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What’s the Latest with Tom Petty’s Estate ?

The late Tom Petty’s wife, Dana Petty, has asked a Los Angeles judge for permission to fund the LLC Tom Petty Legacy with the singer’s assets. However, his two daughters object.

Billboard reports in a recent article, “Tom Petty’s Widow Files New Appeals Against Daughters in Escalating Battle Over Late Rocker’s Trust” that Dana asked the court to deny a previous petition filed by daughter Adria demanding that Dana immediately fund Petty Unlimited. This is an LLC created to receive assets (a.k.a. “artistic property”) from Petty’s trust. Instead, Dana wants to fund and execute an operating agreement for Tom Petty Legacy, a separate LLC that she created by herself.

Adria’s petition accused Dana of withholding Petty’s assets from Petty Unlimited to keep her and sister Annakim from “participat[ing] equally” in the management of those assets, as directed in the trust. Adria also said that under the terms of the trust, Dana was required to fund Petty Unlimited within six months of Petty’s death. However, she failed to meet that deadline.

Dana claims that she’s the “sole successor trustee” of Petty’s trust and she’s “exclusively authorized” to form any entity of her choosing to be the beneficiary of her husband’s assets—provided all three women are given equal participation in its management. She claims that the trust doesn’t specify Petty Unlimited as the only entity that can receive the assets. As such, the LLC has no legal rights to them.

Dana claims there’s been “foul behavior” on Adria’s part, stating that the 44-year-old has “caused enormous damage to many of Tom’s professional relationships” via a series of letters (allegedly sent by Adria’s lawyer Alex Weingarten) that “threaten[ed] everyone whom Tom worked with for decades: his record labels, his music lawyer David Altschul…even Tom’s longtime accountant.” Dana says the threats led the attorney, who was then representing her, to resign. She also claims Adria has been “abusive” and “slander[ous]” towards several others, including his longtime business manager Bernie Gudvi, his estate planning attorney Burton Mitchell and members of his band the Heartbreakers.

Dana accused the daughters of interfering in and, in some cases, delaying the release of several posthumous releases of Petty’s music. She says that as trustee of Petty’s trust, she is sole owner of Petty Unlimited, and that Adria and Annakim (and by extension their lawyers) have been “masquerading” as its rightful representatives. The petition notes that Dana has since signed documents to remove Adria and Annakim as managers of the LLC and “fired” a law firm as its representative.

The petition acknowledged that equal participation in the management of Petty’s assets between the three is required under the terms of the trust, but that Dana has sole power to decide on a governing structure for the entity that’s eventually funded with those assets. Now that negotiations with Adria and Annakim have broken down, Dana is trying to assert her “broad discretion” in deciding that structure without their input.

In response to Dana’s claims, Adria and Annakim’s lawyer Alex Weingarten told Billboard, “Dana and her lawyer are basing their case on smoke and mirrors. Every claim they make is demonstrably false. Adria and Annakim are laser focused on one thing—honoring and protecting their father’s legacy and enforcing the terms of his trust, as written.”

Petty died of an accidental drug overdose in October 2017, at the age of 66.

Reference: Billboard (May 30, 2019) “Tom Petty’s Widow Files New Appeals Against Daughters in Escalating Battle Over Late Rocker’s Trust”

 

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What Does ‘Getting Your Affairs in Order’ Really Mean?

That “something” that happens that no one wants to come out and say is that you are either incapacitated by a serious illness or injury or the ultimate ‘something,’ which is death. There are steps you can take that will help your family and loved ones, so they have the information they need and can help you, says Catching Health’s article “Getting your affairs in order.”

Start with the concept of incapacity, which is an important part of estate planning. Who would you want to speak on your behalf? Would that person be the same one you would want to make important financial decisions, pay bills and handle your personal affairs? Does your family know what your wishes are, or do you know what your parent’s wishes are?

Financial Power of Attorney. Someone needs to be able to pay your bills and handle financial matters. That person is named in a Financial Power of Attorney, and they become your agent. Without an agent, your family will have to go to court and get a conservatorship. This takes time and money. It also brings in court involvement into your life and adds another layer of stress and expense.

