With the risks still posed by COVID-19, we all need to face the possibility that we could get sick, even if we take great care of ourselves through good nutrition, sleep, and exercise. And even if you don’t need to be hospitalized, if you do experience symptoms and test positive, you might have to stay quarantined for enough time that you’d lose income. These risks highlight the need for everyone, regardless of their age or current state of health, to consider some form of disability insurance coverage.

You might think you don’t need disability insurance, especially if you’re young and in good health. Hopefully, you’re right. Unfortunately, though, becoming disabled can happen to anyone at any time. This isn’t specific to coronavirus either; it has always been true.

The Americans with Disabilities Act has detailed specifics on what a disability is, but the most basic definition is that an individual has “A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.” That can apply to a car-accident or other injury, or a debilitating illness documented by a doctor, including mental illness.

The sad fact is that, according to the US government’s statistics, one in four 20-year-olds become disabled before reaching retirement age. That makes it all the more important that you consider how to protect yourself with insurance.

And this is very important: you must get the actual insurance before something happens. If you’re already sick, you can’t buy disability insurance to make up for lost income.

So now is the time to make a plan. Here’s some information to get you started.

What Qualifies You for Benefits (And What Doesn’t)

Let’s get clear on one thing that applies to the coronavirus pandemic: only medical quarantine qualifies you for disability benefits. That means only medical self-quarantine related to COVID-19, which is verified by a doctor, will qualify you. Socially quarantining to decrease your chance of contracting the virus in the first place won’t qualify you for your disability insurance benefits. Disability insurance also won’t cover you if you lose income or health insurance because your employer has closed or laid you off.

Also, disability insurance is not the same as health insurance. Though your failed health is the reason you’d get access to your disability insurance in the first place, disability insurance will not cover your medical bills. Disability benefits are basically to help you pay housing and food costs. But in a time when you’re dealing with disability, it’s good to have those bills covered while you are focused on healing and self-care.

There are two different types of disability insurance, and knowing the difference will help you save a lot of time.

Short-Term Disability Insurance

Short-term disability insurance normally lasts around 3–6 months, sometimes up to a year or two years. It covers about 60–70% of whatever your salary is. The premiums you pay are often higher than long term coverage, ranging from 1–3% of your annual income. So for someone making $50k a year, it would range between $60 to $125 every month. The percentage depends on what kind of health risks the insurance company determines you have. If you smoke, for instance, the premium will probably be higher, just like with many health insurance policies. If you have a risky job, such as dealing with heavy machinery, premiums will likely be higher as well. A major upside, though, is that payouts usually happen within two weeks, which can be a huge relief in an emergency.

Financial expert Dave Ramsey points out that, because of the higher premiums and shorter span of coverage time, you might want to consider building up a solid emergency fund with 3–6 months of expenses instead. You can consider that personal short-term disability coverage that you don’t have to pay premiums on. But if you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck and can’t foresee saving that much (like 80% of American workers, according to CNBC), and your employer doesn’t offer short-term disability insurance, it is something you may want to consider buying yourself.

Long-Term Disability Insurance

This is the type of insurance that is most important to get, no matter what. This is the type that will last through a long recovery or treatment period. Look for a “non-cancellable insurance policy”, which will keep the insurance company from being able to cancel your policy if you have any health changes.

Long-term disability insurance may pay you benefits for a few years or until your disability ends. Most policies cover 40–60% of your salary, but ones that pay up to 70% do exist, and you should try to find one. These policies also cost 1–3% of your yearly income, but they tend to be on the lower side than short-term. A major difference between the two forms of insurance is that it can take up to 6 months to see a payout. This means that it’s not the best option for covering costs if you have to go into medical quarantine for COVID-19.

We recommend that, even if you decide to pass on short-term disability in favor of emergency fund savings (or if your employee already covers it), you should definitely consider a long-term policy to protect your earnings. Remember, though, it will only pay a percentage of the income you’d be taking in otherwise. Make sure you also have health insurance and as much savings as you can get to protect yourself as well.

The pandemic is causing us to consider a lot of things that we may not have before, even if maybe we should have.

It brings to mind something a colleague of mine shared. One unremarkable weekend, she left her small children with a babysitter and headed out to enjoy dinner at a restaurant with her husband. But as she sat there, a thought crept into her head that she couldn’t let go.

What would happen to her kids, she thought, if she and her husband got into a car accident on the way home?

And even though my colleague is an estate planning lawyer herself, and she had a will at home naming guardians for her kids, she didn’t have a definite and clear answer that provided the comfort she wanted. Her will was in a vault, and her named legal guardians lived thousands of miles away.  It was that thought that spurred her to take action, not only for her own family, but to create tools and resources for others as well.

