The one conversation you need to have with your parents this Christmas

Benjamin Franklin famously stated that you shouldn’t put off until tomorrow that which should be done today. Having a conversation with aging parents fits squarely in the middle of what needs to be done today.  As uncomfortable as it might be, having the talk before a crisis is critical to avoiding negative consequences that can affect you and your parents for years to come.

Getting things out in the open clarifies the choices ahead.  Talking through the options allows your family to chart the course your aging parents will take so they can prepare for unexpected events.  Not talking removes choice from everyone and leaves what will happen largely to chance.

A recent survey found that over 60 percent of parents and their adult children disagree about when to initiate these conversations. The same survey reported that over 40 percent of parents have not had detailed discussions about covering their expenses in retirement.  More than any other subject, financial issues are the most challenging conversation that children will have with their parents and it is among the most important.

As senior citizens age, they often feel like control is slipping away from their hands, a new sensation for the greatest generation.  Giving up control, even hypothetically, means facing their eventual mortality and the realization that life is in fact shorter than we would like.  Knowing this and planning for it are two very different things.  It will always be easier to wait for the right time than to act decisively.

Financial responsibility was ingrained in our elders from when they were young. They were the breadwinners; the ones their children came to for advice and direction.  For most of their lives they alone have been responsible for the emotional and financial care of their family.  This will not change overnight.

Talking about someone you know who recently had the same experience, especially someone from your family, can be just the icebreaker you need to get the ball rolling.  The reality is that our aging parents attend funerals of their peers.  A friend of theirs who has moved to an assisted living apartment is also an appropriate opening for this discussion.

Once you begin this discussion follow up is critical. Whoever is going to be the primary care giver / problem solver needs to have the legal authority to do their job.  Being able to clarify how children should carry out their parents’ wishes goes a long way to build the additional trust required to get everyone’s desired result.

Here are several key bases to cover in your conversation:

  • Ask if they have an estate plan or will in place and where the documents are located. Other questions include the details of their will, trust, power of attorney and healthcare directives. How long has it been since those documents were reviewed?
  • Clarify any medical insurance besides Medicare and if they have long-term care insurance.
  • Determine what income sources they have along with debts and expenses each month. Do they have an attorney and financial planner already familiar with their affairs?
  • Who prepares their tax returns and where are they located? Get information about bank and brokerage accounts and records of other assets. While financial decisions are still up to your parents as long as they retain capacity, the day will come someone else will have to step in. Adult children may have input into what should happen but it’s ultimately up to the parents to make important decisions about their future as long as they are able.

 

The Law Offices of Quinton J. Miller is a general practice law firm with an emphasis on Estate Planning and serves clients throughout Sacramento and Northern California.  We assist clients with estate and long term care planning, and small businesses with transition planning, litigation, and general business needs.  For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact us at (916) 714-1717 or visit our website at http://www.quintonlaw.com.

Five Tips To Keep Your Business Out Of Hot Water

Benjamin Franklin famously said that the only two sure things in life were death and taxes.  Right behind though would be that at some point, no matter how hard you try, your small business will face legal challenges.  There are several modern factors that have made this even more likely than in the past.  Rising safety and disability standards have created a lucrative market for unscrupulous lawyers to shake down small businesses.  The internet has shrunk the distance between business owners and customers (for better or worse).  Many new businesses are started by immigrants, whose grasp of legal standards and even English can complicate simple conflicts. 

 Here are five tips that will make legal complications less likely than otherwise.

 1)    Put contracts into writing.  Before you enter an agreement or contract, at least memorialize the details in writing—then date and sign it.  This serves as a reference point for later and helps clarify the understanding of the parties.  When you put something in writing, make sure that it is written in a language and style that is easily understood.  Even if you don’t run the agreement past your attorney, at least having it reviewed by a third party can expose obvious errors or ambiguities.

2)    Keep employees legal.  Don’t take shortcuts with your employees.  While the cost of workman’s comp continues to rise, the consequences of skirting the law outweigh the benefits. 

3)    Be genuine.   When you make a mistake, own up to it.  Many issues can be avoided by simply addressing the matter up front.  It’s easy to focus on the initial customer service experience, and then forget about proper follow up. 

4)    Be Insured.  Insurance is expensive, but worth it.  The right policy will not only help cover your liabilities, but also pay for an attorney to defend you. 

5)    Incorporate.  When all else fails, having your business incorporated will contain the damage to the corporation and protect your personal assets.  A corollary to this is that the type of corporation must be appropriate for your business, and corporate formalities must be observed for the corporation to be effective. 

The Law Office of Quinton J. Miller is a general practice law firm with an emphasis on Estate Planning and serves clients throughout Sacramento and Northern California.  We assist clients with estate and long term care planning, and small businesses with transition planning, litigation, and general business needs.  For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact us at (916) 714-1717 or visit our website at www.quintonlaw.com.

