in the community, some are married, some are single, some have children at home and some have children in residential group homes, some love to read and some love to watch movies . . . in other words, we are all just like you and we know what your life is like.  That means we really understand the needs you have and can help you come up with solutions to any planning problem you may have.

You don’t need to know what to do, you only need to decide its time to create your plan.  Our team is here to help you figure out what to do, and with our new offices and our new legal team, we can do that for more of you than ever before.

You can give us a call at 1-833-RED-BOOT (833-733-2668) for a short consultation on your needs, or sign up here to have written information mailed to you – Send me information on planning for my special needs child.

Eighteen and armed . . . with all the best documents!

I love having 18 year olds in my office.  They signal they are listening intently to me by making their eyes wide and keeping them trained on me while I talk, but the slight glaze over the eyeball is obvious as they nod and agree and pretend like they understand everything we’recollege students talking about.

Now, don’t get me wrong, they DO understand, but they don’t UNDERSTAND.  They know that the power of attorney means someone else can access their bank account and get money to pay the landlord if for some reason they can’t do it, but they don’t really get why that matters.   They understand that the HIPAA form means everyone they list on it will be able to call the hospital and get information on their condition if they wind up in a car crash far from home, but they don’t really know why we think that might happen.  They understand that the FERPA release will let their parents arrange for a leave of absence from their college if a medical emergency lays them low for a few months, but they really kinda think we’re being ridiculously anxious about things that will never happen.

They don’t yet understand that life is unpredictable.  They don’t yet understand that the unpredictability can cause problems that last for years if they are ignored.  They don’t yet understand that it’s easier to prevent a major problem with a little planning than it is to try and clean up a problem that has grown to an intrusive problem.  They don’t understand that one eviction for nonpayment of rent, one default on tuition payments, one medical emergency where an insurance company gets away with denying services that should have been covered can all have far reaching consequences that affect their life and options for years to come.

But parents understand.  So every 18 year old client that I have, sitting in front of me while I explain the personal legal documents that every adult should have, has a parent or two sitting in the waiting room, who understand.

It’s easy to book an hour and a half appointment for your young adult to complete all the personal legal documents every adult – even young ones – should have.  Give us a call at (512) 587-8182 or (413) 203-9385 or email legal@parkercounsel..com 

Swedish Death Cleaning

Have you heard about this?  As I understand it, there is a tradition in Sweden, verified by the existence of a single word in the Swedish cleaning toolslanguage that means the cleaning and decluttering done by a person who believes that their life is close to the end, of culling your worldly possessions to a manageable amount of meaningful or immediately useful items before you die. Or something like that.  I’m not sure if this is an actual Swedish tradition or merely something we’ve all suddenly started talking about here in the U.S.  Either way, it’s an interesting idea.   You can read more about it here and here.

I’m certainly not opposed to the idea behind Death Cleaning.  However, it seems to me to be the same as the idea behind Spring Cleaning, or behind the “Decluttering” advice, which you can read about here and here.  The only difference I can see is that Swedish Death Cleaning is for people who never got around to Spring Cleaning or Decluttering.   Same thing, just pushed to the last minute.  Maybe, at its heart, Swedish Death Cleaning is the ultimate proof of hardcore procrastination versus your ordinary, garden variety procrastination.

And finally, remember that unless your death cleaning results in throwing every single one of your possessions, you’ll still need a will.  (Had to get that plug in, because taking care of adult business always includes paperwork!)

 

3 Things to know about attorney-client privilege

secret-3037639_1280The term attorney-client privilege is in the news today.  If you have an attorney, or if you are about to hire an attorney, or if you are thinking about an attorney, some of this news may be alarming to read.  So before you go any further, I want to give you three important things to know about attorney-client privilege.