If you’d like to read the book she wrote as a result of her own discoveries, it’s called “Wear Clean Underwear: A Fast, Fun, Friendly—and Essential—Guide to Legal Planning for Busy Parents” and it’s the best-selling book on legal planning for families. We’d love to send it to you as our gift. Simply email us at liz@lizsmtihlaw.com or call us at 907-312-5436 and ask for your copy, and we’ll send it your way, free.

One thing you’ll discover in the book is that even naming a legal guardian in your will is often not enough to keep your kids out of the care of strangers, or someone you wouldn’t want, if something happens to you.

Chances of COVID-19 Infection in the Family

If you are young and healthy, it might be hard to imagine that you won’t be there to care for your kids. But if the COVID-19 pandemic is showing us anything, it’s that even a healthy person can contract a serious illness that leaves them incapacitated and unable to care for their children.

If there is more than one adult in the house, that may alleviate  some of your worry. While naming  legal guardians for your kids may feel especially urgent for a single parent, parents with partners aren’t off the hook. You should take precautions though, especially since there are high infection rates among people who live in the same household.

A professor at the University of Florida has found a more than 19% chance that someone else in the household of a person infected with COVID-19 will also contract the disease. Researchers estimate the average incubation time is about four days and could be infectious for up to two weeks. That means it’s not outside the realm of possibility that you and your partner could both contract the illness, possibly at the same time.

An Easy Way to Find Guardians for Your Children

Even if you never contract COVID-19, you are of course still human, and vulnerable to accidents and other dangers that could separate you from your kids—either temporarily or permanently.

Last week, we referred to one way to handle parental guilt: naming temporary and permanent legal guardians for your children. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to give you a guilt trip right now! But I am encouraging you to take action if you haven’t already, and I’m going to show you a very easy (and free!) tool to use to get you started.

Go to this website right now and name guardians for your children in a legal document, and then have it reviewed by us. When we review your legal document (or your will if you already have one), we can discuss who would care for your children in the immediate term if something happens to you, even on a short-term basis. 

And, if you are having a difficult time deciding who to name as legal guardians for your children, we can even help you make the right decisions.

Officially answering the question of who will care for your kids if you can’t—even for a short time—is one of the best things you can do right now. It is a real, concrete way you can protect your kids during this scary period of time. We’ve made it as easy as possible for you to get it done quickly, so you can have peace of mind that your kids’ future is secure no matter what happens.

If you need help with the process, please do give us a call and we’ll be glad to walk you through it.

If you’re a parent, you may feel even more guilty than usual.  If so, you are definitely not alone. Currently, the burden is on you to both carry on with your work and manage your child’s full-time care and education. Two full-time jobs that you’re trying to do by yourself, likely without teachers or care providers to help you.

If you are like most parents, you were probably struggling with guilt even before the virus. You simply can’t make it to every award ceremony or recital, and you might not have as much time to play with your kids or help them with their homework as you’d like. Those feelings of guilt may now be compounded by all the additional responsibilities you’ve had to take on in a short space of time.

Take a deep breath, and let me let you off the hook here for a minute. I have no doubt you are doing the best you can, and your kids see it, and know it too, even when they are being ungrateful pains in the rear.

I’ve got a few ideas about how to shift the guilt. They’re a little unconventional, but I invite you to give them a try and then message me to let me know how they went. We love hearing from you.

Let’s start with one thing that is fully within your control, can help to alleviate feelings that you are not doing enough, and that you can get handled easily, for free, right now— name legal guardians for your kids, so the people you want will take care of them, if anything happens to you.

Name Legal Guardians

If you have not already legally documented who you would want to raise your children, if you could not finish doing it yourself for any reason, start here right now and name legal guardians using this free website I have for you to get it done. It’s free. It’s easy. And the site guides you through who to choose and creates a document for you. The tools on this site are really valuable, however, in some states, including Alaska, you must name guardians in your will to be legally binding. Check out the free tools I have made available for you, and take the first step in documenting your wishes. Then let’s get you taken care of with a will if you do not already have one. (And if you already have guardians named, these resources will take you many steps further than your will does by naming temporary guardians if necessary, and much more!).

Legally documenting your choices for who you want to take care of your kids if you can’t is a great first step to getting legal planning in place for the people you love. (Yes, I said “choices” because you want to name at least one person with two alternates.) And, doing so can provide you with a lot of relief, if you have not taken care of this yet for your kids.

