Category Archives for "Estate Planning"

Doing Our Part To Help Front Line Workers

Although a mask can provide protection from COVID-19, more is needed to ensure that you are protected in a health crisis.  This is top of mind for health care workers, first responders and educators as the global struggle with the pandemic continues.

At Debra Robinson Law Group, we strive to be there for our community, just as we are for our clients.  It is in this spirit of service that I am pleased to announce a charitable initiative from our firm aimed at providing peace of mind for essential workers in our community.

We are now offering free Health Care Directives for health care workers, first responders and educators in Fulton, Cobb, Gwinnett and Forsyth counties.

Under the federal HIPAA privacy laws, health care providers are prohibited from disclosing an adult patient’s private medical information, unless authorized by the court through a legal guardianship, or authorized by the adult in writing. It doesn’t matter if you are a relative, even if you are the mother or father.

In a Georgia Advance Directive for Health Care, an agent is named to make all health care decisions if the injured or ill adult is unable to communicate his wishes, and the agent is authorized under the HIPAA privacy laws to have access to all private medical information.

If you are an eligible essential worker, please contact our office at drlg@debrarobinsonlaw.com so that one of my staff will be able to assist you.  Please include your full name, contact information and your profession.  You will be asked to provide a copy of your professional ID as part of the process.

In an effort to make as much time available to our team as possible to work on drafting of documents, we would appreciate communication via email only for this offer.

One Person Can Make A Difference

Several months ago, one of our valued clients, Bill Fillman, reached out for assistance in incorporating a non-profit designed to help local restaurants and front line workers struggling in the wake of COVID-19.  This week, he is up and running and so I’ve invited him to share the story of North Fulton Food It Forward, Inc.  The work he is doing helps boost our community in multiple ways.  I hope that if you are in a position to give, you will consider a donation to this exceptional organization.

IT STARTED WITH CUPCAKES … Long story short, I wanted to bring some smiles to local essential workers and happened to be in a bakery when the thought was present.  Once a month for the past several months I have been delivering 7-15 dozen cupcakes to local essential workers… It’s just rewarding to receive their smiles in return. 

Then COVID-19 arrived, and shortly thereafter I happened to watch a TV interview with Leslie Gudel, who started a non-profit called “Food It Forward” in Pennsylvania, giving gift cards from local eateries to local essential workers fighting the pandemic.  And I thought, “I could do that”.

With a starter kit from Leslie and a bit of advice from Debbie on non-profit incorporation, North Fulton Food It Forward, Inc. was on its way. It has recently received its 501(c)(3) tax exemption as a public charity, so donors can deduct contributions they make.  And on July 19, 2020, the website went live.

100% of all donations directed through https://nffooditforward.org will go directly to purchasing gift cards from Alpharetta and Johns Creek locally-based restaurants, which helps owners and employees.

100% of those gift cards will be donated to Emory Johns Creek hospital, The Memory Center (Johns Creek), local nursing care homes, and local fire stations and police stations for their essential workers.

Our local N. F. restaurants have already suffered greatly. Some restaurants have shut down while others have been reduced to “drive through” businesses, at best, which has been financially devastating for both the owners and their employees. 

Meanwhile, the strain on health care and first responder essential workers has grown dramatically.  Health care workers are putting their lives at risk every hour of every day for us.  A lesser-publicized reality is that municipal tax revenues are sinking, seriously jeopardizing the jobs of first responders who are risking their lives for us every day.

The team at North Fulton Food It Forward donates our time to hosting the website, contacting the restaurants, confirming they issue gift cards, ordering the gift cards, and delivering the gift cards because we want to help our community thrive.  Restaurants are helped, front line workers are helped.  When you donate, you should feel good about that. And, know that we are so very grateful to you for your donations which will help us reach more restaurants and more essential workers.

Thank you for your support,

Bill Fillman


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Welcoming Change In Challenging Times

I consider one of the greatest accomplishments of our firm to be the relationships that are forged with our clients.  Our administrative team is among the best and valued clients often express gratitude for the experience, kindness and care that is evident in their interactions.

So it is with gratitude of my own that I wish to share with you that Linda Carroll, our firm administrator of more than a decade, has retired.  We wish her much happiness in her future endeavors and are appreciative for all that she has brought to our firm.

With her departure, we turn the page on a new chapter led by a new firm administrator.  Randy Cloud brings over a decade of management experience with a strong focus on client experience and operational excellence.  His ability to balance daily operations while developing a strategic vision for the firm’s future makes Randy instrumental to the team’s continued success.  He is responsible for managing business development, client relationships, office operations and financial accounting.

Randy has learned the importance of proper estate planning through a very personal experience.  In his early 20’s, Randy’s mother passed away unexpectedly without a completed will.  He spent the next year navigating probate while trying to grieve his loss.  This experience, combined with a desire to protect his own young family, has inspired a passion to help all families achieve peace of mind while planning for the future.

Randy spent his childhood in Maine and after attending Winthrop University in South Carolina, Randy settled in Atlanta.  His three-year-old son, Nash, loves spending time outdoors.  As a family they enjoy cooking, camping, biking and canoeing.

I am looking forward to each of you having an opportunity to get to know Randy in the coming years.

As always, we are here to serve you.  Please contact us at 770-817-4999 or at www.debrarobinsonlaw.com to schedule an appointment today.