Three Things To Consider Before Hiring An Estate Planning Attorney

If a pertinent and well drafted estate plan is critical, then selecting the right attorney to draft is just as important. A good attorney ensures that your plan is appropriate for your assets and needs and complies with the most recent changes to the probate code and.  He or she will do so without overwhelming you in jargon, unnecessary fees, and paperwork.

How do you find such an attorney? Here are three things to look for.

Seek a referral : Your estate planning attorney is someone that you will trust with confidential information. He or she will prepare legal documents that (hopefully) will not be tested for decades.  Whether or not an attorney is competent and credible will be known to others in the industry.  Your CPA and financial advisor are excellent places to start.  They should have experience directing clients to attorneys, and will know whether a given attorney is worth his salt.

Your first meeting : Will there be a fee for the initial meeting to discuss your estate plan? Does the attorney charge a flat rate or by the hour?  Will you be charged extra for calling in with questions?  Most estate planning attorneys don’t charge for the initial meeting, and unless your situation is really complicated, should be able to quote you a ballpark price.  Take the opportunity to get to know the attorney and to screen their level of competence and experience with situations similar to yours.  Also, clarify the cost at this stage so that you are not surprised later.  Most of the time you see a low price advertised, it’s simply a hook to draw you in with additional fees on the backside.

What kind of follow up will the firm provide? : Does the attorney have present or past trust administration and litigation experience? A good estate planning attorney will not only prepare the initial estate plan on the front end but will also administer it or defend it on the back end.  Many attorneys only specialize in the front end, but have no actual experience with the practical workings of trust administration.  Other attorneys treat estate planning as something secondary to their primary field.   Experience with administering and litigating trusts is invaluable when it comes to drafting them.  Will the attorney be around to answer questions and serve you in the future?  Look for an attorney or firm that you can develop a long term relationship with.  While you don’t want an attorney who is young and inexperienced, you also need to be aware that an attorney significantly older than yourself will almost certainly not be around to assist your family when the time comes.

The Law Offices of Quinton J. Miller is a general practice law firm with an emphasis on Estate Planning and serves clients throughout Sacramento and Northern California.  We assist clients with estate and long term care planning, and small businesses with transition planning, litigation, and general business needs.  For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact us at (916) 714-1717 or visit our website at http://www.quintonlaw.com.

Joint Tenancy… Not A Tool For Estate Planning

In California Joint Tenancy is an extremely popular method for couples to co-own property largely because it has a built in “Right of Survivorship”. On the surface this may seem like a great idea because if one owner dies the other has the property automatically passes to the survivor.   There is typically no requirement or need for Probate or for a lot of attention or the cost of an attorney.  At least this is how it appears on the surface.

However good or bad the idea of Joint Tenancy, it is not a substitute for a well thought out and legally drafted Estate Plan. In the absence of an Estate Plan if one of the owners die, any property they have in joint tenancy will pass in total to the survivor.  It gets even worse if both owners die with property in Joint tenancy.  In those situations the property could be subject to the states rules of Intestacy.  Are you comfortable knowing that the state could ultimately decide what happens to the assets you have spent your life working for?

Holding property in Joint Tenancy can also be exceptionally risky for married couples due to tax, health and divorce concerns. If one of the owners die, the survivor may be subject to what is known as step-up-basis capital gains tax which may result in them not being able to remain in the property.  In the case of a mental condition like dementia the court may decide that the property could not be sold as long as one or both are incapacitated.  The problems that can rise up during a divorce include one party refusing to sign off on the property and even worse when one party dies during the proceedings. No matter what your situation is Joint Tenancy is frequently the worst method to hold title and does not eliminate your need for a well thought out and executed estate plan.

The Law Offices of Quinton J. Miller is a general practice law firm with an emphasis on Estate Planning and serves clients throughout Sacramento and Northern California.  We assist clients with estate and long term care planning, and small businesses with transition planning, litigation, and general business needs.  For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact us at (916) 714-1717 or visit our website at http://www.quintonlaw.com.

When Is The Best Time To Consult An Attorney?

Years ago I interned with a local judge who gave me an invaluable piece of advice. Every small business owner, he told me, needs a good attorney and a good accountant. And those are the two relationships that small business owners are most likely to ignore.

Many of the problems I encounter could have been avoided early on by running it past their attorney. Whether it’s a poorly drafted contract, an agreement that was never put in writing, or an inappropriate estate plan, a quick visit to your attorney early on can pay huge dividends later. As I like to tell my clients, people think that attorneys are expensive, but they’re not. They’re actually quite cheap, if you hire them before the problem arises. Its only after the fact that attorneys are expensive.

An old adage says that the man who represents himself has a fool for an attorney. At the same time, visiting an attorney to review your every signature is a fast way to go broke. So when is it time to bring your attorney into the loop?

Estate Planning. If you’re young, broke, and have no dependents, the forms you find at Staples will probably suffice. John Grisham’s novel “The Testament” is a fascinating if lurid tale of a holographic will, which is another DIY alternative. But for everyone who isn’t young, broke, and free, the risks of self-help far outweigh the savings. Do yourself and your family a favor and get competent representation.