After you are done, contact us for a no-charge review of the documents, and we’ll guide you to the next step in ensuring the well-being and care of your kids (and your assets), if something happens to you.

If the parents get sick with COVID-19, this is one of the most important things you can do for your kids right now, and we’re making it as easy as possible for you to get started with it.

So that’s one way we can support you to remove some of that mom or pop guilt you may have. And, here’s another…

Quality TIme Doing…Nothing

While you’re probably already spending a significant amount of time with your kids, it may not be very high quality.

But you may be too tired or overwhelmed to plan big activities, or the things you used to do for “quality time” may not be available.

So, what’s a parent to do?
Nothing.

Yes, you read that right, nothing.

If you can take 15 minutes or so out of your day and do nothing with your child, it could be the best 15 minutes you spend with them, and with yourself, all day. Maybe you’ll even be able to stretch it to 30, 45 or 60 minutes of nothing.

It’s truly one of the best gifts you can give to your kids, and the best part is you don’t have to do anything.

We hope this idea provides some relief from the guilt. You don’t have to DO as much as you think. Mostly, your kids really just want to know you are there, and will give them your full attention, without screens, even if they aren’t paying attention to you.

Talk About It

If you’re on an emotional roller-coaster right now, your kids are probably having some similar struggles. This is an opportunity to connect with them, and a good time to show them a little vulnerability of your own. Remember how important sharing words of love and comfort can be, both to them and to you.

A friend of mine has three kids ranging from eight to fourteen, and she recently told me a story about a very special conversation with one of her children.

After my friend had spent a few weeks juggling school, work responsibilities, and a million other household duties, she was feeling worn out and discouraged.

Then she took a quiet moment to just sit around and talk with her tween daughter and share some of what was going on for her, that it was hard, and how she was making it through. Out of the blue, to my friend’s surprise and gratitude, her child gave her a big hug and said, “You do so much to take care of us all the time. That must be so hard. Thank you.”

This special moment filled my friend’s heart, and it has gotten her through some tough days. And it never would have happened if she hadn’t taken a little time out to just talk with her kid, without a particular agenda.

Reach out for Support

If you have been feeling really alone and need support, reach out for help. Sometimes venting to your friends is enough, and chances are they’ll be able to relate! But if you are not getting the support you need, there are professionals who will communicate via phone and even text message. You can find local therapists and phone, video, and online therapists through Psychology Today’s directory.

Or, if family dynamics are rearing their head during these stressful times, and you want to keep your family out of court and conflict, give us a call to see how we can help.

Wills, trusts, health care directives, powers of attorney, and legal guardian nominations are on many of our hearts and minds as COVID-19 compels us to face our own fragility and mortality.

It’s not as if we didn’t know we would all die (or become incapacitated) one day, but within our current reality, that “one day” has become an ever more real possibility. And one way to feel more in control over what’s happening out there is to make sure we all have our legal affairs in order at home. That way, if it does happen now, our families aren’t left with a big mess to clean up while they are grieving.

If you are trying to get your financial house in order right now, you may be just getting some basic documents in place. You may even be doing it yourself.

If that’s the case, it’s very important for you to know that the cost of a failed plan can be very high for the people you love. Plus if your documents are not properly signed, they will not work—period. End of story. And if your documents don’t work, your family could be stuck in court or conflict, which is probably the exact thing you want to avoid by handling your estate planning now.

There are many ways that plans fail, but one of the worst ways we see is when someone starts a plan and doesn’t get it signed properly. You do not want this to happen to your family, trust me. If you care enough about estate planning, you will want to make sure your plan will work when your family needs it.

That means you need to make sure your legal documents are actually signed, and signed in the right way. Some legal documents require two witnesses and some require notarization; however, in today’s social-distancing reality, these signatures could be difficult to come by. Some states have allowed remote notarization, others have not. In Alaska, the legislature has allowed for remote signatures on wills, but there are strict requirements to follow. So much so, that I am not recommending it to clients unless there are extenuating circumstances.

While we understand you likely have a desire to get documents in place now, we also believe there is going to be a significant increase in conflict and litigation as a result of DIY estate planning documents. Let’s keep that from happening to the people you love. If you want to get your plan done the right way, contact us and let’s have a 15-minute conversation about your next steps.

Both wills and trusts are estate planning documents that can be used to pass your wealth and property to your loved ones upon your death. However, trusts come with some distinct advantages over wills that you should consider when creating your plan.

Here are four reasons you might want to consider creating a trust as added protection and convenience for those you love:

1. Avoidance of probate

One of the primary advantages a living trust has over a will is that a living trust does not have to go through probate. Probate is the court process through which assets not owned by a trust and not transferred automatically through beneficiary designation (for example) are distributed to your heirs upon your death.

