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One of the growing types of “crimes” that often goes unnoticed is elder abuse/fraud.  If you have a family member, a family friend, or anyone you know that is older, perhaps lives alone, single and especially if he/she does not have any children, please take the time to check in on them every so often.  They are often the more vulnerable to being victims of this crime.  I recently was at a meeting with a client and her financial advisor.  The advisor told us the story of another client who is elderly and whose caregiver was taking financial advantage of her.  The caregiver was continuing to request more and more additional “funds” from the client. The advisor asked to see her estate planning documents that were 20 years old, and the client named two similarly aged people to act on her behalf, and who were not in the position to take care of her financial and medical decisions.  The advisor is now working to make sure her client is protected from further financial influence and abuse.

I have also encountered some of these types of stories with my own clients.  For example:

 (1)   73 year old business man (“Tom”) was diagnosed with dementia for two years.  He lived on his own during the two years, but his son was starting to get phone calls about Tom wandering the neighborhood.  His son put Tom in independent living at a large residential home for seniors with various types of care.  Within a month of moving in, his next door neighbor, a single woman (“Jane”), was befriending him.  Jane continued to spend a lot of time with him.  After three months, Tom called his son and said that he wants to marry Jane and get a two bedroom place for them to live in together.  Jane went to the effort of writing a letter to the senior living facility stating that she and Tom were getting married and want to look at other 2 bedroom units.  The facility administrator called the son and the red flags were up.  Son eventually started a court process called a guardianship to take over Tom’s affairs.  I represented Tom, who is a very lovely man.  He is an immigrant who came to America and started a company that still exists today.  He has a decent amount of assets.  Jane on the other hand, did not have much money.  At the end of the long guardianship process, son became the guardian, and three months later, Tom and Jane “broke up” and she moved out.  I wonder why.

 (2)   Another client of mine is “Jake”.  He and his wife, “Carol,” updated their estate plan with me in 2005.  Unfortunately, Carol died in 2007.  In 2011, one of their sons (“Joe”), contacted me to let me know that Jake met a woman in the grocery store.   Joe said that this woman just started talking to Jake and all of a sudden within a week, she is over at his house with a bag of groceries wanting to make dinner for him.  This would have not been a big deal, however, Jake at the time was age 87, and this woman was age 52.  So I called Jake to just check in, see how he was doing.  He told me about the woman and said she was very nice.  He seemed to really enjoy the attention.  Once again the facts were similar to the first story in that Jake has a sizeable estate, and the woman was a single mom with a minimal size estate.  I recently met with Joe and he told me that the relationship went “sour” after a few months, and she is no longer in the picture.  Luckily, Jake was of sound mind and was able to see through her intentions.

As much as I am a romantic at heart and would love to see my clients meet nice people and enjoy the companionship, I am also very protective over my clients so that the intentions of any new relationship is truly for love, and not for finances.

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I recently read an article about Robin Williams’ estate and how the personal property like his suspenders from the “Mork and Mindy” TV show or the Oscar from the movie “Good Will Hunting” will be distributed.  Many times it is the assets with little to no value in the marketplace, but with a tremendous emotional value to the family members that end up being fought about.  I remember one family fought over the gravy bowl because all of the children had such fond memories of mom’s cooking and that bowl being passed around at every big family dinner.  It is not uncommon for me to hear about one family member going to the decedent’s house even before the funeral occurs, and grabbing items way before everyone else.

Although we can never predict what your family will really fight about, we can at least do some preventative measures.  Here are some examples of what some of my clients have done:

( 1) Ask! Some clients ask their children what are the things in the house that have sentimental value to them.  Then you can see if there are any items that more than one child wants, and you can designate who you want it to go to.

( 2) Sticker System – Some clients ask their children to take colored sticker and put it under any item that they would like.  Yes, it’s possible to for the kids to peel off stickers of their siblings but hopefully everyone will play by the rules.

( 3) Card System – Some clients put together a strategy in their estate planning documents of how the personal property will be distributed.  They may have a deck of cards, and each person would choose one.  They would then just go in order and pick things out one by one until they have narrowed it down to things to put up for sale or to donate.

( 4) Estate Planning Letter – We always encourage clients to prepare a letter that may have some instructions on how best to distribute or sell personal property.  This includes a list that is separate from the Will or Living Trust, but is incorporated in such documents to be honored upon your death.  This list of who to give what items to can be changed as often as you want, especially since we accumulate and get rid of assets throughout our lifetime. The instructions should also include the details of the assets and how best to sell them. For instance if you have a rare set of books, coins, china, stamps or any other collection, your family may just sell them in a garage sale, or on craigslist for far less than their true value.

