Tuesday, November 17, 2015

2015 Scams to Watch Out For

As long term readers know, once a year I write an article exposing scams and con artists. This year we explore three scams of 2015. By no means are these the only ones out there as con artists never cease to amaze in their abilities to reinvent past scams and come out with new ones. If you don't want to read the detail you can get the scam summary at the beginning of the article.

2015 Scam Summary:

The three scams and their variations discussed below are:

1. The phone scam.
2. The lunch or dinner scam.
3. The job scam.

You can read more about these scams below which I encourage as the detailed descriptions also contain resources on how to avoid each of these scams. Here are the details:

1. The phone scam.

This is a scam that has been around for decades and comes in almost infinite varieties. Simply phone scams are those that call you on your phone and try and get you to buy crap or give up your personal data like credit card or bank account.

Protecting yourself is easy, just hang up the phone and get on the Do Not Call list. Here is a great article on what not to do:

What Not to do on the phone:

2. The dinner or lunch scam.

The lunch or dinner scam sucks you in with a free meal. However nothing is EVER free. After these supposedly free meals you get hit with a hard sell and sometimes heavy and illegal pressure. While we all like a free meal, the best way to avoid the lunch or dinner scam is to not accept that invitation

Sometimes a free meal is just that. So how do you know which "free" meals to avoid? If you are asked to make a buying decision on ANYTHING as a result of the meal, then you should just say no and tell the promoter to never bother you again and to remove your name from their list. Examples include: pre-paid professional services  investment scams  and cell phone scams

3. The job scam.

This scam and it's varieties lure you in with the promise of a job, typically one you can do from your own home. These scammers target single parents with the promise of easy supplemental income. Here are some tips on how to avoid these scams: Online job scams and Spotting a job scam

Scams take two players: 1) The con artist and 2) The victim. Since few con artists will read this article, let's focus on how to avoid being the victim. First and most important is the willingness to say NO! For some of us that is easy but for others, especially the elderly, infirm, disabled or sick that is not as easy. Scams on seniors have been on the increase for years and the reason is that seniors are vulnerable.

Second is our natural impulse that attracts us to getting something for nothing. The problem is that there are truly very few things that have no cost at all. We all know this, officials in every community in the country preach this and yet we still seek that something for nothing. The best general rule is that if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Here are some more resources to protect yourself:

Tips from law enforcement

Avoiding Internet Scams

Avoiding Email Scams

Avoiding financial scams

Protecting yourself from con artists and avoiding being scammed is much like preventing forest fires: only you are your best protection and only you can actually prevent being scammed. Please read these articles and apply these tips to your own life. Exercise your ability to say know, to turn down that free lunch or dinner and to understand that offers to good to be true really are.

If you know or are a senior there are some additional steps to consider. First is understanding that seniors are targeted by con artists. What the FBI says about seniors Seniors and the elderly are among are most vulnerable citizens. Here are some good resources for seniors seeking to protect themselves and family members seeking to protect an elderly loved one:

Protecting yourself as a senior

Protecting an elderly loved one

Let me know your thoughts and please join our conversation. Protecting ourselves and loved ones is a big job and I hope that this article and resources will help you avoid scams and con artists. Thank you.

Bernie Greenberg

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Estate Planning for Your High School Graduate? Yes!

So your high school graduate is off to college or soon to be? Congratulations and best wishes to your graduate!

In addition to all the things you have thought of and stressed over, have you also remembered the estate planning documents that are a must for everyone over the age of 18? Chances are you need several additional items you may not have thought of.

Why estate planning for your graduate is important:

This article is a good discussion of the basic estate planning documents any high school graduate should have. These are:

1. Durable Power of Attorney.

2. Health Care Durable Power of Attorney.

3. Advance Directive or Living Will.

4. HIPAA Release.

Article on estate planning for your graduate.

In case reading the article is too tedious, here is a short video where I discuss estate planning for your graduate:

 Make sure your graduate has what they need to be successful and safe at school.

