The #1 Item on Every Parent’s Back to School List

Back to School Backpack Giveaway! Detroit, MI.

Cool, new backpack, check! New Shoes, check! New clothes, check! Paper and pencils, check! Shiny new lunchbag, check! Guardian to care for my precious baby in case I am unable to…?

With the summer coming to an end and the kids starting or going back to school, we are in a frenzy to make sure they have every item on their school supply list and all the latest gear to be the coolest kid in class. We’ll do anything for our kids (trust me, I’m a mom- I know), but many times, the things we don’t do can end up hurting us and our children in the long run. This includes failing to plan for their care in the undesirable event that we are not around to do so. However, we can close this gap with the #1 item on our back to school list- a will naming a guardian for our minor children.

How it works

One of the most commonly used estate planning instruments- a will- is a document that specifies what we want to leave to whom in the event of our deaths. A will is also a critical document for parents of minor children because in it, we can name a guardian of our choosing that we’d like to select for the care of our most precious “assets” if you will- our children. Further, only a will is able to include naming of a guardian, unlike another commonly used estate planning tools.

Why it is so important

In my experience as a single mother, naming a guardian was the most important issue in planning my estate and what prompted me to put a plan together. Of course, I wanted to have a plan to distribute assets and name beneficiaries on my accounts, but leaving the care of my child in trusted hands was my #1 priority. Undoubtedly, there is nothing more important in any parent’s life than the care of their children, which makes having a will naming a guardian the most critical component of an estate plan.

Who it is for

This applies to all parents of minor children, regardless of martial status. For married couples that travel frequently together, naming a guardian can be beneficial should something happen to both parents simultaneously. Unmarried couples that live together or are engaged and share children together can also benefit from naming a guardian. Notably, stepchildren that have not been adopted by stepparents can be protected by naming the stepparent as a guardian in a will.

What to do now

Being away from our kids is something we never want to imagine (unless it’s the much needed small break just to collect our sanity for a moment), but planning for that event can reduce stress and family burden, with the peace of mind that we secured the trusted choice of care for our kids.

Live each day as if it were your last, and one day you will be right. Don’t leave the care of your child up to chance. Call today for a free consultation.

In Case of Emergency, Medical Decisions Can’t Wait

ER- Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit. June 2017.

“A man’s mind will very gradually refuse to make itself up until it is driven and compelled by emergency.” -Anthony Trollope

After returning from a much needed, weeklong, pure leisurely vacation, the last place I expected to visit was the emergency room. The only time I had ever been to the ER was just over four years ago, when I lost my father. A young woman, on the verge of 30, with no serious medical history and an active mother to a very energetic 4 year old sounds like the picture of good health. Yet, this description did not shield me from medical emergency, as I found myself being treated in the ER for chest pains. Needless to say, medical emergencies are not reserved for the sick, disabled, and aged, as commonly believed, although the need can increase in each of those categories. However, this begs the question, in case of emergency, are your medical decisions in order?

Before answering that question, we must first understand what advanced directives are and the differences amongst them. An advance directive is a written document in which you specify the type of medical care you want or who you want to make decisions for you, should you lose the ability to make decisions for yourself. In Michigan, there are three types: a durable power of attorney for healthcare, living will, and do-not-resuscitate order.

A durable power of attorney for healthcare authorizes an individual to act on a patient’s behalf in regards to care, custody, and medical treatment when the patient receiving such services is unable to make decisions for him or herself. This is commonly referred to as a patient advocate, which is the individual granted the power to act on behalf of the patient. A living will is a document that instructs physicians and others to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining procedures and equipment in the face of certain death, such as terminal illness. The living will provides useful guidance to family, friends, physicians, and hospitals, but its legal effect in Michigan is uncertain. Finally, a do-not-resuscitate order (DNR), is a document directing that no resuscitation will be initiated if a patient’s heart stops beating and he or she stops breathing outside of a hospital. In order to execute this document, the individual must be a person who is at least age 18 and of sound mind, or a patient advocate of an individual who is at least age 18.

