Getting Your Ducks in A Row … and the continued Vigilance Required to Be Prepared

I recently lost a client who chose to control his own destiny. None of us knew he has been planning this end, but now his call to me to talk through the Estate Plans makes sense.

I reminded him that three years ago we had gone to the bank to provide them with his Trust and he made his checking account POD (payable upon death) to his Trust. The bulk of his wealth … his home and investment accounts … were already in the Trust. ** He chose to make the Trust the beneficiary after death, even though the lawyer had recommended titling the account to the Trust.

Last week I returned to his bank to provide them with the death certificate and transition his account into his Trust so we could pay his bills. The beauty of the Trust allows the Trustee (or in this case Successor Trustee) to carry on and avoid probate and additional taxes. However, the bank CAN’T FIND the Trust document or the POD instructions on his account! It is a big bank and they are going through a merger. Even the best-made plans can fail.

Just having the legal Trust document doesn’t mean your assets are held in Trust. You MUST take an extra step to ensure your home, investment account, financial assets are titled to/listed as the account holder.


I am not a lawyer, but on a weekly basis run into all the ways great Estate Plans fail. Usually, it is because the people that paid to create the plans didn’t follow the instructions on how to implement those plans. Your work didn’t end the day you left the lawyer’s office after signing the papers … it really just began. Call your lawyer to find out if you are prepared.

Practically, what can you do to ensure you are prepared for when you need help? First, assume that you will need help before you die. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 70 percent of all adults over the age of 65 will need 3 years of help to manage the activities of daily living. Don’t wait until you need help. It can take weeks and even months to work with financial institutions.

  • Get Estate Plans in place by working with an Elder Law Attorney. This includes a variety of legal documents they will discuss with you.
  • Follow the instructions you are given. For those people that have a Trust, you should receive a document that recommends which accounts you title to the Trust (instead of the account being in your name “Kay Bransford” it would be “The Kay Bransford Trust” and I would be listed as the Trustee). They will also provide information on which beneficiary updates need to be made for all of your asset accounts.
  • Monitor your mail to make sure the accounts are titled properly. Several years ago, I got a piece of mail from an investment account that was titled to “Kay Bransford.” Three years prior I had provided them with the Trust and for years, the mail was arriving titled to “The Kay Bransford Trust.” When I called to find out what was going on I was told they went through a computer update and somehow, it resulted in my account retitling. I was able to get it immediately addressed.

I hope these steps can help you understand the importance of truly implementing your Trust. Contact your lawyer when you have questions.

If you need some help monitoring and managing your accounts or your bill pay, you can contact a Daily Money Manager. They fill the void of practical actions needed when it comes to making sure you lead the rest of the life you envisioned. Summarized.

A Caregivers View of Estate Planning

Dr. Charles Parker interviewed me to learn more about my caregiving journey and why I was so passionate about other families avoid the roadblocks we faced. You can download this interview or listen on a variety of services here.

aging-parentsIn time, my parents turned to me for help. I developed a deeper relationship and helped guide their care as well as end-of-life wishes. What I learned I use to provide classes for caregivers to help them on their journey, as well as offer all adults an understanding of why going deeper than estate, financial, and insurance plans is a necessity for anyone who wants to lead the life they choose.
~ Kay Bransford

Aging Parents: Why Kay Became Organized For Her Family

My aging parents’ health started to fail, and they were simultaneously walking into different forms of dementia [Mom = vascular; Dad = Alzheimer’s].

They didn’t recognize they needed help and would not accept it from their children. We were all worried for their safety and the safety of others. I had to learn how and when to step in to offer help; how to respect the parent-child relationship but guide them toward safer living arrangements, hide the cars as they continued to drive with revoked licenses, and manage their financials while ensuring they still felt meaning and purpose.


My parents had planned well (estate, insurance, financial plans and moved into a continuing care retirement community), however, when I needed to step in as a personal and healthcare advocate, I didn’t have the knowledge or authority that I needed to help them. I created a system for myself, then others asked me for it, and I realized there was a greater need and wrote up a business plan and won an award from AARP Foundation for this idea and plan.

