Monday, May 23, 2016

Shining the Light on Mental Illness

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences mental illness.  That’s about 43.8 million people, or around 18.5% of our country.  May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  It is a time to demystify some of the common misconceptions about various health issues.  In an article written by Quinten Plummer for Tech Times, he states that The Mental Health America organization has used the national attention to spark a conversation about how people whose mental illness is addressed before Stage 4 can recover quickly.

This illness is certainly not age-based, nor culture-based.  Years ago, I had represented a mother whose 18 year old son, “John”, for the most part, grew up “normal”.  Then one day he was experimenting with his friends with various substances to get “high”.  For some reason, his body and mind reacted in such an extraordinary way.  John started seeing things, hearing things and just acting so unusual.  His mom could not understand what was happening.  She took him to a psychiatrist, and John was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, manic with psychosis and paranoid episodes.  Mom was so distraught.  He would refuse medication, wander in the streets in the middle of the night, and be violent to the rest of the family.  Since he reached the age of majority, his mom could not talk to his doctors, and make decision on his behalf.  We opened up a Guardianship proceeding, and after several months, was able to get Mom appointed as John’s guardian.  When I met John in court, he appeared to be a typical 18 year old boy.  It wasn’t until the Judge started asking him some questions that you notice he was suffering from a mental illness.

On the other side of the spectrum, I represented a 72 year old business owner, “Nick”, in the later stages of dementia.  His son noticed that he was starting to do odd things, like leaving the stove on for a long period of time, or drive to the store, but wind up in a completely different neighborhood.  It was then that the son moved him into a Senior living facility.  Within a month of moving in, Nick met his next door neighbor, “Jane”, who befriended him.  They ate meals together, hung out together, and Nick seemed to enjoy the attention.  Then a few months later, Jane asked the facility to check into a 2 bedroom apartment for the two of them, because she said they were soon to be married.  It wasn’t long before Nick’s son saw the red flags, and started a Guardianship proceeding to protect his father.  I represented Nick and enjoyed learning about how he started his business years ago and what it has become today.  Although his short term memory was not very sharp, he remembers clearly details from his life long ago.  Needless to say it was a long court process and eventually Nick’s son became his guardian.  Interestingly enough, Jane moved out a month later.

I share these stories hopefully to encourage people to start noticing family and friends around them.  Anyone may seem “normal” at first, and yet, he or she may be suffering from a mental illness.  They are very susceptible to financial abuse, and perhaps physical abuse.  If we can keep an eye on our loved ones and our neighbors, have them seek help, perhaps they can recover with the right medical attention.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

More Adult Children Living With Their Parents

53.6% of 25 year olds in Illinois currently live with their parents.  To give you some perspective, in 1999, only 25% of all 25 year olds lived with their parents.  How did we go from 25% to 53.6% so quickly?

In my practice, I often counsel my clients about how to leave their assets to their children.  Many of my clients have adult children living in their homes, some of the “children” being in their 30s and 40s.  This often poses a problem as to what would happen if both parents die…would the children living there automatically receive their residence?  How would the other children receive an equal share?  Can the children afford the real estate taxes, utilities and upkeep?  Often we find that the children who are not living in the residence have some resentment towards the siblings because they essentially are getting “free rent” for many years just because they are not required to pay anything to the parents.  I can understand that parents want to keep the peace, provide for their children at all cost, and hope that the kids will all get along when they are gone. But unfortunately if there are no instructions for the children to follow under a Will and/or Trust, the likelihood is that the family will squabble over the division of the residence and assets.

So why the increase in adult children living at home? In the article by Tyler Durden found here: he explains some of the reasons,
  1. Labor Market – It appears to be a tough job market for young adults.  Perhaps it’s because older adults are working longer, there just aren’t enough jobs.  I recently learned from one of my clients (who is a Canadian citizen) that in Canada, companies aren’t allowed to hire individuals who are 65 and older.  That is the mandatory retirement age.  This helps to provide jobs for the younger adults. To me, this doesn’t seem to be a bad idea. 
  2. Housing Market – The recovery of the housing market seems to be driving up the rental rates.  It appears to be more difficult for a young adult with a starting salary to even rent an apartment, let along purchase a first home.
  3. Student Debt – This is definitely a huge factor in young adults living at home.  Many parents tell their children to go to college, get a degree, and then you’ll get a job.  But if the children are saddled with hundreds of thousands of student loans, it becomes more practical to stay home before buying a home or renting.
Mr. Durden ends his article with “for all of the above you can thank, who else, the Fed for blowing the biggest debt-funded asset bubble in history”.  Hopefully in the near future, our economy will continue to get stronger, our young adults will get good paying jobs, and move out of their parents’ basements.  In the meantime, get your estate plan in place with the right provisions to address any adult child living in your home.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Things Your Boss Doesn't Tell You

Yesterday, April 12, 2016, was EQUAL PAY DAY.  Woohoo!  For those who may not know what this means, it’s the day that a woman would have to work up to beginning on January 1st of the previous year, to make the same amount as a man working only for that same previous year.  In other words, if my husband and I were working in the same position, in the same field, with similar experience levels, I’d have to work an additional 3 months and 12 days just to get paid the same as him.  Does that seem fair?  Absolutely not.

As Patricia Arquette mentioned in her article, in the Washington Post, “Yes, it’s about the paycheck.  But it’s also about the principle of fairness.  Women earn only 79 percent of what men make in comparable jobs.”  One of my favorite movies last year was “Boyhood.”  Ms. Arquette earned an Academy Award for her performance.  More importantly, it was her ability to shed light on this very issue.  She was a single mom in the movie with two children.  Her struggles were very real. Her effort was relatable to so many mothers and women in our country.  I’ve talked to countless women who choose to stay in their marriage for financial reasons, even though they would have filed for a divorce years before. 

In my practice, this issue is very apparent when I am counseling single women who have already retired.  So many women are not receiving much from social security, partly because of the wage gap or perhaps a break from the workforce to raise their children. They worry about how they can take care of themselves in the event of long term care needs.  It’s one thing to not make as much during the working years, but the compound effect of that gap exponentially affects women as they get older.

In Patricia’s article, it stated that “Salesforce chairman and CEO Marc Benioff reviewed his 17,000 employees’ salaries and made $3 million in adjustments to equalize gender pay disparities.”  Wow.  Yes, it’s great that he chose to do this, but $3M?!  That is how much women in his company were not making compared to men in just one year?  I applaud Marc’s decision, and hope he sparks a domino effect for other companies to follow his actions.

Last year, I watched a TED talk by Former President, Jimmy Carter. As we all know, he has made such an amazing impact after his presidency for his humanitarian efforts.  His talk was entitled “Why I believe the mistreatment of women is the number one human rights abuse.”  EVERYONE should watch this:

Although it does not necessarily discuss gender pay equality, this talk really opened my eyes to know that it’s not just about the paycheck.  We would all be better off if we can justify the right and the wrong of the mistreatment of women and girls. In so many parts of the world, both developed and developing.

#blogger #genderequality 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


  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.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


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.