The Legal Planning You Need To Do For Your High School Graduate

June 21st, 2014 | Post by Jane Simon

If you’re the parent of a high school graduate this year, congratulations!  You’ve put in a lot of time and effort toward their earning that diploma, and whatever their next step in life will be, you likely want to protect them just as much as you did while they were still in high school.


But before you pack that kid off to college or an apartment across town, you need to know that when they leave, they will be taking with them some of the legal rights you had before they turned 18. 


Once a child turns 18, he or she is no longer considered a child in the eyes of the law.  And you no longer have the legal right to access their health care, school or banking records without their permission.  Here are some steps you should take before your child leaves the nest that will help ensure your peace of mind and their safety:


Create an advance healthcare directive.  Once your child is officially an adult, he or she needs to have an advance healthcare directive that will allow you to access their medical records and make medical decisions for them in case they become incapacitated.  This is essential in case of an emergency.  Your child will also need to sign a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) form that allows medical professionals to share information with you. 


Use technology.  The American Bar Association recently released a free app for iPhone and Android that allows you to store an advance directive and other important documents on a smartphone.  The app comes in two versions:  the Lite version stores a PDF version of an advance healthcare directive and HIPAA form; the Pro version ($3.99) provides more functionality, including the ability to email documents.  The app is called My HealthCare Wishes and is available from the iPhone App Store or on Google Play for Android devices.  There are also online solutions like that stores medical records and allows those to be accessed by medical professionals anywhere in the world.


Add an ICE app to your child’s phone.  Add an ICE (In Case of Emergency) app to the home page of your child’s phone that lists your contact information and also create an ICE listing in his or her phone contacts with this information.  Your child is much more likely to always have their phone with them than to carry a printed card or document.


For more information on protecting your family, call our office at 312.646.2157 or email to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best ways for you to ensure the security of your loved ones. Come on in anytime this Summer for a Family Wealth Planning Session and we’ll waive our $750 planning fee PLUS create a free healthcare directive for your young adult child.

How to Care for Children with Special Needs

May 27th, 2014 | Post by Jane Simon

For many people, the basics of estate planning are simple enough, but for those families with loved ones who are disabled or have special needs, the estate planning process is more involved – and definitely more critical.


The latest statistics show that over five percent of minor children have some sort of disability (and for autism, it is one out of 68 children), and the burden of caring for these children makes estate planning essential.  In addition to specialized health care, these children usually need special schooling and intensive therapy, all of which comes at a cost. 


Here are some tips for parents facing the need to plan not only for their own financial future, but for that of a special needs child as well:


Deal with expectations.  Parents need to think about the kind of life they envision for their child.  Will the child have a shorter life span?  Will he or she be able to work or live independently?  The answers to these questions will form the foundation of your plan.


Determine eligibility for public benefits.  In order to meet eligibility requirements for Medicaid and Social Security Supplemental Income programs, a person with special needs or other disabilities cannot have more than $2,000 in assets.  This makes it imperative that a child who could benefit from these services not have any assets titled in his or her own name – meaning they should not be listed as beneficiaries on life insurance policies, retirement accounts or plans, in trusts, wills or pensions. 


Consider a special needs trust.  Assets placed in a third-party special needs trust are not counted as assets toward public benefit program eligibility, but these trusts are governed by strict rules so the counsel of a Personal Family Lawyer in establishing this trust is necessary.  Parents who are unable to fund a special needs trust with cash while they are still alive can do so through life insurance proceeds after they die.


If you would like to have a talk about protecting your family through estate planning, call our office today at 312.646.2157 or email at to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

April 25th, 2014 | Post by Jane Simon

The perfect gift for your child or grandchild on the occasion of his or her birth, Bar or Bat Mitzvah, Sweet 16, or Quinceañera cannot be found in any store.  Instead, the hopes and wishes you have for your child (or grandchild’s) future can best be expressed with a gift of security, resources, and a foundation of love through the establishment of a Wealth Creation Trust.


When a new child is welcomed into the family or a child turns 13, 16, graduates from college, or has another milestone event, it is not uncommon for grandparents or other family members to want to give that child a monetary gift.  


In most cases, that happens through a check written to the parents, or perhaps to the child and put into a custodial account at the bank.  The problems with this type of gifting are several:


1. Often, the parents cash the check, commingle the funds into the family accounts and the child never gets to see the benefit (you’d be surprised about how often this happens);


2. The money is put into a custodial account, the child accesses the account at 18 and uses it to buy a car or fund a backpacking trip; the decision about how to utilize the money is made without thought or foresight for the future, effectively squandered;


3. The money is used to pay for college, counting against the child for purposes of financial aid;


4.  The money is used by the child after he or she is married, commingled with the assets of a spouse and lost in a divorce, squandered.