It’s important to name someone who you trust implicitly and whose financial savvy you trust. Talk with the person you have in mind first and make sure they are comfortable taking on this responsibility. There may be other family members who will not agree with your decisions, or your agent’s decisions. They’ll have to be able to stick to the course in the face of disagreements.

Medical Power of Attorney. The Medical Power of Attorney is used when end-of-life care decisions must be made. This is usually when someone is in a persistent vegetative state, has a terminal illness or is in an irreversible coma. Be cautious: sometimes people want to appoint all their children to make health care decisions. When there are disputes, the doctor ends up having to make the decision. The doctor does not want to be a mediator. One person needs to be the spokesperson for you.

Health Care Directive or Living Will. The name of these documents and what they serve to accomplish does vary from state to state, so speak with an estate planning attorney in your state to determine exactly what it is that you need.

Health Care Proxy. This is the health care agent who makes medical decisions on your behalf, when you can no longer do so. In Maine, that’s a health care advance directive. The document should be given to the named person for easy access. It should also be given to doctors and medical providers.

DNR, or Do Not Resuscitate Order. This is a document that says that if your heart has stopped working or if you stop breathing, not to bring you back to life. When an ambulance arrives and the EMT asked for this document, it’s because they need to know what your wishes are. Some folks put them on the fridge or in a folder where an aide or family member can find them easily. If you are in cardiac arrest and the DNR is with a family member who is driving from another state to get to you, the EMT is bound by law to revive you. You need to have that on hand, if that is your wish.

How Much Should You Tell Your Kids? While it’s really up to you as to how much you want to share with your kids, the more they know, the more they can help in an emergency. Some seniors bring their kids with them to the estate planning attorney’s office, but some prefer to keep everything under wraps. At the very least, the children need to know where the important documents are, and have contact information for the estate planning attorney, the accountant and the financial advisor. Many people create a binder with all of their important documents, so there are no delays caused in healthcare decisions.

Only then are you getting your affairs in order.

Reference: Catching Health (May 28, 2019) “Getting your affairs in order.”

 

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Here’s Why a Basic Form Doesn’t Work for Estate Planning

It’s true that an effective estate plan should be simple and straightforward, if your life is simple and straightforward. However, few of us have those kinds of lives. For many families, the discovery that a will that was created using a basic form is invalid leads to all kinds of expenses and problems, says The Daily Sentinel in an article that asks “What is wrong with using a form for my will or trust?”

If the cost of an estate plan is measured only by the cost of a document, a basic form will, of course, be the least expensive option — on the front end. On the surface, it seems simple enough. What would be wrong with using a form?

Actually, a lot is wrong. The same things that make a do-it-yourself, basic form seem to be attractive, are also the things that make it very dangerous for your family. A form does not take into account the special circumstances of your life. If your estate is worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars, that form could end up putting your estate in the wrong hands. That’s not what you had intended.

Another issue: any form that is valid in all 50 states is probably not going to serve your purposes. If it works in all 50 states (and that’s highly unlikely), then it is extremely general, so much so that it won’t reflect your personal situation. It’s a great sales strategy, but it’s not good for an estate plan.

If you take into consideration the amount of money to be spent on the back end after you’ve passed, that $100 will becomes a lot more expensive than what you would have invested in having a proper estate plan created by an estate planning attorney.

What you can’t put into dollars and cents, is the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your estate plan, including a will, power of attorney, and health care power of attorney, has been properly prepared, that your assets will go to the individuals or charities that you want them to go to, and that your family is protected from the stress, cost and struggle that can result when wills are deemed invalid.

Here’s one of many examples of how the basic, inexpensive form created chaos for one family. After the father died, the will was unclear, because it was not prepared by a professional. The father had properly filled in the blanks but used language that one of his sons felt left him the right to significant assets. The family became embroiled in expensive litigation, and became divided. The litigation has ended, but the family is still fractured. This was not what their father had intended.

Other issues that are created when forms are used: naming the proper executor, guardians and conservators, caring for companion animals, dealing with blended families, addressing Payable-on-Death (POD) accounts and end-of-life instructions, to name just a few.

Avoid the “repair” costs and meet with an experienced estate planning attorney in your state to create an estate plan that will suit your needs.