I changed a great deal. I had to change because my parents could not.

Here are some of the key topics covered in the CoreBrainJournal interview: 

Kay’s professional mission – end of life planning [1:30]

Parent denial of deterioration [5:04]

Her transformation into family manager [9:50]

Broader applications for more effective family interventions [10:40]

She takes us beyond “estate planning” [16:30]

Get that Durable Power of Attorney [20:20]

Important differences with Powers of Attorney  [21:38]

Kay’s professional mission – end of life planning [1:30] aging parents, organization, end of life, family planning

Parent denial of deterioration [5:04]

Her transformation into family manager [9:50]

Broader applications for more effective family interventions [10:40]

She takes us beyond “estate planning” [16:30]

Get that Durable Power of Attorney [20:20]

Important differences with Powers of Attorney  [21:38]

Get your Digital Life Together, Please

The latest story that demonstrates the issues around our digital assets describes how the father of a best-selling novelist, Marsha Mehran, has been on an International data hunt to claim her writing stored online. 

Apparently there is a “surge of families struggling with similar questions is driving a behind-the-scenes political battle between tech companies and estate lawyers over who gets the keys to someone’s digital afterlife.” Facebook and Google have set up options for a legacy contact, but the reality is that someone might need access to your information even when you are still on this planet.

My parents gave me a durable power of attorney so that I could step in to help if they needed it, but it didn’t give me access to any of my father’s business or personal online accounts. Thankfully, we could take care of this before he could no longer help me (my father had Alzheimer’s).

As a mom and wife, my husband and I need to share access to our bill-pay, utility, mobile phone and even our insurance portal since the information pertains to our shared lives.

Please take a minute to download the free guide that will help you tame the Internet.

The guide is a chapter from the best-selling MemoryBanc: Your Workbook for Organizing Life. 

A Listening Tour about Which Papers are Important

Robert Sharpe, host of Bringing Inspiration to Earth radio show interviewed me about my journey. He focused in on the important documents and records I needed to be a competent family caregiver. We also discussed how the fact that my parent’s had dementia made this task much more difficult.

We talk through some real life stories and discuss the how and why these details are important to document for ourselves, as well as for our loved ones should they need the information to help us along the way.

To listen to this podcast, visit BlogTalkRadio.

Download a copy of the Important Documents Summary if you need this information for you or your family. Listen to this podcast for a walk through the list and how and why each item is important.

Mom (or Dad) is Acting Differently, Should This Concern Me?

roundaboutYes! I am an adult family member who has cared for two parents. My parents had complete estate plans in place and did everything their financial and insurance advisor suggested. Helping them was initially incredibly difficult for a variety of reasons. Many financial institutions create roadblocks when you need to use the Durable Power of Attorney–I’m still waiting for Wells Fargo to accept mine on my mom’s CD account.

Any change in behavior by a loved one should start by a visit to the doctor. There are a variety of things that could cause changes like medication, lack of sleep, or a variety of medical conditions.

My parent’s both were eventually diagnosed with dementia. My mom’s symptoms started to present themselves to me when she was in her early 70s; I started to notice a change in my dad when he was in his late 70s. Their needs changed my life in unexpected ways. If you have suspicions, you will find information and suggestions on how to deal with the possibility of dementia by following the blog on You can visit this page for a deeper explanation of dementia and its many forms.

My mom dismissed my concerns when I went to the doctor with her. After managing as the medical advocate for both of my parents, I know and have had many doctors and nurses confirm that family is the best resource. Often, dementia won’t be diagnosed until later in the disease progression and early treatment could help slow the advance of the disease. So getting an early start is beneficial to everyone.

If you are noticing changes, be mindful of what you are seeing. A loved one could be experiencing something that is very treatable.

Looking back, I now recognize so many issues and signs that alerted us to mom’s dementia, but it was a long difficult road to even get to a diagnosis for a variety of reasons. The biggest one being my mom and dad fought to keep their independence fiercely. Ignoring issues won’t make them go away and letting them linger may cause more harm than good. It will also help to involve an estate attorney so you will have the tools to help mom/dad if they are no longer able to help themselves. You can also have a discussion on they can guide the many choices that need to be made about how they want to live … and die.