During probate, the court oversees your will’s administration, ensuring your property is distributed according to your wishes, with automatic supervision to handle any disputes. Probate proceedings can drag out for months or even years, and your family will likely have to hire an attorney to represent them, which can result in costly legal fees that can drain your estate.

Bottom line: If your estate plan consists of a will alone, you are guaranteeing your family will have to go to court if you become incapacitated or when you die.


However, if your assets are titled properly in the name of your living trust, your family could avoid court altogether. In fact, assets held in a trust pass directly to your loved ones upon your death, without the need for any court intervention whatsoever. This can save your loved ones major time, money, and stress while dealing with the aftermath of your death.

2. Privacy
Probate is not only costly and time consuming, it’s also public. Once in probate, your will becomes part of the public record. This means anyone who’s interested can see the contents of your estate, who your beneficiaries are, as well as what and how much your loved ones inherit, making them tempting targets for frauds and scammers.

Using a living trust, the distribution of your assets can happen in the privacy of our office, so the contents and terms of your trust will remain completely private. The only instance in which your trust would become open to the public is if someone challenges the document in court.

3. A plan for incapacity

A will only governs the distribution of your assets upon your death. It offers zero protection if you become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions about your own medical, financial, and legal needs. If you become incapacitated with only a will in place, your family will have to petition the court to appoint a guardian to handle your affairs.

Like probate, guardianship proceedings can be extremely costly, time consuming, and emotional for your loved ones. And there’s always the possibility that the court could appoint a family member you’d never want making such critical decisions on your behalf. Or the court might even select a professional guardian, putting a total stranger in control of just about every aspect of your life.

With a living trust, however, you can include provisions that appoint someone of your choosing—not the court’s—to handle your assets if you’re unable to do so. Combined with a well-drafted medical power of attorney and living will, a trust can keep your family out of court and conflict in the event of your incapacity.

4. Enhanced control over asset distribution

Another advantage a trust has over just having a will is the level of control they offer you when it comes to distributing assets to your heirs. By using a trust, you can specify when and how your heirs will receive your assets after your death.

For example, you could stipulate in the trust’s terms that the assets can only be distributed upon certain life events, such as the completion of college or purchase of a home. Or you might spread out distribution of assets over your beneficiaries lifetime, releasing a percentage of the assets at different ages or life stages.

In this way, you can help prevent your beneficiaries from blowing through their inheritance all at once, and offer incentives for them to demonstrate responsible behavior. Plus, as long as the assets are held in trust, they’re protected from the beneficiaries’ creditors, lawsuits, and divorce, which is something else wills don’t provide.

If, for some reason, you do not want a living trust, you can use a testamentary trust to establish trusts in your will. A testamentary trust will not keep your family out of court, but it can allow you to control how and when your heirs receive your assets after your death.


An informed decision

The best way for you to determine whether or not your estate plan should include a living trust, a testamentary trust, or no trust at all is to meet with your Personal Family Lawyer® for a Life & Legacy Planning Session. During this process, we’ll take you through an analysis of your personal assets, your family dynamics, what’s most important to you, and what will happen for your loved ones when you become incapacitated or die.

Sitting down with your Personal Family Lawyer® to discuss your family’s planning needs will empower you to feel 100% confident that you have the right combination of planning solutions in place for your family’s unique circumstances. Schedule your appointment with Liz today to get started.

If you or your parents have a retirement account, (or any investment accounts for that matter) now is the time to get connected to how those accounts are invested. While you may have outsourced all of this to a broker in the past, you can no longer afford to allow your investments to be made without your clear understanding of exactly what you are investing in, how and whether your investments align with your plans for the future.  

My colleague shared a story that hit home with me, and it may for you as well.

After my colleague’s grandmother died, her grandmother’s retirement and investment accounts went directly to her mom, due to the estate planning they had set up. No court process. No intervention. No conflict. Great!

But my colleague’s mom then never looked at the investments in those accounts. She just let them stay as they were for four years, until finally, her daughters convinced her to look.

When they did look, they were mortified to find that, even though the investments should have been gaining with the bull market we’ve been in for the last many years, the accounts had actually decreased over the years from $100,000 to $60,000. If my colleague and her mom had looked at these accounts and re-allocated them when grandma died, this would not have been the case.

Fast forward to now, and the daughters think to look at mom’s retirement accounts with her, only to discover that mom has a 401k with $180,000 in it and it’s lost $17,000 over the last two weeks. Mom had picked her investments with the help of a friend many, many years before, and hadn’t looked at those investments since.