Let me know if you have any questions about obtaining these documents for your graduate. You can call me at 303-688-3535 or email me at: bgreenberg@kgattys.com

You can also visit our firm's website at: www.kgattys.com

Thank you for your interest.

Bernie Greenberg

Friday, September 4, 2015

The New Estate Planning: It's All About the Family!

What is Estate Planning Really About?

Are you like 70% of the folks out there who don't like to think about or hear about wills, trusts and estate planning? Well, if you are, don't fret. Many people believe that estate planning is only for the rich. Not only is that false, wills and trusts actually do more to protect people who don't have millions of dollars and property.

Why estate planning is not for the rich folk!

As the preceding article from one of the top companies in the world reveals, estate planning is about your family. Creating certainty, protecting your spouse and loved ones, protecting children, it's ALL about your family.

So how did the myth start that estate planning was only for the rich? It dates back to when the federal exemption against the federal estate tax (some call it the "death tax") was very low. Do you know the history of this exemption? The exemption is used by the government to define when YOU are wealthy (rich) enough to have to pay estate tax when you die.

The History of the Federal Estate Tax:

Thanks to the good people at Cook & Cook, here is the history and it's shocking.

History of the federal estate tax exemption and rates:

Let's start with the year 1978, the year I started practicing law. The federal estate tax exemption (the definition of wealthy) was a mere $134,000! If your estate was greater than $134,000, you paid federal estate tax and if you look at the chart, the marginal rate of that tax was a horrifying 70%! As you can see from the chart, the exemption has increased over time, not even coming to close to keeping up with the economy or inflation.

So here is where the myth about estate planning started--we were all concerned as estate planners with reducing or avoiding this tax, the highest tax ever imposed on citizens of our country. When the exemption was low, the focus was estate tax planning. Most people were so incensed about the estate tax that they didn't pay proper attention to the real reason for estate planning--protecting the family.

The Federal Estate Tax in 2015:

So where are we today? In 2015, the exemption against the federal estate tax is $5,430,000 and is scheduled to increase in 2016 to approximately $5,515,000! Now that's more like what someone would expect as a real definition of wealth.

With the exemption against the estate tax at this level, the old, historical focus on estate tax planning is less relevant for most families. As you might think, far fewer families have estates over $5,430,000 than that old exemption of only $134,000. Because the exemptions are at historically high levels, the focus for most families is on protecting the family.

Most common is the desire to protect the spouse, then children and then other family members. I have always believed that protecting family should always be the driving reason for a client's estate planning and this focus should be reflected in documents such as wills, trusts and powers of attorney.

Good estate planners never let the tax tail wag the family dog! That's a good rule of thumb to remember when you think about your estate plan. Just because taxes are not a concern doesn't mean that we don't care about our families. We do and here are three short videos that illustrate just how important this is.

Estate planning for young families:

Estate planning for children over 18:

Estate planning for blended families:

So when someone says to you, "I don't have enough money to do a will or estate plan" share this article with them so they can have the full story.

Let know your thoughts on this and please join our conversation by commenting or sending me an email. Thank you for your interest.

Bernie Greenberg

Monday, July 6, 2015

Why There Really Is No Such Thing as a Simple Will

Yes, it's true, there is no such thing as a simple will. Here's why:

As a wills and trusts lawyer, I am asked every day about "simple wills". The interesting fact is that there is no such thing.

As is discussed below, when most clients ask for a "simple will" they believe they will save money, time and complexity. Unfortunately, the opposite is usually true. Simple wills are a misnomer because they simply don't exist once EVERY client asks themselves several questions. More on those later.

The most important that there are no "simple wills" is the differences between families. While this should be evident, many people pretend there are no differences. Let's start with just two families which appear below.