Now, returning to the question of whether your medical decisions are in order, they likely are not, as according to a January 2014 study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, only 26.3% of U.S. adults had an advanced directive. Notably,  the most common reason for not having an advanced directive was lack of awareness. While patient advocate services are available at many hospitals, based on the study, the majority of adults are unaware of their availability or of what they are. Additionally, executing a patient advocate designation at the hospital can lead to quick, on the spot thinking, rather than taking the time to fully consider what is best for you and whom is best to make those choices for you.

Therefore, when deciding what choices are best in regards to your medical care, consider the following questions: whom can you trust to carry out decisions on your behalf in the event of your disability or incapacity? Is this person a responsible and dependable individual? Will this individual be willing to accept? Think about who you can trust to carry out your wishes, talk it to such individuals, and close family and friends, so that your decisions are known. Decide what method is best for you, and disclose the location of pertinent documents, which you can even register free through Gift of Life Michigan.

Furthermore, should you find yourself unable to make your own medical decisions, instead of planning ahead, would you rather leave the choice to your family with no plan, setting the stage for disagreement and argument? Your family, who is already grieving at your condition, will be left with the burden of deciding how to treat you further, or whether to even continue treatment at all. It is a monumental decision, and can bring about stress and ruin relationships in the family. However, with a medical directive, you can lessen the burden, and be prepared in case of emergency.

“No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow.” -Euripides. No matter the situation, it is always best to plan ahead. Contact TMP Law to secure your plan in place today.

 

Beyond the Popular Vote: Leadership Required to Carry Detroit Forward

Downtown Detroit, 2017.

“There are many elements to a campaign. Leadership is number one. Everything else is number two. ” -Bertolt Brecht

With the candidate filing and withdrawal deadline for city elections now passed, 2017 is shaping to be a pivotal year for the city of Detroit. We have an incumbent mayor facing perhaps his toughest challenge yet in a legacy candidate with instant name recognition, and a slew of faces new and old vying for all council seats. Additionally, the race for city clerk has sparked a new interest and become a coveted, vulnerable seat following the fiasco of the 2016 election in Detroit.

Yet, as with every election cycle, we are sure to hear familiar campaign messages and promises of why the particular candidate is best for the office desired. However, given the active and intense political climate following the 2016 election, the expectations to deliver on the campaign rhetoric are higher than ever. In this light, even more necessary than delivering on those promises  is the way in which the delivery will be implemented- through leadership.

Candidates must be aware that Detroit is hungry for a different style of leadership in public office. Therefore, to be successful in this election cycle and beyond, candidates must think past the ballot box, not only presenting plans for the city’s continuing success, but demonstrating leadership qualities necessary for delivering their vision for the city. In turn, this begs the question: what styles and qualities of leadership will emerge to avoid empty promises and move the city forward for all of its residents and stakeholders alike?

Ironically, despite needing the popular vote to win the election, candidates must be comfortable with being unpopular. “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd (Max Lucado).” This requires being unpopular not in the sense that no one will like you, but an understanding that you are not out to please everyone. Candidates must know that everyone will not agree with them or like them, and that is okay so long as they are doing what is best for their constituents- the people whom they lead and will follow when their interests and needs are first priority.

Candidates must be brave, and in the realm of politics, this means willing to be subject to public scrutiny in all facets of professional and personal life. In particular, for first time candidates without a familiar body of work to put forth, personal records matter, as it may be all one can be judged by. Nevertheless, candidates must be able to withstand the criticism because not everyone will agree with all their policies, even their staunchest supporters. Without criticism, potential leaders are destined to fail due to lack of diverse input and challenge. At the same time, candidates must be brave enough to own their record and unafraid to challenge others to do the same.

In relation, life is nothing without adversity. As a public official, adversity is magnified on center stage, but candidates must be unwavering in the face of adversity and able to rise above all obstacles. Significantly, as desired leaders, candidates must also be bold enough to speak up for those without a voice, use their platforms to influence change, and stand firmly in spite of challenges from opponents who would seek to tear them down. Nothing will convince others to follow more than one who stands strong and refuses to give up during the toughest times.