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (May 25, 2019) “What is wrong with using a form for my will or trust?”

 

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Nursing Home Costs and Your Estate Plan

There are many misunderstandings about long-term or nursing home care and how to plan from a financial and legal standpoint. The article “Five myths about nursing home costs and estate planning” from The Sentinel seeks to clarify the facts and dispel the myths. Some of the truths may be a little hard to hear, but they are important to know.

Myth One: Before any benefits can be received for nursing home care, a married couple must have spent at least half of their assets and everything but $120,000. If the person receiving nursing home care is single, they must spend almost all assets on the cost of care, before they qualify for aid.

Fact: Nursing homes have no legal duty to advise anyone before or after they are admitted about this myth.

Several opportunities to spend money on items other than a nursing home, include home improvements, debt retirement, a new car and funeral prepayment. An elder law attorney will know how to use a Medicaid-compliant annuity to preserve assets, without spending them on the cost of care, depending on state law.

There are people who say that an attorney should not help a client take advantage of legally permitted methods to save their money. If they don’t like the laws, let them lobby to change them. Experienced elder law and estate planning attorneys help middle-class clients preserve their life savings, much like millionaires use CPAs to minimize annual federal income taxes.

Myth Two: The nursing home will take our family’s home, if we cannot pay for the cost of care.

Fact: Nursing homes do not want and will not take your home. They just want to be paid. If you can’t afford to pay, the state will use Medicaid money to pay, as long as the family meets the eligibility requirements. The state may eventually attach a collection lien against the estate of the last surviving homeowner to recover funds that the state has used for care.

A good elder law attorney will know how to help the family meet those requirements, so that the adult children are not sued by the nursing home for filial responsibility collection rights, if applicable under state law. The attorney will also know what exceptions and legal loopholes can be used to preserve the family home and avoid estate recovery liens.

Myth Three. We’ve promised our parents that they’ll never go to a nursing home.

Fact: There is a good chance that an aging parent, because of dementia or the various frailties of aging, will need to go to a nursing home at some point, because the care that is provided is better than what the family can do at home.

What our loved ones really want is to know that they won’t be cast off and abandoned, and that they will get the best care possible. When home care is provided by a spouse over an extended period of time, often both spouses end up needing care.

Myth Four: I love my children equally, so I am going to make all of them my legal agent.

Fact: It’s far better for one child to be appointed as the legal agent, so that disagreements between siblings don’t impact decisions. If health care decisions are delayed because of differing opinions, the doctor will often make the decision for the patient. If children don’t get along in the best of circumstances, don’t expect that to change with an aging parent is facing medical, financial and legal issues in a nursing home.

Myth Five. We did our last will and testament years ago, and nothing’s changed, so we don’t need to update anything.

Fact: The most common will leaves everything to a spouse, and thereafter everything goes to the children. That’s fine, until someone has dementia or is in a nursing home. If one spouse is in the nursing home and receiving government benefits, eligibility for the benefits will be lost, if the other spouse dies and leaves assets to the spouse who is receiving care in the nursing home.

A fundamental asset preservation strategy is to make changes to the will. It is not necessary to cut the spouse out of the will, but a well-prepared will can provide for the spouse, preserve assets and comply with state laws about minimal spousal election.

When there has been a diagnosis of early stage dementia, it is critical that an estate planning attorney’s help be obtained as soon as possible, while the person still has legal capacity to make changes to important documents.

The important lesson for all the myths and facts above: see an experienced estate planning elder law attorney to make sure you are prepared for the best care and to preserve assets.

Reference: The Sentinel (May 10, 2019) “Five myths about nursing home costs and estate planning”

Suggested Key Terms: Nursing Home Care, Long-Term Care, Estate Planning, Elder Law Attorney, Medicaid, Government Benefits, Asset Preservation

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What’s a Death Tax?

The federal estate tax is sometimes called the death tax. It’s a one-time tax that is imposed at death. Forbes’ recent article, “Eight Things You Need To Know About The Death Tax Before You Die,” explains that it’s not unusual for people to mix up estate taxes with income taxes. The federal estate tax is a transfer tax imposed on individuals with estates over $11.4 million ($22.8 for couples). The tax is on anything over that amount and ranges between 18% and 40%. However, if you die with an estate less than $11.4 million in 2019, no estate tax is due.