Especially today, family has an expanded meaning. EVERY family is different from every other family. In the first picture, our family includes the parents of one spouse while in our second picture, the family structure is different. Your takeaway is that every family is different, every client is different meaning that every family's estate plan will be different.

Here are the questions to ask to see if your will should be like your neighbor's will:

1. Are you married to the same person?
2. Are your medical situations identical?
3. Do you have the same children with the same needs and medical histories?

As you can see, it is impossible for different families to be the same.

To an estate planning attorney like myself, this concept is fundamental. However, I can't tell you how many wills I have had to fix when a client tried to copy a friend's will or one from the internet. If your family's individuality is not considered in your will or estate plan, how do you know that plan will work? The answer is that you cannot.

The essence of estate planning is the uniqueness of your family and this is why your will, your trust and your estate plan will not look like your friend's or neighbor's. In the article below by attorney, Robert Fleming, these concepts are discussed as Fleming explains why there is no such thing as a "simple will".

The Myth of the Simple Will

Let me know if you agree or if you have any questions about this or any of our articles as we explore the world of wills and trusts and estate planning. Thank you.

Bernie Greenberg

Monday, May 18, 2015

The 3 P's: Financial, Retirement and Estate Planning: Which Comes First?

Financial, Retirement and Estate Planning: Which Comes First?

This question has been debated between the planners in each of these disciplines forever and the answer to the question is surprising to some. The answer is also simple and when you think about the question the answer is clear.

The oldest of the planning professions is estate planning. Started in feudal England, estate planning became a way of passing part of one's property to a first born son and later, a surviving spouse. Due to the low life expectancy then, there was no such thing as retirement or financial planning. If you weren't going to live beyond your 40's, then planning like we do today was irrelevant.

Modern times have brought us many medical and scientific advances. We live today twice as long as when estate planning was the only planning one could do. Many people do not want to work their entire lives, so planning for retirement is important for them. Other folks want to learn about their finances, how that industry works and how to plan for their money. That's where financial planning comes in. Lastly, an entire industry was created after the industrial revolution, life insurance, a blend of all three disciplines.

It's easy to get confused by these three different areas of planning. They all involve planning for the future, but where does one start? Which one comes first? The answer is your estate plan! Here are the reasons that completing your estate plan always comes before starting on your financial and retirement plan:

1. Your estate plan protects against the worst risks first.

The worst risk to yourself and family is an unplanned and untimely death. Only your estate plan protects against this risk. Only your estate plan can operate successfully without the passage of time, right from the moment you sign your documents.

When you work with your wills and trusts lawyer, you make decisions as if you had died yesterday. If you were gone yesterday, what are your wishes for property; decision makers and all the other issues we have discussed in the articles below. Your estate plan, your will requires no time horizon to be operable, it is what you want right now!

2. Financial and retirement plans require time to work.

When you save for retirement, college for children and start to plan your finances, all of those require time to operate. For example, you might have to save $X over Y years to be able to retire at a certain age or to have $X saved for college expenses. Retirement and financial planning are exactly the opposite of estate planning in that they are about planning for the distant future over time.

The only discipline that crosses these lines is life insurance planning as it, in most cases does not require a time horizon. It is also generally considered an estate planning tool so it fits more into estate planning than the others.

Your take away from from this is start your own planning with your estate planning, your wills, trusts and powers of attorney. Protect against the worst risks first and then add your financial and retirement plan to the mix AFTER your estate plan is completed.

Please join our conversation and let me know your thoughts on this or any of our articles. As always, thank you for your interest.

Bernie Greenberg

Friday, May 15, 2015

When You Should Review Your Will or Estate Plan: Really

As an attorney specializing in wills and trusts and estate planning, I am often asked, "when should I review my will with my attorney?"

The answer to that question will vary from client to client, but there are some guidelines to follow.

First, if you are asking the question, then it is time for a review. Merely thinking about whether your plan is current should always prompt a review meeting.