Perhaps most of all, candidates must be honest- be real about what’s real. People are looking to you for answers- tell them what you know. And if you don’t know- say so. Not only is it okay to admit you don’t know, but you are only human and will never be perfect, so by necessity, you will never know everything. This is just fine, and people will understand so long as you are honest. They see through dishonesty and can be completely put off when the truth is revealed. Once trust is broken, it is hard to mend, but people are generally more willing to forgive a sincere apology than an intentional coverup.

In case of a breach of honesty, and let’s be truthful, it happens- be accountable. Be able to accept your mistakes and shortcomings. Don’t hide behind them, blame others, or worse- stay quiet and say nothing. Again, as a leader, people are looking to you for answers. Be as honest in your faults as you are in your triumphs. Furthermore, don’t allow your faults to derail or stall you along your path. Accept the consequences of your actions and move forward. Life continues in spite of your downfalls. Don’t get swept away with it, particularly if you are in  a position to advance others. Provide solutions, not excuses, and forge ahead.

Finally, and most importantly, a leader must always look to the future. “Leadership is not about the next election, it’s about the next generation (Simon Sinek).” Whomever is elected to office come November must think today what his or her legacy will be once their term has ended. If it does not include a plan for the future leadership of Detroit, their work is a failed mission, and we will again be left seeking the leadership that we yearn for today.

 

Life Ends at 20: Preparing for the Worst Case Scenario

Family Life. Cincinnati, 2017.

“No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow.” -Euripides

Although the youth are regarded as the leaders of tomorrow, death comes at any age, meaning it is as near to the young as it is to the old. Often, the field of estate planning is viewed as an area of practice reserved to elderly clients. However, while older clients have lived longer lives to accumulate more assets, have more family, and therefore protect a potentially larger estate than a younger individual, young people potentially have just as much to lose.

The millenial generation, credited as individuals aged 18-35, along with baby boomers, make up the largest segment of the US population. As this group of people moves further into adulthood and constitute larger segments of the working population, they accumulate personal responsibilities such as marriage, parenthood, homeownership, and household financial decisions.

Additionally,  many millenials and other younger individuals (35-50) often find themselves caught in the sandwich generation– caring for their elderly family members, including parents and grandparents, along with minor children. Therefore, in spite of accumulation of property or liquid assets, family obligations loom large, begging the question, what would happen in the event of their deaths, or, are they prepared for the worst case scenario?

According to research, likely not. A recent Gallup poll revealed that only 44% of Americans reported having a will, but just 14% of Americans under 30 reported having a will, and only 35% aged 30-49 reported the same. Further, life insurance is a tool that can be used to create an estate and pay a death benefit to named beneficiaries. Yet, according to a 2015 Insurance Barometer Study, 43% of Americans do not own a policy, with a whopping 70% of individuals under 25 reporting that they did not own a policy. To put a face to these numbers and demonstrate the fragility of youth, I offer an example from my own family: my cousin, who was murdered at age 23, leaving behind a minor daughter under age 5.

So in light of such responsibility, what can you do to prepare for the time when you will not be around to shoulder the load? This is where estate planning not only comes in handy, but becomes a young person’s best defense against the uncertain and unexpected.

First, identify your heirs at law- most commonly spouses and children, and second, identify your assets. Who would get what? Additionally, who would you choose to administer your estate, or in other words, follow your wishes and make distributions? Choose wisely. While family is usually the most common choice, you must consider whether the individuals named are equipped with the skills and temperament to follow your guidelines, protect your assets, and make wise legal and financial decisions.

Next, choose how your estate would be administered, traditionally through three means- by will, by trust, or by state law. Wills are the most common and popular, as well as the simplest means, but individuals with larger assets may want to consider a trust for privacy and tax purposes. Dying intestate- or without a will- means your estate will follow state law, which may not be harmful, but may fail to follow your intents. In this respect, it is more beneficial to use a will or trust to better reflect your wishes and choose the individuals you wish to include in your plan.

Most significantly, the biggest need for young people with young families is naming of a guardian for minor children. This is something that can only be done in a will or separate guardianship form. A trust can never name a guardian, nor can dying intestate. Additionally, a conservator can be named to make financial decisions for the support and maintenance of minor children, as they do not have the legal capacity to make such decisions for themselves.