My colleague’s mom is mostly invested in high-growth ETFs, which may have been the right choice when she was building her retirement fund, but definitely is not the right choice given that she retires next year and will need to start making withdrawals to replace her income.

If mom doesn’t get her money into safer investments now, her daughters could end up needing to support her for the rest of her life.

So, why am I sharing this story with you?

Because now is the time for you to get connected to your investments, even if they are in a retirement account and invested through a broker or advisor. This is simply not the time to set it and forget it. It’s time to know what you have, and make intentional, aware choices about how your resources (and your parent’s resources) are being used.

Now is the time to truly understand what you have, and use it wisely.

Educate Yourself

If you or your parents have a retirement account, and you are not intimately connected to how your assets are being invested, it’s time to get more involved.

Log in to your retirement account or pull your last statement and look. Many brokerages select investment funds for their clients’ portfolios based on rates of growth. They’ll offer investment options based on a few tiers of growth and risk, and very often you have no idea what your assets are actually invested in.

Labels like “slow-growth” or “conservative” or “high-growth” or “income” aren’t enough to tell you exactly where your money is invested. So what you want to do now is look at your statement, which should contain the names of the funds chosen for you, and you can go from there to do your research. Look up each of the funds on sites like Yahoo Finance to see what you are investing in, and whether you understand these companies, believe in their future growth, and want to stay invested there.

If your investments are tied to an index, like the S&P, are you willing to keep betting on its growth? If not, now may be the time to make a shift. It’s possible that you have some losses right now, so you’ll have to decide if you want to lock in and limit those losses (and potentially trade some future gains even) to get more connected to what you are investing in now.

Go through this process with your parents, too. The money they have invested in the stock market is part of your overall family wealth. If it’s not there to support them through their senior years, that financial responsibility will eventually fall to you. Having these conversations with them now can be difficult, but it’s important. And if you need help with this, please let us know, and we can support you as you raise these issues with them.

If you have a broker you work with, call them now, and ask to get on a video conference. Then, have them help you review each investment, why it’s been chosen, and whether there may be better or other options for you or your parents.

Here’s the key: make sure you understand it, and don’t hang up the phone until you do. If your broker is using words you don’t understand, or jargon, keep asking questions until you do understand.

If you need a referral to an advisor, or want us to sit down with you to help you look at what you have, give us a call.

With everything that is happening in the world—and with the volatility of the stock market and our current reality —knowing your options is vital to preserving the life and legacy your parents have worked to build. If you need help figuring out how to best preserve these assets, we are here and ready to support you.

In many families, money still is not a typical dinner table discussion, but I think it should be. Surprisingly, this is especially true when it comes to affluent parents. And, we hope to change it because one of the most important things you can do is talk to your kids (and your parents) about money.

According to the Spectrem Millionaire Corner, a market research group, only 17% of affluent parents said they would disclose their income or net worth to their kids by the time they turned 18. A nearly equal amount, 18% said they would never disclose these numbers to their kids. 32% of the rich parents surveyed by Spectrem said “it’s none of their business” when asked why they would not talk to their kids about money.

But, that’s just faulty thinking, wouldn’t you agree?! We hope so! But, if not, read on …

The amount of money generated by your family, and what will happen to it when you or your parents become incapacitated or die, is definitely your business. In fact, we believe it may be the most important business you have. And whether your parents talk with you about it now, or you figure it all out after they die, your parent’s money has a huge impact on you.

And, of course your money has a huge impact on your kids.

If your parents are not talking to you about money, it could be because they are afraid that if you know how much money there is, it will make you lazy, unmotivated, or change the course of your life decisions in a negative manner. Maybe you have the same fears of talking about money with your own kids.

But the truth is that whether you know exactly what there is or not, you have a general sense of your family’s affluence and it’s already impacted your decisions in a myriad of ways. And the best way for your family’s money to impact your decisions in a positive manner is to get into open conversation about it all.

If you are a child of affluent parents who are not talking to you about money, consider that your job is to learn to communicate with your parents in a way that will have them trust you, and the decisions you will make if you know just how much there is.

Perhaps consider that when money has come up in the past, you behaved immaturely, and that caused your parents not to trust you, but you can change that now. And consider the possibility that your parents would love it if they saw evidence of your maturity in this arena.

If you are a parent yourself, you probably already know, or can imagine, that the most important wish you have for your children is that they learn to handle money well, and that you want to influence them in the most positive way possible, when it comes to money.

Consider how you would want your children to approach you to have the money conversation, and how you can do exactly that with your parents?