But, there is a far better way, that is good for your family who want to make gifts, good for you as the parents of your child, good for your child, and great for the world.


Establish a Wealth Creation Trust for your child (or grandchild) as a birthday (or birth) gift and then let everyone in your family know that all gifts for the child should be made out to the Trustee of the [Name of Child] Wealth Creation Trust from here on out.


Then, when your child gets to be an age specified in the Trust, he or she can step into the role of Co-Trustee of the Trust, learning how to operate the trust and best utilize the funds in the Trust.  He or she will be trained on the best types of investment for the Trust.  Our recommendation is first and foremost self-care, well-being programs, and entrepreneurial training for the child.  In addition, we recommend one or more entrepreneurial ventures that the child is involved in, which have the possibility of doing a lot of good in the world and earning a healthy return on investment in the form of appreciation and purposeful, aligned work by the child.


Your child will learn the purpose of the Trust (to encourage the creation of wealth from one generation to the next, rather than the squandering or wasting of assets); how to protect it (keep the investments in the name of the Trust, regardless of how funds are used, so always title investments properly and sign on behalf of the Trust); and how to create more wealth in the future using the Trust assets.


Now, the gift you created when your child was just born, or achieved a specific life milestone becomes not just a vehicle of financial security, but education and impact for a lifetime and beyond.


Gifts in the amount of $14,000 per year (in 2014) per person can be made into such a Trust for your child without the need to file a gift tax return.


If you would like to learn more about how to establish a wealth creation trust to secure the financial future of your children, grandchildren and beyond while encouraging and educating them to create more wealth in the world (rather than squandering what you’ve worked so hard to create), contact our office at for a Family Wealth Planning Session. 

How Living Wills Became a Way of Life in One American Town

March 21st, 2014 | Post by Jane Simon

With just over 50,000 residents, La Crosse Wisconsin is a lot like other small American towns – but there is one thing that makes La Crosse stand out:  96% of La Crosse residents who have died have had an advance medical directive in place.  Nationally, the percentage of Americans with an advance directive stands at about 30%. 


Actually, there are two things that make La Crosse stand out:  the town also has lower healthcare costs than any other place in the U.S.  And these two things – a high incidence of residents with advance directives and low healthcare costs — are inextricably linked.


According to a recent NPR story, all this came about because of one man:  Dr. Bud Hammes, Medical Humanities Director at Gundersen Hospital in La Crosse.  Dr.Hammes often found himself sitting with families of terminally ill patients, trying to figure out what to do next.  He said the conversations were excruciating: “Did mom ever say anything to you?” “Do you know what dad wants?”  He said that the moral distress of the families was tangible. 


Dr. Hammes knew that this could be avoided, since most patients were usually sick for years.  So he started training nurses to ask patients if they wanted to sign an advance medical directive and over the years planning for death has become a way of life in La Crosse.


And the lower healthcare costs?  Dr. Hammes said that the reduction in spending was an accident, a byproduct of letting people make their own choices.  He said that when you let patients choose and direct their care, they often make a much less expensive choice. 


You can listen to the entire NPR story here:


NPR: Living Wills are the Talk of The Town in La Crosse, Wis.


Making end of life plans is one of the most comforting things you can do for your loved ones.  To put the proper protections in place for your family, contact our office to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.  We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today at 312.646.2157 and mention this article.

Tony Soprano vs. the IRS

March 14th, 2014 | Post by Jane Simon

James Gandolfini, the actor best known for his portrayal of Tony Soprano on HBO’s The Sopranos, died suddenly late last year while on vacation in Italy.  His will is already on the Internet, available for everyone to read – which is the first lesson we should all take away from what he did and did not do right in his estate plan: establishing a trust keeps your private financial matters private!


Estate planning attorney Julie Garber, who writes a column on Wills & Estate Planning on, lists 5 other estate planning lessons learned from James Gandolfini:


1.  Lifetime trusts are often better for beneficiaries.  James Gandolfini’s 13-year-old son and infant daughter will inherit a large portion each of the actor’s estimated $70 million estate once they reach the age of 21.  It may have been better to establish lifetime trusts for each of the children, then making them co-trustees at 25 or 30, then sole trustees at the more mature age of 35 or 40.  This would have protected their inherited assets for life, from creditors, bankruptcy, lawsuits and divorce.


2.  If you own foreign real estate, you need a foreign estate plan.  James Gandolfini owned property in Italy, which his will specified should be turned over to his children.  However, Italy has forced heirship laws that may trump the will.  He should have consulted with an Italian attorney and had an Italian will drawn that passes the property in accordance with Italian law.