Second, here is a list of events that should prompt a review of your will or estate plan:

1. You signed the documents more than three years ago.

2. Your finances have changed by more than 15% from when you signed your documents.

3. Your relationship status has changed.

4. Your children have health issues which have arisen since signing your documents.

5. A close family member; parent, child, spouse, etc. has died or become incapacitated.

6. Your goals for your family have changed since the date you signed your documents.

7. You don't know how portability works and how it may apply to you and your spouse.

8. You are not sure how your will or estate plan works and you need a refresher.

Additionally, I recently came across an excellent article that provides another lawyer's take on when you should review your will or estate plan. That article is here:

Ten Reasons to Review Your Estate Plan Today

The best rule to follow is to review your will or estate plan every two years with your attorney regardless of whether you think you should. If you need to review your documents we can help. Call our office today at 303-688-3535 to schedule your review meeting.

At Kokish & Goldmanis we make reviewing your will or estate plan easy to ensure your plan is always up to date and current.

Thank you.

Bernie Greenberg

Thursday, April 16, 2015

3 Steps to Avoid Estate Planning Scams

Estate planning scams cover the internet, newspaper, TV and radio. Strangely, it's hard to be anywhere and not be exposed to all sorts of scams. But estate planning scams? Yes, scams about wills and trusts have existed for decades.

Knowing how to recognize these scams can help you keep your family and property safe and secure. In this article we explore three simple steps you can follow to ensure that your will or trust are prepared by competent professionals. That is everyone's goal: to have a valid, current and effective will, trust and estate plan.

Step 1. Something that sounds too good to be true is.

I have always been amazed at what folks will fall for but that never seems to stop it from happening. And my amazement will not protect you--only you can do that. The first step is always to apply this simple smell test: if what you are seeing or hearing seems too good to be true it usually is. In any event, get it checked out with your qualified estate planning attorney. More on how to find those qualified attorneys later.

Step 2. Avoid DIY or Do It Yourself documents and programs.

As the picture at the top of this article shows, disaster is the usual result of self attempting in a complex field where hidden traps and disasters await. Please read the numerous articles here on the dangers of DIY wills and trusts.  To top those off, here is another recent article for your reading pleasure:


Step 3. Deal with real, qualified estate planning experts.

You might think this is sales pitch for lawyers, but if you care about protecting yourself, your family and your money, is the right thing to trust your will, trust and estate plan to someone not qualified to help? Of course not.

Dealing with an unqualified attorney or any other person not an actual estate planning specialist can have you end up here:

Or here, in probate court trying to get the mess straightened out:

There are numerous articles here on how to find a qualified estate planning attorney. To save you the time, here is the list of qualifications to insist on:

  1. The attorney should be a full-time estate planning specialist. In other words, wills and trusts are all they do.
  2. The full-time specialist should have at least seven (7) years of full time specialization in this area.
  3. Make sure the full-time specialist has an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell the international attorney peer ratings system.
  4. The attorney should be a member of either: their local bar association's Trust and Estate Section; local estate planning council or ACTEC.
These three steps, if followed, will help you avoid scams about wills and trusts and help you ensure that your estate planning documents will actually help you and your family.

Let us know your thoughts and join our conversation about estate planning or ask us any questions that you may have. We look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

Bernie Greenberg

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Estate planning is a Journey

When many people do their wills or trusts, or any type of estate plan, they mistakenly believe that they will never have to think about it again. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every estate plan, every will and every trust represents only a snapshot in time of that client's goals and objectives.

Your will or trust will not remain current without periodic attention. In this way, doing your estate plan is only part of your journey, never a destination. In the article below, this is discussed further and the  author offers their unique perspective to the journey of estate planning.

Estate Planning is a Journey Article

As the article relates, your will, your trust, your estate plan is not a one time thing, but a living representation of you and what your thinking is from time to time. For that reason, don't ignore your plan, review it from time to time with your wills and trusts attorney and make sure it is up to date with you.