Assets in your name only and everything else you had control over will be added into your gross estate. For example, all stocks, bonds, bank accounts and life insurance death benefits are included, as well as any real estate, business interests, jewelry, household furnishings and artwork.

Note: just because your family avoids probate with your estate, doesn’t mean they won’t have to deal with the death tax. For instance, life insurance is in your gross estate, if you owned or could control the policy. IRAs and 401(k)s are also included in your gross estate. Just because these assets aren’t included in the estate because they have a named beneficiary, it doesn’t mean they’ve avoided the death tax. It depends upon the level of control you had over the assets.

If you owned property jointly with a spouse, half of the home’s value is included in the gross estate. If you owned property jointly with someone else (not your spouse), then 100% of the value is included in the gross estate—unless you can prove that the other party contributed some or all of the value.

If you’re the beneficiary of a trust your parents created for you, those assets may be included in your gross estate, if you have certain rights over the trust assets.

If you’re married to a U.S. citizen, you get an unlimited marital deduction for all of the assets you leave to your spouse.  However, some states impose their own death tax, which may require additional planning. For example, Massachusetts has a $1 million estate tax exemption. A tax may also be levied in a state where you own real estate.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about your own death tax liability, and what actions you can take to decrease any taxes that may be due.

Reference: Forbes (May 20, 2019) “Eight Things You Need To Know About The Death Tax Before You Die”

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What Do I Do With My Dad’s Timeshare When He Passes Away?

When a timeshare owner dies, the timeshare will usually be part of the deceased owner’s estate, according to nj.com’s recent article, “My dad had a timeshare and died without a will. I don’t want it. What do I do?” The contractual obligations of the timeshare owner become the responsibility of the next-of-kin or the beneficiaries of the estate.

When the timeshare company hears of the owner’s death, they may keep sending letters to him for his expenses. Is there any way that the owner’s children could be held responsible for the expenses?

Legally speaking, a timeshare is an agreement or arrangement in which parties share the ownership of or right to use property. Each owner is entitled to use the property for a specific period of time. Some examples are a vacation club at a tropical resort or a villa at a ski destination.

There are three basic types of timeshare programs: fee simple, leasehold, and right-to-use (‘RTU’). In addition, there are some variations of RTUs, like points systems and fractional/private residence clubs.

The executor or administrator of the estate will need to contact the timeshare company and/or locate a copy of the owner’s contract to find out what the financial and legal obligations are under the contract.

In addition, the executor may decide to contact an estate planning attorney, especially if the property is out-of-state. This is important as the laws concerning timeshare agreements and inheritances vary from state to state.

The next-of-kin and estate beneficiaries do have the option of declining their inheritance, including a timeshare. If they want to do this, they’ll typically be required to sign and file an inheritance disclaimer document.

If the property is disclaimed, it would pass to the next individuals or entities with a right to inherit.

If the estate fails to make the payments while the owner’s estate is being probated, fees and penalties may accrue. At that point, the management company and the property manager may file a lawsuit against the estate to get their money due them pursuant to the timeshare agreement.

However, if the property is disclaimed by all of the heirs, the property manager may likely foreclose, so any accrued debt would be paid from the estate’s assets. That foreclosure shouldn’t impact the credit of any heir who disclaimed the timeshare.

Reference: nj.com (June 3, 2019) “My dad had a timeshare and died without a will. I don’t want it. What do I do?”

 

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Did the Queen of Soul Leave a Will or Die Intestate?

Legendary vocalist Aretha Franklin passed away last August of pancreatic cancer. It was believed that she died intestate —without a will, even though she was survived by four adult sons.

The Detroit News’s recent article, “Handwritten wills found in Aretha Franklin home favor her four sons” reports that three handwritten wills have been discovered in one of her homes.

These documents suggest that Aretha had been considering what she wanted to leave to her heirs, if indeed the wills are found to have been written in her hand. Two of the wills discovered in a locked cabinet were dated 2010, eight years prior to her death.