Finally, research wisely and consider investing in a life insurance policy to protect beneficiaries in the event of death. It can be used as a useful and inexpensive tool, particularly for younger people with family obligations, as rates are based on age and health, which is most favorable for  younger individuals. Most importantly, life insurance will restore loss of income, giving your family financial protection to pay for continued costs and expenses.

In closing, these are a few basic ways to prepare for the worst case scenario, and while there are many resources available to learn more about this topic, it can be overwhelming and time consuming to go at it alone. Consulting with an estate planning attorney about the best options for your circumstances will save time and provide maximum value for minimal cost, while protecting your assets, family, and legacy. Life is precious. Enjoy every moment, and do not fail to plan for loved ones who will remain after your end.

 

 

Candidate Beware: Recognizing Ethical Obligations of Elected Office

Attorneys sworn in to the State Bar of Michigan. Detroit, MI.

“The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.” -Frederick Douglass

Since the 2016 election, there has been a significant uptick of interest in running for office. Nationally, people are fed up with politics as is and are determined to run themselves to create the changes they want to see in their communities, which is a necessary component of a healthy democracy. From the highs of inspiration and planning your campaign strategy, to the lows of performing less than thrilling tasks (phone-banking, anyone?), and everything in between, your campaign is sure to be the experience of a lifetime. However, win or lose, in deciding to run, you must not only consider the necessities of the campaign, but the obligations of elected office, especially the ethical obligations, which have seemingly been forgotten in the political landscape.

No doubt before you decided to run for office, you thought long and hard about what office you wanted to run for and why, as well as skills you bring to the table and what makes you unique among the pool of candidates. If you haven’t considered these preliminary questions, you should rethink your plan, or risk losing not only the race, but precious time, money, and resources expended in your efforts. Envisioning the office you want to occupy will give you greater clarity and understanding of what your role will be as an elected official, what authority is vested in your position, and the ethical obligations of that particular office.

Chief amongst the ethical obligations of virtually every elected office is a duty to maintain public trust in government. Every level of government is dependent upon its electors- everyday citizens like you and me- to not only vote for leaders, but fund those offices through tax payer dollars, in addition to funding public welfare and safety programs such as roads, police, schools, and other infrastructure. As such, elected offices require officials to take an oath to uphold the laws and duties of the office to ensure responsibility and trust over our dollars and our well being.

Without public trust, government is dysfunctional at best and doomed at worst. As stated by a publication from the Santa Clara University Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, “The public is willing to delegate authority and sacrifice some freedoms in exchange for an orderly and civilized society, but only if it believes that government is acting in the public’s best interest. When the public loses trust in government, public cooperation suffers, compliance with laws fail, and investors and consumers lose confidence.”

And right now, there is no question that public trust in government is lacking. According to a Pew Research study, public trust is at historically low levels, with only 19% of Americans saying they trust the federal government to do what is right. Closer to home, here in Detroit we are reminded of the 2016 election fiasco at the City Clerk’s Office, where numerous reports emerged regarding faulty machines resulting in erroneous tabulations of votes and over half of Detroit votes ineligible for a recount. Naturally, as the chief elections official, the City Clerk came under fire, with one news outlet even calling for her resignation. However, a recent poll suggests that the City Clerk may be able to atone for these errors, as she leads three known challengers by a wide margin, gaining 34% of the vote in the poll, compared to a range of 3-9 % for her challengers, respectively.

Yet given the grim data regarding public trust in government, candidates and potential candidates alike must consider what is at stake for their own work and reputation. Have you considered the effects of publicity? Are you willing to put your name and reputation out for the public to know and pick apart when they feel you have betrayed their interests? Worst of all, any mistakes in office, especially a breach in public trust, can have negative long term consequences in your career, impacting your chances for successful reelection as well as your endeavors outside of politics. Envision yourself in the office you desire, not only as a winner and  a hero, but also the outcomes should you find yourself as the villain.

In closing, consider this quote by essayist John Gardner: “The citizen can bring our political and governmental institutions back to life, make them responsive and accountable, and keep them honest. No one else can.” Think big picture. Think long term, and strive for best case scenario. In spite of the gloomy outlook, hope springs eternal. Armed with sufficient knowledge and a good team of supporters, you can achieve ethical success as an elected official by upholding your obligations through accountability, thereby building the restoration of public trust.