  1. Attorney-client privilege protects confidential information learned by an attorney in the course of consulting with, advising, or representing a person.    Attorney’s can’t give good legal advice if they don’t have good information.  Sometimes the information the attorney needs is something the client doesn’t want other people to know about – like how much money they have, or whether they gave a child up for adoption, or that their mother would make a terrible guardian for their child.  The attorney client privilege is intended to make sure that people feel comfortable telling their attorney all relevant information so that the attorney can give the right legal advice to them.
  2. Attorney-client privilege does NOT protect communications made in order to plan, continue, or cover-up a crime.  If a client confesses a crime to an attorney, that information is covered by attorney-client privilege.  But if the client and attorney discuss how to commit a crime, or if the attorney gives advice on covering up a crime that has already been committed, those communications are not covered by privilege.   An attorney cannot help a person commit a crime, and any communications surrounding such advice or assistance are not protected by privilege.
  3. Attorney-client privilege does NOT apply if the communications aren’t made in a confidential manner.   The attorney-client privilege extends only to communications and information that is intended to be confidential.  If the client discusses information in front of people who are not connected to the representation, it may not be considered confidential.  Talking to or in front of the attorney’s staff is generally the same as talking to the attorney, but if a person discusses information in a public area where others can overhear, that may void the confidentiality.  Clients sometimes want family members to sit in on meetings with their attorney, but doing so might mean that anything discussed in front of the family member loses its attorney-client privilege.

What does this mean for you today?  It means that despite what you may hear in the news, attorney-client privilege is alive and well and will protect your confidential communications with your attorney. This also means that it is safe to answer any questions your attorney needs to ask in order to properly represent you.  If you are hesitant to tell your attorney a sensitive piece of information, ask about confidentiality first and have your attorney explain to you how the privilege works in your specific situation. 

 

Four reasons your special needs child will never be neglected

Special needs parents worry.  I say it a lot because it’s true.  They worry about the day to day, they worry about money for therapies and home-2939310_1280equipment, they worry about school resources, they worry about finding good people to help care for their child, they worry about the future, and most of all, in the back of their mind where they shove the worries they don’t want to have to think about, they worry about their child being abandoned, neglected, and abused.  They worry about the very thing that happened to 35 poor residents of a Chicago-area residential home this week.  You can read the story here.  But the upshot is that a worst case scenario happened and the owners of this residence simply locked the doors and left the residents alone.  Abandoned, neglected and abused in the purest sense of those words.

The good news is that you have the power to eliminate that risk for your child if you plan properly.  Even though your child will probably outlive you, you can still take care of your child long after you have left this earth.  If you do what you need to do, there is every reason to believe that your child will never be one of the forgotten.

Imagine yourself having just completed all the the Four Keys to Special Needs Planning.  Here are the four reasons your special needs child will never be neglected:

  1. People are involved with your child. You have created a community of caregivers who have a way to stay updated on your child, have been asked to participate in your child’s life in whatever way they like, have been given specific permission to communicate with the “official” guardian and trustee for your child, and, most importantly, have been made to feel like they are  a part of the group who is responsible for caring for your child.
  2. Money is available for your child. You have made sure that your child will remain eligible for government benefits and that all other financial resources that may be available for your child are found, maximized, and properly managed.
  3. You have left instructions and details. You have left all the information anyone might need to be able to both care for you child and also to make important decisions about their life and care in a way that is important to you and that takes into account all your child’s strengths and preferences.  You have made sure that this information is accessible and available at short notice whenever needed.
  4. The force of law is on your side.  You have been to a lawyer and have gotten all the paperwork, court orders, and legal mumbo jumbo you need to ensure that your plans are carried out the way you intended.

It’s a big project.  It will take you some time and it will take some money to complete this project, but it is within your reach.   If you haven’t gotten our Special Needs Planning Blueprint yet, click here to request your free copy – Blueprint.

Getting smart with leaving an inheritance to young children

lettle girl with dadAn often overlooked benefit of writing a will and putting together a well thought out estate plan is that you can pass on your values to your children, even if you’re not still physically present.  The most direct way to do this is with what lawyers call the “contingent minors’ trust.”