Will Wells Fargo Accept Your DPOA?

wellsfargoAs I began to use the Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) several years ago, I found out that many banks don’t like them. They would prefer you use the one they supply that doesn’t give you control over when it goes into effect or a way to dictate specific wishes. If and when you need to use one, you will find that getting them to accept it, can take hours in the bank and then possibly weeks to months to resolve issues.

Last month, I went in to clear up two checking accounts and remove my Dad’s name from the accounts. It took over two hours to have it processed and the two accounts cleaned up. I was already listed on my parents major account, so I think they weren’t so worried about giving my access and POA rights over the second smaller checking account.

However, I have hit a major roadblock on an account that was named to my parent’s trust. The DPOA  specifically names the trust and gives me the rights to access it, but the Wells Fargo legal team said “No, we won’t accept it” stating that the sentence giving me the rights doesn’t specifically begin with my mom’s name. The sentence giving me access to her checking account is written exactly the same way. Inconsistent, inconvenient and ridiculous.

If you have done estate planning or are considering it, and your estate lawyer tells you that this won’t happen to you. Please find another estate lawyer. This happens to even the best estate lawyers, most up-to-date DPOA documents, and well-drawn trusts. I live in a state with a statute that was written to ensure financial institutions accepted DPOAs and comes with financial penalties for refusing it. However, doing that is a lengthly law suit and another time vampire I’m not interested in pursuing. Please just accept the papers my parents drew up so that I could use their accounts to help pay for their health and welfare, OK?

When a bank says “no” you need to be able to return to your estate lawyer and they can write a letter to try and clear up the issue. I’m not sure if that will resolve this issue or if I will have to wait until my mom passes away to get access to her account.

The best end-around is to go online. The first time I got a “no” my dad was alive and we went online and created online access to those accounts that were problematic so I could more easily act on my parent’s behalf. That was what they intended. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn about this account until a few months ago when a tax paper got forwarded to me from an old address.

Because of all the places I have found problems, I recommend you get a copy of MemoryBanc: Your Workbook for Organizing Life. This isn’t just an issue for adult children caring for parents, but for every couple that divides and conquers and every individual that wants to make sure a loved one can help you, should you ever need it. Advised.

To find out what happens to the money that is lost in the shuffle of a move, crisis, or death you can read about the $58 billion sitting with state and federal treasurers. This includes tips on how to learn if you might be entitled to some of it.

Can the Law Keep Up With Our Modern LifeStyle?

After having to step in and use a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) to assist my parents, I quickly found so many gaps in its functionality, I devised many work arounds with my Dad so I could help them.

Not only were we surprised to find that a number of financial institutions declined to accept the DPOA, but there are many facets of our digital lives that it doesn’t cover.

moderntechoptionsFor those of us who use online services, email accounts and enjoy the online bill-pay services provided by our banks, what we don’t know can hurt us. If you haven’t stopped to read the “terms and conditions” you accepted, they typically state you can’t share the account and the provider basically dictates the rules. If you are incapacitated, the only way a loved one can get access is if you share your username and passcode.

The Uniform Law Commission helps standardize state laws and recently endorsed a plan that would give loved ones access to — but not control of — the deceased’s digital accounts, unless specified otherwise in a will. Given that at the age of 65, 7 out of 10 American’s will need 3 or more years of long-term care, we must recognize that most people will need someone to have access to these accounts while we are alive.

If you don’t have a list that documents this information for your own benefit and that can provide loved ones with needed information, click here to download a free chapter called “Taming the Internet” from the Amazon best-seller MemoryBanc: Your Workbook for Organizing Life that includes worksheets and details on how you can provide loved ones with the information they may need to help you.


Worried about Mom’s Health and Safety

Many adult children start to notice changes in mom or dad. Depending on your family dynamic, you may know a lot or very little about what they have planned for the rest of their lives.  Many of us want to be able to help our parents if they needed it, and most of our parents are resistant to even consider asking for help from their children.