Preserving History in Present and Future Times: Protecting Elders and the Aging Population

 

John F. Kennedy Exhibit. The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Washington DC.

“History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future.” 

As we celebrate President’s day in memorialization of the great leaders of this nation’s past, we reflect on this quote by former President John F. Kennedy and what I call the greatest teacher in life- history. With this in mind, there is perhaps no population group in our society that are greater students of history than our elders, who throughout the years have experienced life and encountered history in ways many of us hope to attain by reaching greater age.

Significantly, according to the Administration on Aging (AA), the United States is experiencing a dramatic increase of people who live to old age, creating challenges for Americans of all ages. Although elders are often synonymous with senior citizens aged 65 and over, with the growing aging population and baby boomers coming into retirement age, AA categorizes “preseniors” as those ages 55-64. Like senior citizens, preseniors often face the same issues that come along with aging as years continue.

Furthermore, as our population ages and transitions, we face unique obstacles in not only protecting the legacies left behind by our elders, but in protecting the lives of our elders themselves.  As we grow, our estate grows, our family grows, and our needs grow. We have more to lose and protect, including the key categories of asset protection, health protection, and income protection. Yet, with proper planning, we can “ensure” preservation of wealth and assets for the benefit of future generations, as well as personal protection for the well being of our beloved elders.

First, regarding asset protection, the more we age and earn, the more we acquire. But, we all know that we cannot take our possessions with us after death, so what happens to our prized valuables? This is where an estate plan becomes pivotal, whether it be instructions left in a simple will or a more complex but structured trust to distribute assets, which can also be tailor made to fit individual situations, such as a special needs trust. Regardless of the outcome, the key requirement in estate planning is capacity. One must know what they possess and the natural objects of their bound, usually close family members like spouses and children, or else the plan can be challenged or overruled due to lack of capacity. With memory illnesses like Dementia and Alzheimer’s often affecting older populations, testing for capacity can be quite a challenge, but it is nevertheless possible and necessary in constructing an adequate estate plan.

Second, as referenced, with the aging process, our health needs change, including our ability to care for ourselves physically and make decisions mentally. In planning for elder health requirements, government insurance programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid play key roles in covering these needs. However, there are a variety of other options available to cover issues that are not so commonly tied to traditional health needs such as medical treatment and prescriptions. Often times, due to deteriorating physical and mental health conditions, in additional to medical care, seniors may require assistance in making common decisions and transactions. In these scenarios, guardianships and conservatorships  present attractive options, as guardians are appointed to meet personal care needs and conservators appointed to make informed decisions, most often regarding finances.

Third, speaking of finances, with advanced age comes the joy of retirement, but the loss of income. Social Security, once again, is a program to provide income during our golden ages, but the caveat is that it is a fixed income, which leaves little room for many expenditures for lower income seniors. Nevertheless, there are many useful options for managing income and retirement finances, including aforementioned conservators, as well as powers of attorney- written instruments that give another person the authority to make decisions on behalf of the person granting the power. Additionally, estate planning presents a multitude of options to best utilize retirement plans such as IRA’s and 401Ks.

Because our population is rapidly aging and retiring, the need to protect elders and preserve their legacies is paramount. Granted, though accounting for all needs may seems like a daunting task, it is nonetheless necessary for the well being of the older individual affected, as well as beloved family and friends. So today, as we reflect and honor the nation’s forefathers and greatest leaders, let us also hold our current elders in these highest regards by ensuring their personal protection and preserving their legacies for future generations to honor and celebrate.

The Future of the Vote in Detroit

Sprit of Detroit Monument. Detroit, MI.

“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” Malcom X.

What is the future of the vote in Detroit? After last year’s infamous election, the same question can be asked throughout the country. However, with controversy surrounding the vote count in the 2016 election, Detroit is ground zero for the future of the vote.