Legal documents were filed by attorneys David J. Bennett and Kevin M. Check, who were hired by the personal representative of the estate, Franklin’s niece, Sabrina Garrett Owens. Bennett has been Franklin’s lawyer for more than 40 years.

According to the documents, Owens discovered a key to a locked cabinet that she previously couldn’t open. She found two holographic wills inside that were dated June 21, 2010 and October 20, 2010. Owens also found a spiral notebook with another purported holographic will dated March 31, 2014, under the cushions of a living room couch.

The court filing says that the heirs and their counsel “have been unable to reach a resolution with each other over the admission, validity and dispositive provisions of the purported Holographic Wills.”

Unlike traditional wills, the signing of holographic wills aren’t witnessed and are probated in several states, providing they’re authenticated by other means, such as by verifying the handwriting and the intended wishes they contain. Michigan recognizes holographic wills. New York does not. In New York you would die intestate.

Owens has asked for direction from County Probate Judge Jennifer S. Callaghan on how to continue as personal representative in the matter. A hearing is scheduled for this summer regarding intestacy.

“She remains neutral and wishes that all parties involved make wise choices on behalf of their mother, her rich legacy, the family and the Aretha Franklin estate,” a statement said of Garrett Owens, according to the Associated Press.

The new wills certainly add confusion to the probating of Franklin’s estate. The handwritten wills are hard to read and may be a bit embarrassing. If they were personally written by Franklin, some sections contain comments about relatives, attorneys, and even a “Ha, Ha, Ha” and “BS” when describing someone. In an another aside, she said that one attorney had been “grossly inefficient.”

Each document starts with “being in sound mind and physical health” pronouncement—one noted “with the exception of high blood pressure, a mass on the pancreas, diabetes …”

A common theme of these wills is that Aretha clearly wanted to care for her sons: she wanted her automobiles and property to be supervised by one son; and all of her artwork, copyrights, and future royalties from her music to be shared equally by all her boys. She also wanted them to have her personal papers, awards and gold records.

One statement said that she wanted two of her sons to “take business administration classes and get a certificate or degree.” She specifically directed that her grandchildren are also to be gifted.

The only dollar figure listed in the paperwork is a $1.6 million bank account. However, Aretha’s total worth from her various properties, jewelry, royalties and other assets have been estimated at roughly $80 million.

The IRS says that Franklin owed more than $6.3 million in back taxes. However, Bennett says that Franklin paid all her debts, including several million dollars in federal taxes.

If you die intestate, your wishes will not be carried out.

Reference: The Detroit News (May 20, 2019) “Handwritten wills found in Aretha Franklin home favor her four sons”

 

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Three Children Named Co-Executors of Your Will?

Is it a good idea to have your three grown children listed as co-executors of your will? This may get somewhat confusing when probating a will, if there are multiple executors.

What are the pros and cons to choosing one child to act as your executor, instead of selecting all three of your children to act co-executors?

nj.com’s recent article asks “I’m planning my will. Is it bad to have more than one executor?”

The article explains that the duty of the executor is to gather all the decedent’s assets, pay any outstanding debts and liabilities and then account for and distribute the remaining estate to the beneficiaries, according to the instructions in the decedent’s will.

The executor is allowed to hire professionals and others to help with tasks, like completing a decedent’s final income tax return or preparing the home for sale.

When you have multiple executors appointed, these tasks can be assigned to each person to lessen the burden of the many duties and responsibilities that an executor has.

On the downside, if those appointed can’t work together easily and without strife, appointing multiple siblings can make the administration of an estate much more difficult due to arguments, conflicts of interest, one sibling taking the lead to the resentment of the others or one executor undermining another executor’s actions.

The problem is, in situations where the siblings don’t get along, designating one of them as co-executors can cause hard feelings and conflict. It’s not uncommon for those siblings who aren’t named as executor, to complain about every decision made by the named executor or delay in the administration of the estate.

If there are multiple executors, the majority rules. That can avoid deadlock. Simple math in this case says that you want to avoid naming an even number of executors or name a person who can act as the tiebreaker.