My suggestion is to start by sharing with your parents your plans. Do you have an estate plan in place? Have you named them as a guardian or executor? I’m surprised by how many people who think estate plans should be secret. Secret estate plans won’t help you when you need it. I sent copies of my completed estate plans to my three siblings and sat down and discussed it at length with my brother who would be guardian to my children along with my children one Saturday afternoon this winter. I could see the comfort on my 12-year old daughter’s face as we talked through the plan.

My children have watched as I’ve been the primary adult caregiver for my parents which I have been blogging about for several years on  Had my parents not told me their plans and shared their wishes for retirement with me, my job would be so much more difficult and stressful. I know that I’ve been fulfilling their wishes to the best of my abilities.

It’s particularly important to do more than the estate lawyer, financial planner and insurance advisor recommend. You need to talk about your choices, leave a roadmap to your documents, accounts, and assets and repeat these conversations as time and circumstances allow.

I recommend you get your own house in order and use it to share with mom and dad what you are doing and even ask for their advice. It’s a great way to start a conversation.

Four products to help you navigate these choices include:

Five Wishes  is legally binding in 42 states and lets your family and doctors know:

  • Who you want to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them.
  • The kind of medical treatment you want or don’t want.
  • How comfortable you want to be.
  • How you want people to treat you.
  • What you want your loved ones to know.

The Conversation Project is dedicated to helping people start the discussion about their wishes for end-of-life care.

The Roadmap to the Rest of Your Life by Bart Astor will help you hone in on the options and the choices that you need to consider.

MemoryBanc: Your Workbook for Organizing Life is a practical system to help couples share account numbers, usernames, and medical and household details so that they can stay on the same page; it also provides individuals a solution to easily share this information should they ever need a loved one to step in and help them.

What the Death of Robin Williams Can Teach Us

By all accounts, Robin Williams had his estate plan zipped-up. He had a will and trust and even named professional trustees, so why is the family at odds over things after his death?

Grief impacts everyone very differently. As a suicide, it’s not just sudden but the nature of the death can complicate the grieving process.

From the latest reports, there is disagreement about how items are defined. A colleague of mine who is a professional appraiser has shared how contentious items with personal meaning but little value can wreak on a family. She commented that it’s interesting that so many parents who raised kids that argued over the last cookie expect their adult children to behave any better when it comes to settling their estate.

photo credit:


It seems Robin Williams put immense thought into his plan, but it sounds like there is some ambiguity and now both his wife and children who are still grieving are arguing over his things.

What Robin Williams Can Teach Us: It’s not enough to create the perfect estate plan. You have to tell those people who are impacted about your plan. Make it a part of normal conversations and allow your loved ones to ask questions and understand your wishes. You might not be around to appreciate it, but they will.

Using a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA)

My parents did what the estate lawyer recommended. As well as the financial planner and insurance professional. However, when the time came for me to step in and help them using their Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA), things were a little more difficult that we all expected.

One of the major firms told me they would not accept a DPOA that was over two years old; a second told me they didn’t accept ones more than five years old. It happens though it shouldn’t, and sometimes you may need the lawyer who drafted the agreement to pursue it for you.

Legal tools alone won’t handle every situation. However, every adult should consider meeting with an estate lawyer to discuss your needs.  Because of my experience, I recommend that even those with estate plans take the extra step of documenting their information. For the estimated bulk of Americans without any estate plans (power of attorney, medical directives, will) , for your own best-interest, you should get your documents, accounts, and assets organized.

In my case, my dad sat down with me and we created online access to many of their accounts from their retirement to utilities, so that I could easily help pay bills, manage cash flow, their household and finances.

Are you prepared? If not, my free gift to you is a list of the items you need to document, download it here.

To get a copy of the award-winning system to help you collect and organize your documents, accounts, and assets, you can order a copy from Amazon, BAM!, or Barnes & Noble.  For $17.95, MemoryBanc: Your Workbook for Organizing Life will not only help you easily find your important information, but will give a road map to a loved one who you may need to step in and help, if even only temporarily.