February 11, 2014

Time for "The Talk"


The idea of confronting our parents’ mortality is indeed difficult, but this is a conversation (or series of conversations) that is crucial to you and your family’s well-being.  We are so used to being cared for by our parents that the transition to becoming their caregiver often sneaks up on us.  Preparing yourself ahead of time may ease the anxiety this transition can invoke.  That being said, remember that your parents may not want to be reminded of their mortality either… tact is necessary!

Top 5 ways NOT to talk to your parents about Estate Planning

1.        "Come on; let us see your will so we can establish once and for all who your favorite is!” 
While this may be gratifying to some, writing a will is an incredibly difficult process, imagine surveying all that you have acquired over your lifetime and then trying to determine what is fair, who is most likely to find value in what is in part, your legacy.  Be sensitive.  The larger issue is ensuring that a will exist, its location is known, and that any necessary updates are made.  When a parent dies without a will, the estate is divided in probate in court, and a judge, not your parent, decides who gets what.  And while this may be satisfying (Yes! You don’t have to take your mom’s Spoons from Around the World Collection!), the financial costs and potential trauma it can cause within the family is not worth it.  So, don’t ask them to choose favorites (you know it’s you anyway) but do ask if one exists.  Remind your parents that it is not about who gets what, you just want to ensure their wishes are followed.

2.       "This is the third time you’ve “lost” your keys, have you decided who is going to make your decisions for you when you get too senile to do it yourself?”
Frankly, no one wants to imagine their parents incapacitated, but should this occur, your parents need to designate someone to act as power of attorney.  Without this designation, a judge will decide, which can once again lead to costly court fees and family trauma.  This is also a good time to express if you have resignations about fulfilling this role yourself.  The person named to this role is given the ability to make legal and financial decisions should your parent be unable to.  

3.       "You’re looking a little… ‘tired’ lately, what is the status of your advance health care directives?”
Once again, no one wants to be reminded of their own mortality, but the best time to make these decisions is before someone becomes ill.  Advance health care directives include a living will, a health proxy, and a HIPPA.  Having clear, written instructions created while healthy, ensures that the emotions involved in dealing with illness do not impact decisions.  Without these instructions, heartbreak and even lawsuits could ensue. 

    4. "We were hoping to retire early, what are your plans for assisted living? We’d love to move in here.”  For the record, a friend of mine’s brother-in-law actually said something like this to his parents; it did not go over well.  The real question here is if your parents have made plans to cover the cost of long-term care.  Most long-term care homes are not covered by Medicare, and can be enormously expensive.  Long-term care insurance is something aging parents need to consider.  Help them (and your future self) by doing the research with them.

5.       And last, and probably the worst of all, what not to say to your parents when discussing estate planning, "I’m so tired of being broke all the time!  On a totally unrelated subject, have you named an authorized user on your financial accounts?”
Yikes!  This is an important issue, because should the account holder become incompetent or die, gaining access to funds can be insanely difficult.  To avoid yet another costly court battle, encourage your parents to name a trusted family member as co-owner of investments and accounts.  Again, if this is a role you are not willing to fulfill, now is the time to speak up.

While I joke, it is vital for your family to fully understand where your  parents are in the estate planning process.   They spent years investing in your well-being and future, an uncomfortable conversation (or two, or three) is the least you can do to invest in theirs.

April 22, 2013

Busy Since Birth - Having It All Project

I am grateful for the opportunity Cheryl Stober recently gave me, via Twitter, to contribute my 2 cents to her Having It all Project on her blog, Busy Since Birth.  My interview question answers appeared here, and I am sharing them here.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I am a full time mom and a full time lawyer with a busy little law firm I started a few years back and situated conveniently right in the family home I share with my husband, our three daughters (ages 3, 6, 8, and their little sister on the way), and a few pets.
I think it’s having a law office in our home that makes our lives a little less common.  After the birth of my first child I quickly realized that full time work outside the home in my nonprofit legal career wouldn’t have covered the cost of childcare for my newborn. It took me 4 years of soul-searching and floundering a bit, while working part time from home for former colleagues, to figure out how to fulfill both my career ambitions, be the type of mother I wanted to be, and figure out how to be able to afford to do both. There was a lot of risk involved but the reward is mostly very sweet.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
I am obsessed with organization in every area of my life, personal and professional.  I’m certain it is the only thing that keeps me sane.  Like so many other modern busy moms of a few kids, I rely on technology, specifically syncing all the carefully-color-coded calendars with multiple reminders, to help keep track of all our schedules and appointments.