In any event, estate planning is not just about the big stuff – your house, your retirement accounts, your savings and your cars.  It’s also about the “little” stuff that has far greater sentimental value to your family.  The more you plan, hopefully, the less conflict for your family members, and the higher likelihood that they can remain on good terms and continue to see each other during the holidays.

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HEALTH is a multi-faceted word that lends its meaning to finances, relationships, physical fitness and the list can truly go on.  As we come out of a very long and arduous winter, many people may not have had the motivation to really get on track with the physical fitness aspect.  Dreary cold and cloudy days did not lend inspiration to get out there and get moving.  With that said, summer is upon us.  What does that mean?  Warmer days, less layers required and dare I say it, swim suits!  As a certified personal trainer with the Natural Fitness Trainers Association, health and fitness are a passion of mine outside of the office and I want to share with you some easy and quick ways to charge out of the winter blues and get you ready for SUMMER FUN! (And you don’t even have to join a gym!)  I get a lot of questions and/or excuses as to why working out and eating healthy cannot be incorporated into a daily routine, but rest assured, with my easy tips and hacks, it will be harder to fight them than to actually do them!

Problem #1: I don’t belong to/have time for a gym.

YOU DON’T NEED ONE!  Circuit training is PERFECT for the home!  You can utilize the items you have in your home to get in a quick and effective workout.  If you are new to a training program, as usual consult your doctor, and then try to incorporate this into your schedule 2 to 3 times a week.  Once you start to build up your endurance, make it 3 to 4 times a week and add another round or two of the circuit.  I rarely get on the scale, I go more so by how my clothes fit, so don’t let a number fool you or intimidate you.  The goal is the get healthy and feel better about yourself, not be defined by some arbitrary number that does not measure HEALTH!

Try this FULL BODY Circuit – Beginners do 3-4 rounds 2 to 3 times a week and work up to 5-6 rounds 3 to 4 times a week:

– 50 No Weight Body Squats

– 20 Mountain Climbers (10 each leg)

– 50 Jumping Jacks

– 15 Chair Dips

– 25 Sumo Squats (feet wide, toes turned out)

– 20 Crunches (if you do not want to lay on the floor, you can stand with your hands behind your head and bring your opposite knee to opposite elbow for 10 on each side)

– 50 High Knees

There is no rest between each exercise, but once an entire round is complete, you may rest for 2 minutes and then repeat!

 Problem #2: Eating healthy is expensive or my kids won’t eat that!

WRONG!  I use my local grocery store sale ad and shop what is on sale that week.  It may take a little planning, but most of you are already doing that anyway.  With summer here, fresh fruits and vegetables will be in abundance and if you are lucky enough to have a farmer’s market in your area – TAKE ADVANTAGE!!  What better way to support local farmers and know that you are getting the freshest produce available.  Here are a few food hacks that I absolutely love and I know you and your family will too!

  1. Love mashed potatoes? Try steaming cauliflower until soft.  Mash with a fork or whip on low speed with a hand mixer with light butter or cheese and season with garlic powder and pepper.  Your family will never know the difference!
  2. Love pasta? Try spinning zucchini in a spiral cutter ($14 from Wal-mart and it will change your life) or using spaghetti squash as your noodles!  Add your favorite pasta sauce and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and ENJOY!
  3. Love dessert? Try layering chocolate graham crackers with fat free cool whip and stick in the freezer for a delicious “ice cream” sandwich!

These are simple and easy tips that will get your creative healthy juices flowing so you can not only enjoy your summer, but feel GREAT doing it!

 Bott & Associates, Ltd wants to make sure that you are taken care of mind, body and soul!  We look forward to all the ways that we can help your family create a lasting legacy.

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What Makes ME Different?

I went to my son’s IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) Meeting at school to discuss his progress in 4th grade.  The team includes his teacher, a Special Education Teacher, a Speech/Language Pathologist, an Occupational Therapist, an Assistive Technology Facilitator and an Inclusion Specialist.  Aside from his teacher, my son has been with each of the other people since Kindergarten.  They have been extremely helpful in his educational and social development in the last five years.  I am very grateful to have them in my son’s life.  But what really sets them apart in my eyes is not their education, not their expertise, but their “bedside manner.”  They care about my son and his progress. They have many heartfelt stories of his “glows” and improvements.  They send me emails about things that my son has done or said that made them feel good, which of course makes me feel good. 