Let me know your thoughts and comments on this or any of our articles. Thank you.

Bernie Greenberg

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Do Newlyweds Need Estate Planning? Yes!

For those who are newly married, one topic that is often ignored is estate planning and wills and trusts. Should newlyweds even consider estate planning? The answer is a resounding yes!

In this article, the author discusses the five most important reasons that ALL newlyweds must consider and do an estate plan.

Article on Estate Planning for Newlyweds

Newlyweds, especially with blended families have unique estate planning requirements and needs. For wills and trusts lawyers, these situations must involve sensitivity to the newness of the marriage and also what may appear to be competing family concerns.

Think about this: if you were injured or got sick, wouldn't you want your new spouse in the hospital room with you? Without appropriate HIPAA documents and releases, they could be prevented from even visiting you. Please pay attention to these five reasons and share them with everyone you know.

What are your thoughts? Please share this this article freely and help those who are newlyweds to protect themselves and their families.

Thank you.
Bernie Greenberg

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

5 Epic Hollywood Estate Planning Failures

For some reason we all seem to enjoy the never ending train wreck that is Hollywood. The fails for the stars are chronicled daily on TMZ.

Well Hollywood also fails spectacularly at estate planning. In the article below some of the most epic Hollywood estate planning disasters are revealed.

Article on Hollywood EP Failures

What are your thoughts as you read about the estate planning mistakes of Hollywood? Do these provide clues to you about what not to do in your will or trust?

There is real value to your family in doing things the right way with a qualified wills and trusts attorney. Please review the past articles here about how to select a qualified estate planning specialist.

Please join our conversation and let us know your thoughts about these stories. Thank you.

Bernie Greenberg

Friday, March 13, 2015

Why Estate Planning for Blended Families is Critical

Estate Planning for Blended Families: Why wills and trusts are so important!

Society today looks different from our parent's day or even just several years ago. Society is mobile, fluid and changing faster than some might like. Today, being a wills and trust attorney is more interesting than ever before.

In my parents' generation, the phrase "blended family" didn't exist. While there were blended families, they were far fewer than today. Add same sex marriages to the mix and it's a whole new world of estate planning.

Learning how to address issues of blended or any non-traditional family is a vital element in many estate plans, wills and trusts. In the article below, you will find an excellent discussion of these issues and there is no reason to repeat them here.

Article on planning for blended families

Let me know your thoughts after reviewing this and the mentioned article. Are you part of a blended or non-traditional family? How do you feel about these issues? Please join our conversation and send me an email with your thoughts.

Thank you.

Bernie Greenberg

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Estate Planning at Any Age? Yes!

While wills and trusts may be unpleasant topics for many, far too few have considered what basic estate planning arrangements are necessary just because someone is age 18 or older.

Wills and trusts attorneys like me are constantly amazed how few people have even considered basic estate planning issues and taken the most basic steps to protect themselves.

In this article, these basic steps are discussed in clear and plain English as well as the right age to start. That age is 18. Here is the article:

The Article

As you read, you will learn that the right age to begin with the estate planning basics is age 18. The reason for this is HIPAA, that federally imposed system dealing with keeping health information private.

Imagine a student of 18 or 19 who is injured or becomes ill. Who does the hospital or clinic contact? Who can visit that student? With the HIPAA laws, if the student has no power of attorney or HIPAA release, getting access to the student will be challenging.

Read the article and let me know your thoughts. Please share this article with everyone you know to help in the educational process about estate planning.

Thank you.

Bernie Greenberg

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Should You Tell Adult Children About Your Estate-Plan?

Who you should tell about your estate plan has been an interesting issue in my estate planning practice for the last 36+ years. As an estate planning attorney, I have my thoughts about transparency with children, but those are not universally shared.

Where I advise estate planning clients to be transparent, there are those who believe in the opposite approach which is, "my kids will know about my estate after I'm dead".

Which of these approaches is correct? The answer depends on the age of the children, the family dynamic and each client's individual situation.