For Detroit, the future is now. 2017 marks the citywide elections for offices ranging from the mayor to the board of police commissioners, and perhaps most notably, the city clerk. As alluded to earlier, following the 2016 election, numerous reports emerged regarding faulty machines resulting in erroneous tabulations of votes. Although a recount was in effect, due to faulty vote report machines, over half of Detroit votes were ineligible for the recount. Naturally, as the chief elections official, the City Clerk came under fire, with one news outlet even calling for the Clerk’s resignation.

However, the City Clerk remains in office for now, and while outdated technology accounted for much of the blame, the Clerk also identified human error as a significant source of the problem. Specifically, the city has struggled to recruit and retain elections inspectors and precinct workers, with this work mostly falling to senior citizens. The average age of city poll workers is 68, and poll worker training occurs only once before the primary and general elections.

While the City Clerk has advocated for quarterly poll trainings and appeal to younger Detroiters, the debacle of the 2016 Election has compromised the integrity of the clerk’s office, as well as the vote itself. This is troubling for younger voters, who along with Baby Boomers constitute the largest electorate in the United States. Yet, the youth vote is notorious for low turnout during elections, with 2016 being no exception.

For the future of the vote in Detroit to not only grow, but remain intact, we must simply refer to history, our greatest teacher in life. By following the words of the late, great, Malcolm X, we must educate our young people on the importance of voting, and engage them in the political process early and often. Expanding poll trainings and targeting young voters is a good start, but the efforts must not end there. With voting rights under attack nationwide, here in Detroit, we can act now by reaffirming the vote and growing our power by investing in the youth, effectively setting the standard for the rest of the country moving forward.

My Black History: Legacy Building Through the Generations

 

Tina Patterson and Tyrone Patterson. Wayne State University Graduation, 2009. Detroit, MI.

Today, February 8, 2017, marks the fourth anniversary of my father’s death.

The day after he died, an otherwise sunny Saturday morning, I vividly remember eating breakfast, then going to sit on the couch in the living room, where I proceeded to write him a note. Almost instantly, the tears began to swell, but throughout the process, I could not cry. My daughter, with whom I was six months pregnant at the time, refused to allow the tears to fall, insisting on kicking me instead, which turned my fresh, devastating pain into temporary laughter.

Little did I know that five days later, Valentine’s Day, I would end up reading aloud the personal note I wrote to my father at his funeral, barely making it past the first word, “Daddy,” before breaking down into tears in front of the entire room. However, I am so happy I shared my feelings then, and I am happy to go back to one of the darkest times in my life to share those feelings once more.

My father was a black man, born in Tuskegee, Alabama, raised in Marion, Ohio, and remained in Detroit, Michigan from January 1966 at age 16 until the day he died. As a black man coming of age in the civil rights era, he dealt with racism throughout his life. As early as age 10, I remember him sharing his stories with me. I remember well how angry he was in his youth to see and hear white men refer to his father, my grandfather, a grown man (and WWII Navy Vet, no less), as “boy.” I remember my father telling me about the infamous 1967 Detroit Riot early in my youth, and I remember him retelling the story when I interviewed him on the subject as a college sophomore. During the Riot, which occurred three blocks from our home, my father, then 18 years old, was beaten by the police. Although he grew up to become a sheriff for our county, he was a black man first, and still held skeptical views of law enforcement.

I asked him, “why then become a police officer?” He responded that at the time, he was married (to his first wife) with two young children, and it was a good job with which to raise a family. And he did well for himself, raising his first two children before divorcing, remarrying, and raising his next two children, me and my younger brother. He also bought the family home from my grandparents, which is still in our family after 51 years, and sent three of his four children to college, with one now a practicing attorney- me. The irony of it all? My father originally wanted to be a lawyer himself, but gave up that dream to raise his family. I only found out after graduating from college and studying for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), when my father showed me his old LSAT study books from the 70’s.

Aligned with Black History Month, when writing my note to him, the theme that resonated with me was how much he achieved during his lifetime, in spite of racism along the way. Was he a nationally recognized icon? A Pulitzer Prize winning author? Or a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States? No. Does any of that matter? No. In my eyes, he was a black man who achieved so much in a time where so much was denied. He is my Black history. Moreover, he left a lasting legacy to his descendants, which enabled us to carry on with life, painful as it has been, without him.