We all have to learn about our family’s money eventually. And if that doesn’t happen until after our parents die, it can be a much bigger burden to deal with, and we can lose tremendous opportunities for passing on more than just money.

As an affluent parent, or the child of affluent parents, getting into conversation about money now is a huge opportunity to pass on values, insights, stories and experience that will be lost, if you wait until incapacity or death to start facing the truth together.

Helping you talk to your kids (or your parents) about money is one of the things we most love to do because we see it as a real opportunity for your family to come together and use your whole family wealth to create more connection from one generation to the next. If we can help you here, either with your kids, or your parents, please be in touch.

You may read this and think: I’m not affluent, and neither are my parents. Once your basic needs are met, ‘affluence’ is a frame of mind. It doesn’t matter how much there is, if you manage a budget, have an income, and want to save for retirement – money management is a huge influence on your life. And it is not something that’s taught in schools! So let’s start opening up conversations within our families. I wish that I had learned more from my grandparents about money management, but that opportunity is lost. They tried to teach me, and would have taught me more, but I shied away from such discussions when I was young. I want to change that pattern in my family, and the families of those I serve. As Robert Kiyosaki would say, let’s start teaching our kids to be financially literate!

Right now, huge numbers of people are coming face to face with their own mortality, and realizing they need to plan for the worst. This goes not just for those in the “senior” category, but for all of us, no matter our age. We are facing the reality of our mortality, and many of us are doing it courageously by taking this as an opportunity to learn what we need to do for the people we love.

Recently I heard a tragic story from a colleague whose client recently lost her fiancé to COVID-19. Because she wasn’t listed on her fiancé’s health directive and HIPAA waiver, she could not get anyone to update her on his condition once he entered the hospital.

Naturally, she didn’t give up trying to get in touch, and eventually someone told her that he wasn’t in the ICU anymore. She was enormously relieved, but when she hadn’t heard anything else by the next day, she called again for news. Finally, after being transferred several times, she learned that the reason her fiancé wasn’t in the ICU was because he was in the morgue. He’d passed away the day before, and no one had told her. Heartbreaking.

Nobody expects something like this to happen, especially people who are healthy and making plans for their own futures. But sometimes the worst does happen, and if it does, you want the people you love to be able to grieve properly, without leaving them with a mess of confusion on top of it all.

Now, think about your own situation. What will happen to your loved ones, and the assets you’ll leave behind, if you become sick or die?

Without a doubt, you would want to ensure certain people in your life are informed if you have to go to the hospital, and kept up to date on your condition while you are there. You’d also probably want to avoid them having to go through a drawn-out court process to handle your estate after your death, or save them from the fate of not being able to access your assets if you are hospitalized. This article is all about you having the tools you need to make sure everything is in place to do the right thing for the people you love,  just in case something happens to you.

The Things You Can Do Yourself

First of all, you need to have a worst-case scenario conversation with your family. A lot of people try to avoid conversations about death, but the truth is, we will all die. It’s better to face that with those that we love, and when the time comes, we will be as ready as we can be.

Create an Inventory of What Matters

A couple of weeks ago, I told you why it was important to have a “personal resource map” to ensure your loved one’s know what you have, where it is, and how to access it if something happens to you.

If you didn’t get a chance to watch the training we created for you on that, you can find that training here. It’s content-packed and will show you what you can do yourself, and when you need to work with a lawyer. We encourage you to watch it and create your own Personal Resource Map for the people you love using the free tool provided with the training.

This is something that you can get started on right now, by yourself, without the help of a lawyer. It is a great resource to leave for your loved ones, so they know where to find everything that is important to you, and to them, if something happens to you.

First, get out your calendar and schedule an appointment with yourself. Set aside an hour to watch the training and then one more hour to take an inventory of everything in your life that is important to you. We’ll guide you through doing that step by step in the training and give you a free online tool to use to create your own family treasure map, of sorts.

Important Note—Your Personal Resource Map will not handle the following:

  • A guarantee that your loved ones won’t have to go to court;
  • Directing your assets to anyone other than your “next of kin” according to your state’s laws;
  • Ensuring health care decisions are made for you, as you want (it’s not a will or a Health Care Directive);
  • Making sure your unmarried partner can stay living in your house.

Update Your Health Care Directive

This is extra important if you want your loved ones to avoid the tragic situation that my colleague’s client found herself in. Do NOT delay reviewing and updating these documents.