Even with a “majority rules” agreement among the co-executors, there are some financial institutions and other entities that may require all the executors to sign documents and/or checks on behalf of the estate. This can become burdensome and inefficient, if there are multiple executors.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about your family dynamics and get their opinion about what would be best in your personal situation.

Reference: nj.com (May 22, 2019) “I’m planning my will. Is it bad to have more than one executor?”

 

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Will Contests May Be Rare, but They Do Happen

In an ideal world, wills and estate plans are created when people are sound of mind and body, just as the familiar legal phrase describes. The best way to avoid a will contest is to have a well-written will, prepared by a qualified estate planning attorney who can help avoid legal contest. However, there are times when this is not the case, says The Huntsville Item in the article “Legal Corner: Will contests while rare are messy.”

A will is contested, when the person challenging the will believes that it does not represent the true intent of the testator to pass the estate to the people he wanted.

A will must be written in the correct form and executed according to the law in order to be valid. This is why it is necessary to work with an estate planning attorney to create a will. A person may try to do it on their own, typing it out, downloading a form or copying a form, but because the law is very strict about the form and execution, many of these do-it-yourself wills end up being deemed invalid by the courts.

When the will is not valid, the laws of intestate are applied to the person’s estate. This is rarely in accordance with the person’s wishes, but at this point, it’s too late.

To make a will, the person must have “testamentary capacity.” That means that he or she knows what they are doing, what their estate includes and who the recipients of the estate will be. They also must not have been subject to undue influence. That means that the person making the will is so controlled and dominated by another person, that they were not able to make the will that they wanted.

When the sad day comes that a loved one passes, the family grieves. Each member will deal with the loss in their own way. For some people, the intense level of emotions can bring about conflicts. Sometimes these are the result of old battles that were never resolved. Sibling rivalry that’s been simmering for decades can emerge.

One of the goals of a properly prepared will, is to prevent will contests or any family fights after a loved one has passed.

Studies have found that the struggle over mom’s necklace or dad’s watch are not about the material items themselves, but over the symbolic meaning of those items. When families fight over inheritances in a will contests, it’s rarely because of the actual item or even the money.

As the family’s older member, you want to do anything you can to avoid fracturing the family after you’ve gone.

Unless you take the steps to create a will and a strong estate plan, your loved ones could be entrenched in a long inheritance conflict that lasts years and consumes more resources than anyone can spare.  However, with careful planning, you can avoid inheritance conflicts. After all, estate planning is more for those you love than for you.

Rely on the skill and knowledge of an experienced estate planning attorney and leave your family intact.

Reference: The Huntsville Item (May 26, 2019) “Legal Corner: Will contests while rare are messy”

 

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What Does an Elder Care Attorney Really Do?

A knowledgeable elder care attorney will make certain that he represents the best interests of his senior client in a variety of situations that usually occur in an elderly person’s life.

An elder care attorney will also be very knowledgeable about several different areas of the law.

The Idaho Falls Spokesperson’s recent article, “What is an Elder Law Attorney and What Can They Do for You?” looks at some of the things an elder care attorney can do.

Elder care attorneys address long-term care issues, housing, quality of life, independence and autonomy—which are all critical issues concerning seniors.

Your elder law attorney knows that one of the main issues senior citizens face is sound estate planning. This may include planning for a minor or adult child with special needs, as well as probate proceedings, which is a process where a deceased person’s assets are collected and distributed to the heirs and creditors.

The probate process may also involve the Uniform Probate Code (UPC). The UPC is a set of inheritance rules written by national experts. A major responsibility of the probate process is to fully administer the entire estate, including appointing executors and ensuring that all assets are disbursed properly.

An experienced elder law attorney can also assist your family to make sure that your senior receives the best possible care arrangement, which may become more important as his or her medical needs increase.

An elder law attorney also helps clients find the best nursing home to fully satisfy all their needs. Finally, they often will also work to safeguard assets to prevent spousal impoverishment, when one spouse must go to a nursing home.

A qualified elder care attorney can be a big asset to your family, as you journey through the elder care planning process. Working with an attorney to set up contingency plans can provide peace of mind and relief to you and your loved ones.

Reference: Idaho Falls Spokesperson (May 20, 2019) “What is an Elder Law Attorney and What Can They Do for You?”

 

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