Even a little can be a lot

If you were to die when your children are still under the age of 18, the law won’t let them have their inheritance directly, but will require it to be managed and directed by an adult until the child is 18.  Unless you say otherwise, as soon as your child blows out those candles on their 18th birthday, they will be handed the whole caboodle to do with as they please.  Even if you don’t think you have very much to leave to anyone, its likely you at least have a house with a small amount of equity, maybe a small employer provided life insurance policy, and maybe a car or two to sell.  Even a very modest estate can wind up leaving $20,000 or so to your kids, and if you don’t think an 18 year old should be left unsupervised with $20,000, then you need to set up a minor’s trust.

What is a trust?

A trust is a way of owning property that gives the right to use the money to one person and the right to manage the money to another. In the case of a contingent minor’s trust, your will would say that if your children are under the age of 18 when you die, you want their share of the inheritance to be put into a trust for their benefit, to be managed by a person that you choose.

And then things get interesting.  By creating a trust, you can direct how and when the money is used.  This is how you are able to pass on more than just things, but also your values and priorities to your children.  With the inheritance in a trust account, the age at which the child is given the money can be delayed to any age you choose, and the trustee can be directed to use the money according to your priorities.

EXAMPLE ONE

Parent writes their will when the children are very young and parent has no idea what the child will be interested in as an adult nor does the parent have any idea how responsible the child is likely to be.  The trust is written to maximize protection and also cover a broad array of possible expenses.  As an example, the trust says that the trustee can spend money to pay for higher education expenses, vocational training, or a down payment on a home.  The trustee will remain in control until the child reaches age 25, at which time 1/2 the remaining money will be distributed to the child, and the remaining amount at the age of 30.

EXAMPLE TWO

Parent revises will when the children are in their late teens.  Parent has been very successful in business and has an estate of about two million, meaning the children will receive a fairly large inheritance.  Parent is concerned that children learn how to support themselves and manage money, so the trust is written to promote those goals.  As an example, the trust says that the trustee may pay for higher education expenses as long as progress is being made toward a degree, or may pay for startup costs of a business with a well designed business plan.  The trust may not pay ordinary living expenses more than one year after graduation.  The child may become co-trustee at the age of 26 in order to learn money management skills with the guidance of the older trustee.

Your values in action

Both of these examples show the parent basically offering support to their child in the same way that they would if they were alive.  If the amount of the trust is large, it can continue to age 30, 35, or older.  Or if you believe in learning by doing, you can distribute parts of the trust directly to the child to learn or fail on their own. The trustee can be given the discretion to use the money for education and living expenses only, or to pay for travel and sightseeing or other life experiences besides formal education.  In other words, your own priorities as a parent can be built into the trust.

To learn more about using trusts in your estate plan, send us a note or give us a call.  We’re always happy to do short consults to help you decide if its time to bite the bullet and do your estate plan.

 

Lights!

Today is the anniversary of the invention of the electric light bulb, a monumental moment in the development of modern life.  Personally, I think the invention of the disposable paper nose tissue was the single greatest invention for the improvement of quality of life, but there are no documentaries about it’s origins, so instead I will offer you this 1922 look at a day in the life of Thomas Edison.

Not all your “property” is yours

confused ladyDid you know that some of what you think you own might not actually be yours?

I help people decide what they want to do with their property at their death. I write documents that ensure that their wishes can be carried out.  As part of my job, I ask people about the property they own.  And what I know because of this, is that most people don’t have clue about online property.

It’s important to know what property is yours.  That sounds like an unnecessary statement to make, but we actually have a lot of property that we believe is ours, but that actually is not.  And that can cause you problems. If not now, it can cause problems later on for the people you thought you left the property to at your death.

Almost everyone has digital property. Online accounts for social media, blogs, websites, email are all types of digital property, as well as any files you place on those accounts.  But some of that “property” is not really yours.  Take, for example, a facebook account. Most American adults have a facebook account, and many of us use it as a repository for photographs, as well as an ad hoc diary of our life.  But the account is not actually owned by you.  It is actually owned by Facebook, and they retain nearly all rights to determine if and how you get to keep the account and the files housed there.  The practical effect of this is that when you have personally meaningful files stored there, most commonly photographs, you risk losing access to all of them if you do not have backups on your own computer or storage device, such as a flashdrive, hard disk, or CD.