I was very late to discovering yoga about a year ago (after about 15 years’ worth of friends telling me that I of all people really should at least try it). I have not been consistent with my practice the way I aspire to be, but when I do attend to my yoga practice I feel calmer, more at peace, more patient, more in touch with my own body and mind, and physically healthier. Yoga should absolutely be covered as preventative medicine!

I also highly recommend chocolate and peanut butter to help power through some of the more grueling work projects, combined with coffee when energy is fading.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
How to choose just one moment!?!  There has to be at least one of those per day!  Image this scene for a little taste of a moment when it all broke down and what I did to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.
It’s about 8:30am on a weekday. I’m fully dressed for work in a suit, in preparation for a 9:30am meeting with new clients, packing my three daughters’ lunchboxes, serving and cleaning up breakfast, and inquiring about homework in backpacks etc. I tell the big girls to get their coats and shoes on and I head into my office, adjacent to our kitchen, to make sure the desk is cleared off and everything is ready for when I get back from dropping them all off at their three different schools. Shuffling papers around and setting up, I somehow missed the then five-year-old giving her then two-year-old sister a breakfast snack bar. The little one walked all around the kitchen, then into the hallway, into the entry office, bathroom, and finally my office leaving a trail of crumbs it would seem impossible for one little snack bar to make!

So now I’m on my knees cleaning it all up off the floor, watching the clock, starting to panic about everyone being late to school and getting back late for my new client meeting. I’m mentally beating myself up for our chronic tardiness, starting to bark at the girls, and then spiraling into full mommy tantrum mode, circling back to more mental self-abuse.  I get the little one’s coat and shoes on, get everyone strapped into booster and car seats, and as I’m driving them to school apologizing for my tantrum, whining about how hard this is and expressing doubts about whether I can do it anymore, clearly setting a fabulous example leading to a final piling on of mental self-abuse, before kissing them all goodbye and telling them to have a great day and I’d see them at pickup in a few hours.

I make it back in the nick of time, manage to pull it together for a two hour meeting with a lovely couple who have three boys the exact same ages as my girls.  After the meeting, I decided that for the sake of my sanity and in the best interests of my family and our clients, 10am would be the new earliest available appointment time.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
Balance?  I’ll let you know when I achieve it outside the yoga studio.  As for role models, ideally, I would combine the best of all my friends and family into one superwoman. I would borrow what I envy from all my differently-situated friends, using the falsely limiting yet lazily convenient labels we apply to describe their basic situations: the “full time stay-at-home moms,” “full time work-outside-the-home moms,” “career women” who do not (yet) have children, and the dads who are navigating these same waters their own ways.

But myopically viewing the best of everyone’s situations without accepting the less than glamorous aspects and tradeoffs everyone makes is what gets us into trouble. Despite (or perhaps because of) my thoroughly ‘80s upbringing, since my first child was born in 2004 I’ve been disillusioned to learn that the mythical superwoman is just that, totally unrealistic.  Trying to be her is not only an unattainable goal but also a really unhealthy starting point.  I think the more we all tell it like it really is and pat each other, all of us, on the back for our own efforts and contributions, the happier we’d all be.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
This question actually makes me laugh.  I’m pretty sure that back then I still maintained this (in retrospect) totally ridiculous, romanticized vision of myself as a super-stylish, well-rested, city-dwelling, very successful attorney-mama with a happy little baby on one hip (no spit-up anywhere on my clothes) and a briefcase in the other hand (that had inside plane tickets and an itinerary for a fabulous, exotic vacation with my equal-parenting near perfect partner).

And then there’s reality! I’m a minivan-driving, suburban-dwelling, mother of three (soon four), working my tail off to continue to build, grow, and nurture™ my business, and crashing at the end of every day with my equally tired husband. Sadly, the last true vacation we had (read: without children for more than a one night getaway) was on our honeymoon, over ten years ago. If only I could spin in circles like Wonder Woman to go instantly from makeup-less fleecy lounge pants at school drop-off to dark-circles-covered polished professional, instead of “wasting” the precious time it really takes to accomplish that total transformation.

I recognize and appreciate how very privileged we are to have all that we do, especially this of all weeks. I do my best to teach my children to recognize how lucky we all are too and to be empathetic and eager to help others whenever they can. Even on our hardest days, I wouldn’t change any of it. I never get the best of all worlds on any one given day, but I do get the best of all them some days and for me, that’s the kind of “balance” I guess I need.