Previously, I wrote that he died without a will. While this was unwise, he took many positive, crucial actions during his lifetime that protected us financially after his death. He named us as beneficiaries of his life insurance policies, which avoid probate being payable at death, and saved me from insolvency since I was unemployed. Further, life insurance proceeds are not treated as income, so there were no tax consequences. He left two homes behind, as well as two vehicles, and bank accounts, which are transferred on death, thereby avoiding probate. He understood not only the need to provide for his family while living, but to ease the burden of death with economic protection. Taking these simple steps, along with creating an estate plan, are easy ways to protect your family now in the face of uncertainty, and without my father’s final protections, I’m sure my circumstances would be vastly different.

Like any parent, my father wanted better for his children, and it is hard to argue that he failed in this endeavor. I am proud of everything I have achieved so far in my young life, and so happy to live his dream, which I shared, of becoming an attorney. Moreover, I am proud of him and the sacrifices he made and the difficulties he endured so that I can be where I am and have what I have. In his final act of giving during his lifetime, when I asked him for a loan to purchase bar study materials and pay for bar exam application fees, he instead wrote a check and gave me the money. He died three months later, four years ago today.

Today, as an attorney, as a black woman, and most of all, as his daughter, I am proud to be his living legacy, and I am honored to carry his memory, love, dedication, and protection to the next generation.

A Tale of Two Homes: When Dying Without a Will Goes Wrong

David & Gladys Wright House. Phoenix, AZ.

“The Home should be the treasure chest of living.”

Although the home portrayed above was designed by legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the quote is by equally legendary Swiss architect Le Corbusier. It signifies the important role the home plays in our society. Relating the home to a treasure chest signals that it protects what we value most, meaning we should take great care in protecting the treasure chest itself- the home.

Not only do our homes contain our valued property, but they provide an address necessary for employment, cultivate an environment for growing a family, and significantly, homes create wealth that we can pass to the next generation. However, according to a recent Gallup poll, the majority of Americans do not have a will in place to determine how to handle their estate after death. If our homes are truly treasure chests, why would we ever leave them behind with no instruction to protect and provide for the families we  love?

While the answers vary, the consequences can be dire. Additionally, even with a will in place, if not drafted by an attorney who can foresee potential trouble down the road and minimize or even avoid these issues, unnecessary complications can arise, costing more time, effort, and in some cases, valuable property, including homes. To illustrate the point, rather than cite statistics or create hypothetical situations, I will describe two actual examples of what can occur to the family home if the homeowner dies without a will. Hint: these are real life examples that happened in my own family.

First, the “good.”

My father passed away four years ago. While he was a man who took care of his home and family, he did not leave behind a will, despite owning two homes. One home described him as the owner, a married man, which meant it automatically passed to my mother as his wife. However, that property was really just a house.  Our true home was the property we occupied, which I had lived in for over 25 years. Although my father “owned” the home, paying off the mortgage from his parents who lived there previously, the title was never transferred and remained in my grandmother’s name, meaning each of her four children had a 1/4 interest in the home. While her estate was probated in court at her death, it was not handled by an attorney, who could have solved the issue.  This meant that at my father’s death, instead of inheriting our home outright, my mother received a 1/4 interest in the home with my father’s siblings. Fortunately, each of them signed over their interest to my mother, who now owns the home outright and continues to occupy it as she had for decades. This was the good news. Other families may not have signed over their interests so easily, if at all, especially since we lived in a 3000 square foot home in a historic neighborhood. Unfortunately, family quarrels are common after a death, so having an estate plan in place to instruct what happens next is critical to avoid such potential conflicts.

Now, the “bad.”

I had an aunt who passed away over ten years ago. She also died without a will, and left behind a minor child and a home. Her child, my cousin, was well taken care of, as another aunt won guardianship, but what about the home? Unfortunately, no case was ever opened to probate my aunt’s estate, meaning no action was ever taken on the home. Years later, we discovered the city had somehow reclaimed ownership of the home, and just a few years ago, the home was demolished. Where childhood memories once existed now stands an empty lot. Worst of all, my cousin, who is now married with a child, just purchased a new home last year, their first home. Had proper action been taken, or more easily, had my aunt left behind a will, her minor child would have already had a home in which to raise a family, instead of absorbing mortgage debt years later.