Cloud storage companies are used by many people for their valuable photo and text files.  Some act simply as a storage service for files that you retain ownership of.  Others may simply be a location to display files but the company has no obligation to make those files accessible to you.

It’s complicated.  You must be absolutely sure you know what you are doing when you upload files to the internet, or you must be absolutely sure that you have those files backed up on storage devices within your possession.

Carelessness with your digital property might mean you actually lose your property completely, or that your loved ones cannot get access to it after your death.

If you have questions about your digital property and how to protect it, call the Austin Texas office of Pamela Parker.

Sarah Silverman’s Scary ICU Story

Comedian Sarah Silverman announced today (read her facebook post here) that she’s spent the last week in the hospital in intensive care after going to her doctor about a sore throat.  It turns out she had a potentially life threatening bacterial infection.  Her medical team knocked her out during the many days of treatment, so she was completely, and suddenly without warning, out of commission.  She calls herself “insanely lucky” to be alive.

Preparing for short term disability isn’t something most people think about, but it’s immensely important.  If you find yourself unexpectedly out of commission like Silverman did, without advance planning documents like HIPAA releases and medical and durable powers of attorney, your friends and family might have a really difficult time getting information about your condition, and on the much worse end of the spectrum, you might find that your rent or mortgage check didn’t get turned in and you now have either big late fees or, even worse, an eviction notice to deal with.

Just listen to the morning traffic report and its long list of accidents and you’ll know that many people are likely finding themselves in this vulnerable position.  You, however, can take care of this right now while you’re thinking about.  Call your local friendly lawyer and ask about getting your death and disability planning done now.

 

So Prince didn’t have a will. Does it really matter?

As always when a celebrity dies, a few days after news of the death you will find mentions of whether or not there was a will.  Why?  Who cares?  And beyond the public’s curiosity, does it even matter if there was a will?

Yes, there are a lot of reasons why it matters, and here’s a few of those reasons.

  • The public loves dirt.  Wills are filed with the court and become public.  So if a celebrity has a secret lover, or is disinheriting a child, or wants a long time employee to inherit everything, the public gets to know.  They want a window into the private life of high profile people, and a will often gives them that.  Which is precisely why most celebrities use trusts in addition to a will to protect their personal affairs.  Trusts are not available to the public, and the particulars of who gets what stay private.
  • We want to know if the celebrity was smart or not.  Anyone with an estate over about six million dollars has the potential to pay federal estate taxes, a tax that is in addition to ordinary income taxes.  Estate planning allows people with large estate to minimize the amount of estate tax paid when they die, in much the same way itemizing your tax returns can save on income taxes over simply taking the standard deduction.  It’s perfectly legal and quite prudent to do what you can to minimize the estate tax owed, but if no will or any other planning has been done, the estate may pay large amounts to the federal government that could have gone to the heirs. When a celebrity dies without a will, it almost certainly means that “too much” will be paid in taxes.
  • Lives are complicated, and not everyone you love is related by blood.  When there is no will, the only people who can inherit are those related by blood (or adoption in most cases).  Which blood relations inherit depends on the individual state laws, but no one who is not related can inherit from someone who is not a blood relation or a spouse at the time of the death.  Celebrities with large estates have the means to spread their love around, and they often do . . . but the court cannot award anyone, even those who were clearly close and clearly financially dependent on a celebrity, anything not provided for in a will or trust.
  • Are we going to remember the person, or the mess?  The old saying “death is a part of life” doesn’t just mean that all life includes death.  It also means that all the circumstances surrounding your own death become part of your life story.  If your death without a will, or with a poorly written will, means that your name is forever after mentioned with a tag line that goes something like ” . . . and s/he left such a mess when s/he died,” then you have obscured the good things about your life for eternity.  Who among us can think of Anna Nicole Smith without also thinking about the long and bizarre court battles over her estate?  Who among us doesn’t have at least one relative who died without a will and caused all sorts of stress and problems for the family?

It’s too early to know if Prince’s life and work will be marred by ongoing stories about his estate, but by failing to write a will he certainly did not protect his legacy the way he protected his music during his long career.  Even we less purple humans can protect what we have and those we love.