First, here is a recent article which discusses issues of informing your adult children about your estate plan:

Article: Should You Tell Your Children

After you read this article, then consider this advice given to all of my estate planning clients:

1. Be transparent. If you are going to disclose to adult children details of your estate plan, then be transparent and DO NOT use the conversation as a means to control or manipulate.

2. As the picture above shows, disclose only to adult children, like those in the picture below, who are mature enough to understand the importance of estate planning.

3. Make the conversation about love of family and the family reasons for your estate planning. Of course you may have tax reasons, but remember that we don't let the tax tail wag the family dog. Estate planning is always about family first and foremost.

4. Understand your estate plan first before discussing with your children. Be clear why you are informing them and be sensitive to the reality that all children are uncomfortable with discussing their parents mortality.

Please let me know your thoughts on the article and your thoughts about these issues.

Thank you.

Bernie Greenberg

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Digital Estate Planning: Why You Care

What and why you need to know about digital estate planning:

Digital estate planning is being called the wave of the future and this article discusses several issues you need to know about estate planning:

Article on Digital Estate Planning

You may have noticed that facebook recently launched their legacy feature designed to allow you to pass on your facebook page. As our world becomes more digital and more virtual, understanding which parts of you may be digital is important.

As an estate planning attorney, we learn daily about how estate planning changes with our changing times. If you have any digital accounts or media, blog or music account, learning about these for yourself is fundamental to your estate planning.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. Thank you.

Bernie Greenberg

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Estate Taxes Are Back in the News!

Yes, the federal estate tax system is back in the news and the news is not good. Are you following these latest developments?

President Obama has proposed a total overhaul of the federal transfer tax system which was just overhauled as recently as January 1, 2013. Did you know that the U.S. estate tax system has been overhauled over 13 times since 1987? Seems like the politicians cannot keep their hands off of your estate.

The latest proposal would impose new taxes on every estate upon death instead of just on people with large estates. I will cover these proposed changes in detail in an upcoming article, so the purpose of this article on estate planning and estate taxes is to gauge your opinion.

What do you think? Should every American have to pay these taxes or only wealthy people? What is the definition of wealth to you? Should you be allowed to pass your estate to your spouse? How about to your kids?

As an estate planning attorney, these proposals have the impact of destroying thousands of existing estate plans and could destroy many more families who rely on the ability to pass property to their family. Your opinion matters and we encourage you to make it known to your representatives and senators.

Let me know your thoughts on this by emailing me or commenting below. As always, thank you for your interest.

Bernie Greenberg

Monday, January 12, 2015

Experts Advise: Estate Planning Saves Family Time and Money

Estate planning attorneys like me have written thousands of articles about why you should plan your estate. There are many reasons to complete your estate plan with a qualified estate planning attorney.

In this article, the authors discuss reasons you may appreciate, saving your family gobs of money and time if something were to happen to you!

Experts advise that estate planning can save time, money for heirs - Your Houston News: News:

Let me know your thoughts and whether the reasons discussed by the authors are important to you. If not, what reasons were important to you for completing your estate plan.

Join our conversation and please comment or send us an email. Thank you.

Bernie Greenberg

Monday, January 5, 2015

Estate Planning Should be on Your New Year's Resolution List

It's that time of year again, time to usher in the new year and think about your list. Yes, that list of things you are finally going to accomplish this year. Creating our list of resolutions is always interesting and can be fun. But the real benefit is actually accomplishing those resolutions.

According this article from the Beloit Daily News, one of those resolutions should be to finally get your estate plan done. Estate planning should be among NYE resolutions - Beloit Daily News: Illinois News:

If you don't have a will, or your will or estate plan is more than two year's old, it's time to add this one to that list of New Year's resolutions and follow the advice of the article and just get it done.

Let me know if you have questions about how to start or complete your estate planning and enjoy 2015!

Bernie Greenberg