3.  Update your will regularly.  James Gandolfini had updated his will just six months prior to his death, and a few months following the birth of his daughter.  By taking action to update his will following the new birth, he saved his heirs a lot of headaches and heartaches. But unfortunately, he missed a big one — he didn’t update for estate taxes.


4.  Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts are a smart move.  James Gandolfini established an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) for his son Michael and funded it with a $7 million life insurance policy.  By setting up an ILIT, the proceeds from the insurance policy flow directly to the trust, with no New York or federal estate taxes on the $7 million.  


5.  Multiple executors and trustees can provide necessary checks and balances.  James Gandolfini had two children with two different wives.  He named his sister, his current wife and one of his attorneys as co-executors of his will and co-trustees of the testamentary trusts set up in his will, which was a savvy move to prevent any one beneficiary from being favored.


The one thing that Gandolfini and his lawyers did not think about enough was his estate taxes.  He’ll owe nearly $30,000,000 in estate taxes and much of it could have been avoided with good planning in advance. 


As a Personal Family Lawyer®, I can further advise you on all your options and make things as easy as possible for your family during a Family Wealth Planning Session.  If you would like to have a talk about estate planning for your family, call our office today at 312-646-2157 to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. 


We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, and this month I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.

September 7th, 2013 | Post by Jane Simon


Three Cheers For Public Education


Twelve years ago, I was preparing for a graduation.  The graduate at that time was my six-year-old daughter and the ceremony was a beautifully orchestrated program that included music from the Italian artist Bocelli.  It was an amazing private school ceremony and, at the time, I had such high hopes for all of the children crossing the stage.  This was our foray into the arena of private education.


Because our private pre-school/kindergarten school program was ending (meaning that they offered no elementary classes), we enrolled our daughter at the local Catholic elementary school.  At the time, we felt she would receive better-individualized instruction and more care than our public school.  BIG mistake.  My experience is that Catholic schools are so underfunded that the group of students that misses out the most are the students that are considered “gifted” (whatever that means) or children with special needs on the other end of the spectrum. I say this too, also being the parent of a special needs child with autism, so I completely understand both sides of the spectrum.  The special needs population is also underfunded, and I believe that religious schools best fit those children in the middle.


After one year, our beloved Montessori pre-school announced that they were starting up an elementary school (perhaps because I begged them to).  For a couple of years, this was the perfect solution, and our children thrived by crafting their own experiments and coming up with their own solutions.


However, finances being finances, this brilliant little school couldn’t sustain itself, and we were faced with yet another Armageddon in our children’s education.  What to do? At this point, we had to consider our local public school or another private school as the only other options.  There is no doubt that my children’s father and myself will absolutely put our children’s educational needs first and foremost, and that’s what we did. 


We opted for the best other “local” private school 60 miles away–the University of Chicago Lab School, where none other than President Obama’s own children went before they were whisked away to Washington.  The Lab School had space for our younger daughter, but not for our older daughter but we were assured that she would get in within the next couple of years.  We, as parents, were absolutely willing to make the 120 mile round trip to make sure that our children received the best quality education, no doubt.


However, we had reached a critical juncture for our family.  Should we educate our children based on private space available? One child was receiving private education, and the other two were receiving public school education. We wondered what kind of message that would send to each child.  After much soul searching, we took a chance that our children might be able to get into the best college possible without private school breeding.  As a result, all of our children went to the local public schools since fourth grade and we have never looked back. Our children have achieved and overachieved at our local public school institutions because of the support that was there for them.


The bottom line of all of this, and the reason I write, is that if your child is a high achiever and diligent student, I do not think that a private school will benefit your child any further.  Save the extra money towards their college education.


In case you are wondering, our first child is attending the University of Pennsylvania this fall, and we couldn’t be prouder. She is the first Ivy Leaguer in our family. Although she deserves an abundance of credit because her dedication and hard work paved the way, we will never discount all of the work that the schools and teachers from K-12 put in along the way.


In the end, our story is proof that your child can get to an Ivy League school from a public school without a doubt, so spend your money

wisely.  The money we would have spent for a private high school is now securely in an account payable to the University of Pennsylvania.  And that’s a wonderful thing.

January 12th, 2013 | Post by Jane Simon


How To Prepare Your Small Business For A Profitable Sale


When you started your own business, you probably didn't give much consideration to selling it. However, with statistics showing that 80% of a small business owner’s net worth is tied up in their company, preparing your business for a profitable sale should be on your radar.


Whether you plan to sell your business outright or transfer to partners or family members, here are some steps you should take to protect your assets:


Know what your business is worth. Getting a professional valuation of your business is key to a profitable sale. Be sure that whoever values your business has expertise valuing businesses in your industry.