An Advance Health Care Directive has three parts:

  • The Living Will/ Medical Directive, which states how you want decisions to be made for you.
  • The Medical Power of Attorney, which states who should make these decisions if you can’t make them yourself.
  • A HIPAA Release that allows medical professionals to disclose information to your Medical Power of Attorney/Agent.

You can refer to this article by my mentor for more information on how you can prepare your Health Care Directive for free. (And if you are in Alaska, our state has a form that you can use – contact me directly, liz@lizsmithlaw.com, and I will send it to you).

You can prepare this document yourself if you choose or a Personal Family Lawyer® can help you with it.

Name Legal Guardians for Your Kids

A very important thing for all parents of minor children to do is name legal guardians for your children. Think about what would happen to them right now if something were to happen to you, for both the long term and the immediate future. We have a website we’ve created where you can name legal guardians for your kids, at no charge here. If you are in Alaska, these tools are a great start and something you can do yourself to get going. However, you will need other legal documents in place for long-term protection of your kids. Set up your call with Liz Smith here if you want to know more.

What You Should Get A Lawyer’s Help With

The goal in setting up your estate plan is, ultimately, to keep your loved ones out of the court process and out of conflict. To do that, you have to keep your estate plan up to date, and ensure you’ve made the right decisions in the estate planning process.

Under the following circumstances, you should not just do planning yourself, but instead have a Life & Legacy Planning Session, during which we can look at your family dynamics, your assets, and the law so you can decide what you really do need for the people you love:

  • If you have assets, beyond what you can physically see and touch, and those assets are worth more than $50k;
  • If you live with your unmarried partner in a house that one of you owns and the other doesn’t (or even if you own it together);
  • If you have minor children and your named guardians don’t live locally to you or if you have not named guardians in your will;
  • If you are in a second (or more) marriage;
  • If you have complex family dynamics;
  • If you have a business you want to continue after you are gone;
  • If you know for sure you would want to keep your family out of court no matter what.

All of our Life & Legacy Planning Sessions are happening virtually these days, and we can make the whole process quite easy and affordable for you and the people you love. Give us a call to schedule your Live & Legacy Planning Session, if you are ready to face your mortality courageously.  

As you already know, the COVID-19 pandemic means nothing is business as usual. Many states have implemented a “shelter-in-place” order to limit the spread of the disease; however, if you are not in a place with such an order, or if your parents are not following it, you may want to refer to our previous blog on how to talk to your parents and get them to stay home.

Once you have attended to your (and your parents’) immediate needs, it will be time to consider more long-term precautions.

In this time of stress and chaos, your parents may be resistant to talking about estate planning. It may feel too pessimistic to plan for the worst in the midst of a scary situation. However, that’s exactly why it’s the most important time to do so. Plus, since hopefully you are staying inside, you may actually have the time to dedicate to getting these tasks taken care of.

Here are actions you can, and should, take to ensure you and your family are protected both legally and financially.

Update Your Health Care Documents

Above all, you first need to ensure that both you and your parents have advance care directives. This will be an invaluable reference point for those who are assisting you, whether they be friends, family, or medical professionals. This directive should include instructions on your preferred methods of care and the contact information for each of your doctors.

You must also clearly state who will be in charge of handling your affairs in the event of your death or incapacity. Even if you have done this already, I urge you to take out any existing documents now and review them. Have your circumstances changed? Do you have additions to make? Encourage your parents to do the same thing, and to communicate with you about what their directives say.

Here’s an article to read, and share with your parents (and adult kids, if you have them) on the 3 parts of a Health Care Directive, and the 5 things you want to look for in your Health Care Directive right now, to ensure it’s up to date for Covid-19.

If you are unsure whether your Health Care Directive is in ship-shape, call us to take an expert look at them.

Create a “Personal Resource Map”—an Inventory of Everything That Matters

You might think that only the very rich need to worry about making specific plans for their assets. But not so fast. Do you have investments or a retirement account? Physical things like jewelry, musical instruments, or furniture? What about crypto? Or even social media accounts? In the event of your incapacity or death, your family members won’t know where to look for what you have, or how to access it, unless you’ve planned for that ahead of time.

Somewhere between 49 and 80 billion dollars are currently unclaimed nationally, or unable to be claimed, by family members of people who have passed away. This is money that individuals may have forgotten they had, or that they made no provisions to pass on to their family after they died. That’s why it’s extra important that you create a “personal resource map” to tell your loved ones where everything is and how they should move forward according to your wishes.

You can make your own personal resource map, and help your parents make theirs, here; or call us direct and we’ll walk you through it.