Today I told them I was just thinking back recently to my initial experience with the “special needs” world.  It started with his Early Intervention assessment meeting.  My son was 18 months old, and it was my mom who said to me, “I think there is something wrong, have him checked out.”  As a tired mom of two, I was actually very defensive and said, “Mom, you’re just overreacting. He is fine.”  But she insisted.  So I called the number and set up the meeting.  In my living room I had five professionals, rattling off questions, and observing my son.  After the hour, they each gave me a “verbal report” in technical language of how far behind he was in every area, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, verbal and non-verbal communications, social skills, etc.  Each of them treated my son like he was just this “specimen” or “lab rat” they were observing.  From my point of view, none of them felt like they were even talking about a human being, much less an 18 month old child.  When they left, I just burst into tears.

Thereafter, he participated in many therapy sessions, and by age 3, he attended a preschool for learning disabled children.  Once again, I was in front of an entire team of professionals discussing his progress during his two years of preschool.  Once again, I was incredibly disappointed in the team’s demeanor of treating my son like a “lab rat.” They rattled off their reports and recommendations in highly technical language, and not one of them mentioned anything remotely human.  Like, “he’s a joy to have in class…he’s great at this task.”  Every meeting was structured and robotic.

So today after my meeting with the wonderful team at my son’s elementary school, I realized something.  I am often asked, “What makes me different?” or “What is your competitive advantage?”  I realized that what makes me different is not quantifiable, is not analytical and is not logical.  What makes me different is that I care.  A lot.  I want to help my clients and their families and make them feel heard and understood.  I want to be there in times of sadness, of conflict, of frustration, of confusion and of course in times of happiness as well.  So instead of treating my clients in a clinical way by spouting off legal terms in a robotic way, I treat my clients like human beings, and listen to their life stories. I know you may think there are so many attorneys who say the same thing.  Well, yes, I’m certainly not the only attorney who has good “bedside” manner.  But in my general experience with all professionals, there really is only a small percentage who actually do have good “bedside” manner.

I share my story about my son because I have been on the receiving end of a team of good professionals and a team of not so good professionals.  I know for certain that I will always strive to be one of the “good professionals” in my clients’ lives, and their families’ lives in the future.

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There was a gentleman named “John” who walked into my office letting me know that his cousin’s condo needed to be sold.  His cousin, “Jane”, died the previous year and her condo was just sitting there empty.  Jane had no surviving spouse, children, parents or siblings.  John was a cousin on the maternal side of Jane’s family, and he only knew the names of eight family members on the maternal side.  So we opened a probate estate which was based on the laws of intestacy since Jane did not have any estate planning documents such as a Will or Living Trust.

The intestacy laws are basically everybody’s “default will” if they do not write down their own wishes.  In Illinois, it states that if you die with a surviving spouse and children, then half goes to spouse, half goes to children.  If you die with only a spouse or only children, then all of your estate will go to such party or parties.  If you die with neither, then it goes to your siblings and parents, in equal shares, and possibly to nieces and nephews if a sibling has predeceased you.  If you do not have any of those surviving family members, then we have to reach up to the maternal and paternal grandparents’ sides, and create a large family tree to figure out who is below, and to figure out the correct labels of these individuals such as “cousins twice removed.”

In Jane’s situation, we had to do the latter.  Within a week of filing the Petition in court, we received letters from two different attorneys, one representing the relatives under the paternal grandparents’ side which was about 30 additional beneficiaries, and the other attorney representing other relatives (who John did not know) from the maternal grandparents’ side which was an additional 25 beneficiaries.  So the grand total of potential beneficiaries “sticking out their hand” for the inheritance from Jane was about 63 people.

The condo was the only asset in the estate.  It sold for about $230,000.  In the end, everyone received a piece of the pie (or more like a sliver) and it took over five years to complete.

Needless to say, this all could have been avoided.  Had Jane signed a will stating her wishes, the probate estate would have been far less complicated and certainly less expensive.  Further, had Jane chosen to prepare a Living Trust and retitled her condo under the name of such trust, then the estate would not have had to go through the public forum of probate court, and the family members would have received the inheritance quickly and efficiently.  Do you have the “Default Will”?

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