Contracts. I’ve seen a lot of deals go south because clients tried to write their own contracts. Having said that, a good rule of thumb is to consult an attorney if the value of the contract exceeds what you can sue for in small claims court. In Sacramento County, that amount is $10,000.00. Of course, there may be good reasons to consult your attorney even if the amount of the contract is less, but keep the small claims cap in mind when you’re trying to decide whether to pick up the phone.

Business Formation. Even if you don’t retain an attorney to do everything, you should at least consult with both an attorney and a CPA knowledgeable with business formation. From selecting the type of business entity to developing an exit strategy, experienced legal and tax advice is critical. An attorney can also help craft a buy-sell agreement that will minimize conflicts if one of the owners passes away or has an emergency, as well as coordinating your business with your estate plan.

The Law Offices of Quinton J. Miller is a general practice law firm with an emphasis on Estate Planning, serving clients throughout Sacramento and Northern California.  We assist clients with estate and long term care planning, and small businesses with transition planning, litigation, and general business needs.  For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact us at (916) 714-1717 or visit our website at http://www.quintonlaw.com.

Six Reasons To Update Any Estate Plan

            A trust is a tool, not a talisman, and tools need regular maintenance and attention.  Here are six common life events that can make it critical to update your Estate Plan.

1.    Change in your marital status.  If marriage is on your horizon—Congratulations!  Also, when can we meet?  Marriage is one of the most important legal relationships you will ever experience.  It has profound implications for your estate plan, particularly if two families are coming together.  It is vital to ensure that your estate plan is updated to reflect your wishes.  If either one of you has children or assets from a previous marriage, you may want to consider a prenuptial agreement keep things separate.

2.    Change in status of a beneficiary.  This could be a birth, death, adoption, marriage, or divorce of one of your beneficiaries.  These are critical life events that may influence how you want to distribute your estate.  You may want to include a new arrival (or exclude a black sheep)!  Alternatively, one of the objects of your affection may develop an illness or handicap, requiring a special needs trust to protect his assets.  The sooner you act, the better.

3.    Death or incapacity of a spouse.  Did you know that it is a fact that either you or your spouse will die first?  When you’re finished laughing, call us.  Many trusts are designed to divide into two or more trusts upon the death of one of the settlors.  This type of trust is known as an A/B Trust, and is commonly used, among other things, to avoid estate taxes, protect the interests of blended families, and to minimize the effects of fraud and undue influence.  Depending upon the trust and your situation, legal action may be needed to protect the surviving spouse and other heirs.

4.    Trustee, executor or other agent needs to be changed.  It is critical that the individuals who will manage your trust and estate be competent and appropriate for the task.  Just because someone was appropriate 20 years ago doesn’t mean they’re appropriate today.  If you’re in your 60’s you really should not appoint your parents to be in charge of anything.  This will change with time, and needs to be reviewed on a regular basis.

5.    Minor beneficiary comes of age.  When a minor comes of age it can mean that they’re able to get anything you leave for them as soon as they want it and that may or may not be in line with your wishes.  We can look at that and we can help!

6.    Big change in net worth.  As I write this the stock market is undergoing wild swings.  Dramatic changes in your net worth can make previously sound distribution decisions unrealistic.  Particularly if your net worth is headed north, you should review the impact that estate taxes can have, and strategies for avoiding them.

 

Trusts are client specific and one size does not fit all.  Just like any other tool, you should review it regularly with an experienced professional to ensure it still does what its supposed to.  At the Law Offices of Quinton J. Miller, we have the experience and expertise you should demand when it comes to your estate plan.  We know the questions to ask to accomplish the goals you seek.  Call us at (916) 714-1717, or visit us at www.quintonlaw.com.  Call us before you need us!

 

Business Bankruptcy Filing Finally Dropping

After reaching levels that didn’t seem possible in 2008 & 2009 business Bankruptcy filings are on their way down. This is very good news for both the business community and the consumer. For the business owner it means that the customer has finally returned to buying as a result of their financial situation improving and better for the consumer because many of them have returned to work and their home values have finally started to rise again. Whew!

The fact are that business bankruptcy filings are at their lowest point since 2006 and this is just part of the trend we are seeing in California and Nationwide. The shift in the fortunes of business means that people get hired, taxes get paid, construction people are called in and manufacturing improves. All of this is good news and we hope for this to continue.

While this news is some of the best news we have seen in almost a decade there are still storm clouds on the horizon and smaller firms are much more likely to file bankruptcy in the future that they have been in the past. Items like sick leave, decreased labor force and the demand from some workers and politicians to raise the minimum w age to something that will be hard to sustain are very real issues and have to be dealt with.

States like we live in along with Illinois and Texas tend to generate the highest number of business bankruptcies and this is due to the sheer size of these states along with the high number of businesses that are incorporated within them. For some businesses bankruptcy can be a great move depending on many variables and it’s always best to enter into this knowing what the short term and long term ramifications are before choosing the direction you will move.

My name is Quinton Miller and I work with business law. Please call on me at 916-714-1717 or visit me at www.quintonlaw.com I have experience you need and I can help!