Wisely Maximize Your Access To and Use of Credit

Financial experts often recommend a rainy day savings account, and it seems that the rainy day has come. Whether or not you have a sizable savings, you should also maximize your access to credit. Getting approved for a higher credit line is good to do sooner rather than later. If you find yourself in a position where you need money quickly (to afford a medical expense, for instance), you don’t want to be scrambling to pay the bill.

Some people might balk at the idea of applying for more personal credit, particularly people who are afraid of debt. Think of it, however, as a worst-case precaution. You can get approved for credit even if you have a decent amount of savings—just as a backup. If you need reassurance, or if you need some help encouraging your parents to get approved for a higher credit line, you can contact us to walk you through your options.

Remember that it’s never an inappropriate time to plan for the future. It’s also always a good time to ask for legal and financial help. #WereAllInThisTogether and we’re here to support you, virtually now, as well. We can take care of you, and your family, fully online. Call us, we’re here.

There’s no doubt that your parents have survived frightening world events, whether that was World War II, the war in Vietnam, nuclear threat, illness, poverty, civil unrest, or all of the above. However, the use of the word “unprecedented” regarding what’s happening now is not an exaggeration. And they may not understand it all or what they should do, not because they aren’t wise, but because the news has been confusing to interpret.

As of 4pm on March 17th, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the United States was only 7,043 cases across the United States with 95 confirmed deaths from the virus. And this doesn’t sound like that many, or seem to warrant the kind of lock-in that we need in order to stop the spread. So, if your parents are seeing these numbers, they may not be taking the need to stay home seriously.

This video from Dave Asprey, founder of Bulletproof, makes the case quite clearly about why we need to stay home, even if we aren’t afraid of getting sick ourselves.

When we first became aware of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, there were several TV pundits and other authority figures saying that the virus was just another version of the flu. We’ve learned a lot more about the seriousness of COVID-19 in the past few days, and the current advice is for people to stay home, particularly for the next two weeks, in order to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread.

It seems, though, that many people of the older generation may have stepped away from the news, often in the name of not giving in to panic and stress. If your parents continue to meet friends for lunch, go to work, and attend crowded events, you may be looking for support on how to get them to stay home.

By the time you get this, they may have no choice but to stay home, as some state’s are already doing formal lock-down/quarantine “shelter in place” mandates. But, if your parents live somewhere that’s not the case, here’s how we recommend you speak with them now.

  1. Listen to them, and determine the concerns they have.
    Get curious about what they have heard, what they are frustrated about, and what they are skeptical about. Take note that many people are frustrated with lines at the grocery store, toilet paper hoarding, and the hysteria of the crowds around them. Your parents may not want to feel like they are one of “those people.” Assure them that taking some precautions, especially staying home, is completely reasonable and can be done in a non-panicked way. Make sure to repeat back their concerns to them and make them feel heard and believed rather than heaping all of your own fears onto them.

    Also, get real with them about their needs. Consider that your mom may be concerned about getting her hair and nails done, and while this may not be a big deal to you, it likely is to her. Consider how you can support her to make alternative arrangements during this time, or reassure her that she looks beautiful even without her regular hair appointment on the books.

  2. Emphasize the risk in practical terms.
    Share articles and news with them that state the facts, soberly, like this one. Your parents might already have a good understanding about how viruses spread in general. They may already know the basics of how important it is for them to wash their hands. But if they don’t already know, talk to them about *why* physical distancing is important, really to save the lives of people beyond themselves, if they don’t feel personally at risk.

  3. Show them you are taking it seriously.
    You may want to show them this video created by Max Brooks, son of legendary comedian Mel Brooks. He created a PSA to convince younger people to be cognizant of how they might spread the virus to people who are the most vulnerable to it. It presents the situation in a succinct, somewhat lighthearted way. It may also help your parents see that many people out there care about them and want to keep them safe. Since they may be younger than Mel Brooks’s 92 years, it also might make them feel a responsibility to protect people in even more of a vulnerable position than themselves as well.

Remember, your parents have been through a lot over their lifetime. Speak to them with your own vulnerability about your care for them, and your fears for them, using “I” statements such as “I’m worried that you will get sick and I won’t be able to get to you” or “I’m afraid that I won’t be able to help you, if you need it” instead of saying things like “you are making the wrong decision” or “how could you still be going out?”

Speak to your parents as you wish they would speak to you. Model the way for them, even if they have not modeled the way for you in the past. Now is the time for us all to step up as leaders, and remember #wereallinthistogether.

Next week, we’ll share some ideas regarding personal financial and legal steps you can take to get your (and your parents) affairs in order, while we are all sheltering at home. If you’ve got questions about that before then, please give us a call. We are here to help.