Build your business as an investment. The eventual buyer for your business is looking for a good investment, one that will continue to pay long after you are gone. Build your business as an investment by having a diversified management team that has some skin in the game, so they will stay on after the sale. Having a business that provides recurring revenue is also more attractive to buyers, so be sure your growth strategies are built on a solid foundation.


Have written plans and processes. If your business plan exists only in your head, this is a sign to buyers to beware. Be sure your plans and processes are well documented so that new ownership can step in and run the business seamlessly.


Take taxes into consideration. When determining the best time to sell your business, take taxes into consideration. Funding a retirement plan for employees and other tax saving strategies should be employed to shelter assets from taxation.


If you’re a small or mid-size business owner, call us today to schedule your comprehensive LIFT™ (legal, insurance, financial and tax) Foundation Audit.  Normally, this session is $1,250, but if you mention this article and we still have room on our calendar this month, we will waive that fee.  

How To Protect Elderly Parents From Financial Abuse

November 9th, 2012 | Post by Jane Simon


According to a recent study by the Investor Protection Trust and Investor Protection Institute, the top three ways that the elderly could be financially exploited are:


Theft of funds or property by family members

Theft of funds or property by caregivers

Financial scams by strangers


It is estimated that one in nine seniors has been a victim of financial abuse in the past year, so what can you do to protect elderly parents from financial fraud?  Here are some tips:


Seek out a financial abuse prevention seminar in your local area.  Many senior centers and organizations provide these programs, so choose one and go with your parent(s) as an opportunity to do something social with them.


Put your parents’ finances on auto-pilot by enrolling them in direct deposit for Social Security, pension, retirement and investment income.  Set up automatic bill pay for as many bills as possible, and help them pay their bills online.


Check in with them frequently and ask them directly if they have been solicited by anyone who visited or called.  If you live nearby, visit in person.


Some experts advise those with elderly parents who become incapable of handling investments to invest a portion of their retirement income into a low-cost, immediate-fixed or inflation-adjusted annuity from a reputable insurance company.  This will provide a guaranteed lifetime income that cannot be lost to fraud or abuse.


If a parent’s savings are still in their former employer’s 401(k) plan, consider keeping it there.  These plans are strictly regulated for the exclusive benefit of employees, and may yield the best investment deal possible.


If you’d like to learn more about estate planning, call LawWriter’s office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. 

Joint Ownership of Assets Can Have Unintended Consequences

September 27th, 2012 | Post by Jane Simon



While there are some good reasons why parents and adult children consider joint ownership of assets, there are also some potential unintended consequences, including:


Divorce:  If a parent adds an adult child as joint owner on bank or investment accounts and that adult child becomes party to a divorce action, the child’s ex spouse may claim the joint assets as part of the marital estate.


Creditors:  If an adult child is the joint owner of a parent’s accounts and has a lot of debt or files for bankruptcy, that child’s creditors can try to lay claim to the assets.


Temptation:  If an adult child has financial problems, they may be tempted to “borrow” from a parent’s account to satisfy debts.


Inheritance:  If the parent dies and the adult child is the surviving joint owner of assets, he or she doesn’t have to share with siblings, no matter what the parent may have intended.


Basic estate planning tools – including wills, living trusts and powers of attorney – can accomplish the same goals as joint ownership without the risk of unintended consequences.  LawWriter can recommend which estate planning strategies will work best for your family and circumstances.


If you’d like to learn more about family estate planning, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.  We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article. 

Does a Small Business Owner Need an Attorney?

September 14th, 2012 | Post by Jane Simon

Small business owners have no doubt that they need a financial advisor when starting their own companies, but sometimes equivocate on the subject of hiring an attorney.  While the proliferation of online legal do-it-yourself services has grown over the years, it’s tempting for many to turn to the Internet for guidance.  But this could wind up costing you much more in the long run.


A review of online legal service websites in the September issue of Consumer Reports magazine found that most of these sites do not offer the flexibility small business owners need in crafting important legal documents.  While you may save a few hundred dollars by using a DIY legal site, you could pay thousands later to correct a legal issue that has been handled improperly.


There are several legal issues that small business owners face where using an experienced lawyer is always the right choice, including:


Business structure formation

Human resources issues and compliance with state and federal regulations

Contract negotiations and agreements

Partnership agreements


If you’re a small or mid-size business owner, call us today to schedule your comprehensive LIFT™ (legal, insurance, financial and tax) Foundation Audit.  Normally, this session is $1,250, but if you mention this article and we still have room on our calendar this month, we will waive that fee.