 

These are just two possibilities of what can happen when failing to leave behind a will or other estate plan, as well as the perils of planning without an attorney. While there are a multitude of online legal service providers that sell do it yourself estate planning products, these programs are not real life people with knowledge of the entire process and can draft to avoid foreseeable conflicts. Further, in weighing costs, spending more for an attorney now can save money down the line, as common mistakes can end up costing more to correct.

In closing, consider the following quote: “Home is the most popular, and will be the most enduring of all earthly establishments” (Channing Pollock).  Do not leave your home up to chance. Instead, with the help of an attorney, create an estate plan to ensure that your home will endure throughout your family from generation to generation.

No, You’re Not Crazy! Channeling Your Business Dreams into a Reality

The Thinker, August Rodin. Detroit Institute of Arts.

“Your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur is not concealing your idea from others or keeping your idea a secret. It is actually convincing people that you’re not crazy and that you can pull this off.”  -Sean Parker, Napster

Although I began my own firm after leaving a cushy government job in September 2016, I did not “launch” or market myself to the public until January 2017. I had my doubts and did not feel like I was ready because I had never done anything like this before. I had never owned a business or worked for myself, and I was leaving a steady job with great pay and benefits (oh, how I miss the benefits).  So, not only did I think about convincing others I wasn’t crazy, but I had to convince myself I wasn’t crazy!

Thankfully, I am not alone. According to a study from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), roughly 14% of the 27 million Americans of working age are developing or running a new business. In addition, 51% of the working population thinks that new businesses represent a great opportunity while 81% with the intention of developing a startup are already working on it. Furthermore, with the influx of rapidly developing technology and shift toward a service based economy, Information Technology (IT) services spearhead the list, followed by Advertising and Marketing, business products and services, health, and software.*

As encouraging as these numbers are, it is important to take important first steps in forming your business by seeking the right guidance for your company’s formation and operation, beginning with legal structure.  Are you going to be a sole proprietor, or will you have business partners? Limited liability companies (LLCs) are popular structures, but depending on the volume of your business or the services offered, it may not be necessary or even enough. On the other hand, going out on your own as a sole proprietor is easiest of all, but also the riskiest, as you are personally exposed to liability.

Additionally, you must consider under what state will you form your business. This is important due to differing state laws, with some states having more favorable business and tax laws than others (Delaware, anyone?). Further questions include how will you operate your business and what will happen upon death or dissolution. Beyond initial structuring, consider short and long term goals, including whether you will hire employees. As an employer, you must be compliant with laws under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and laws against workplace discrimination and harassment, not to mention economic issues such as minimum wage and employee benefits (those precious employee benefits).

Finally, as inspired as you may be to step out on faith toward your new journey of starting your own business, know that success and monetary reward will not come easily, quickly, or perhaps even at all. Think of the business venture as a life cycle consisting of conception, birth, and upbringing, the same as the relationship between a parent and a child. Take your time in planning to conceive the business idea, but if it occurs suddenly or surprisingly, don’t panic. Rather, consider all options and make the choice best for you and your potential business. Next, once plans are in place for its formation, birth the business by making it a legal entity, yet keep in mind that just having the business is not enough.

Arguably, the most crucial aspect of owning the business is growing the business by investing time and money into it and making smart decisions for its growth. If your decision is not making your money back, is it worth the investment? If you are not generating customers or clients, what can you do differently? The beauty and burden of owning a business, just as in raising a child or life generally, is that there is no right or wrong way, only a way that works best for you. This philosophy transcends professional and personal ventures in life, whether it is starting a business, starting a family, beginning a political campaign, or pursuing dreams of becoming a star.

Therefore, whatever your dreams may be, remember that “Every great dream begins with a dreamer” (Harriet Tubman).  If your dream is to run your own business, conceive your idea, birth your entity, and raise your business through investment and decisions that will breed growth. But first, get over the hump of thinking you’re crazy, unless in this new era of alternative facts, “crazy” means bold and courageous. If this is the case, then do not be afraid to show the world just how crazy you are!