Be well,

Debra Robinson

Protecting Young Adults During COVID-19

For young adults in a pre-pandemic world, the future was exciting and unknown, with little thought about bad things that might happen. But bad things can happen. COVID-19 has made that very clear. In the state of Georgia, a child becomes a legal adult at the age of eighteen and so consideration must be given to the document necessary to protect their health and future.

If something happens to a young child, the parent or guardian has the legal right to make medical decisions. What most people don’t realize though, is that as soon as someone turns eighteen, under the law, that eighteen year old is an adult.

Under the federal HIPAA privacy laws, health care providers are prohibited from disclosing an adult patient’s private medical information, unless authorized by the court through a legal guardianship, or authorized by the adult in writing. It doesn’t matter if you are a relative, even if you are the mother or father.

In a Georgia Advance Directive for Health Care, an agent is named to make all health care decisions if the injured or ill adult is unable to communicate his wishes, and the agent is authorized under the HIPAA privacy laws to have access to all private medical information.

Without this important legal document, families find themselves in court, filing for guardianship. That process is expensive, delays access to needed medical information, and causes additional distress in a family already going through a difficult time.

The solution is simple. Have him or her sign an Advance Directive for Health Care. Having the document won’t prevent tragedy from happening, but it will enable a young adult to know they will have the protection of those who love them quickly available if it is ever needed.

If you’re looking for an expert to help you plan to protect the young adults you love, then we invite you to contact our office and schedule an appointment today.

Returning To The Office: Our COVID-19 Policies

As we work toward reopening our office in the coming weeks, I would like to share our updated COVID-19 policy.  Beginning the week of June 22, 2020, we will be booking a limited number of in-office document signing appointments; the week of July 5, 2020 we will resume normal office hours.  We will continue to serve clients who prefer phone and Zoom conference remotely for consultations and other applicable appointments.  My staff and I appreciate your patience as we navigate through this time and would like to thank you in advance for your cooperation.

DEBRA ROBINSON LAW GROUP COVID-19 OFFICE POLICY

The safety of our clients, our staff, and visitors to the office is of paramount importance during this time. Therefore, we will observe the following precautions in accordance with CDC guidelines in order to maintain a healthy work environment and we expect all staff and visitors to adhere to these precautions:

  1. Any attorney or staff member experiencing symptoms such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting or diarrhea should immediately report those symptoms to Debra Robinson (whether or not the symptoms occur at the office) and follow CDC recommended precautions.
  2. Attorneys or staff who have a sick family member at home should immediately notify Debra Robinson and follow CDC recommended precautions.
  3. Attorneys and staff should report any contact with persons with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
  4. DRLG will provide a forehead thermometer to check temperatures. Attorney and staff temperatures will be checked on their first entry into the suite each day, or if they report feeling ill. Any person with a temperature of 100.4 F or greater will not be allowed entry and/or will be required to leave the suite.
  5. Social distancing will be practiced within the firm, including the following:
    • All attorneys and staff with offices will be required to keep their doors closed when they are in their offices.
    • Face coverings will be required of all attorneys and staff when not in their assigned offices, including when they enter and exit the suite.
    • All attorneys and staff will practice social distancing outside the office and wear a cloth face covering when social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Wearing a cloth face covering, however, does not replace the need to practice social distancing.
  1. Everyone in the suite should remain six (6) feet apart at all times.
  2. All attorneys and staff should wash their hands with soap and water frequently and/or use hand sanitizer. DRLG will provide soap and water in the kitchen and hand sanitizer at strategic locations within the suite. Hands should be washed or sanitized often.
  3. All surfaces shall be disinfected immediately following interaction with a person who is not a DRLG attorney or staff member. In addition, surfaces in the office shall be disinfected as often as possible.
  4. Attorneys and staff should avoid using other employees’ phones, desks, offices, or work tools and equipment, when possible. If not possible, they should be cleaned and disinfected before and after each use.

DEBRA ROBINSON LAW GROUP CLIENT POLICY

  1. If you are experiencing COVID- 19 systems such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting or diarrhea, PLEASE CALL TO CANCEL YOUR APPOINTMENT.
  2. Please wear a mask at all times while in our office. If you do not have a mask, we will provide one.  Hand sanitizer will be available upon entry to the office, and at strategic locations throughout the office.  Please use the hand sanitizer upon entering the office.  Social distancing will be practiced within the firm.  Please try to remain six (6) feet apart from attorneys and staff.
  3. For clients coming to sign documents, we have arranged tables in our workshop room so that our attorneys and staff will be able to maintain the six (6) foot distance while assisting in the execution of your documents. We will provide you with a pen that has never been used, which you can either take with you when you leave, or we will dispose of it for you.

As always, we are here to serve you.  Please contact us at 770-817-4999 or at www.debrarobinsonlaw.com to schedule an appointment today.

The Sandwich Generation

For many Americans, the pressures of adjusting to the “new normal” extend far beyond personal responsibility.  The term “Sandwich Generation” was coined in the 1980s to describe the growing number of people in their 40s or 50s who are raising young or teenaged children, and at the same time serving as caregivers to their aging parents.  Members of the Sandwich Generation are the ones that children and parents rely on to handle all problems, from appointments with the pediatrician to appointments with the Alzheimer’s specialist, from finding a babysitter to finding a certified nursing assistant.

Many of those in the Sandwich Generation work full time or part time jobs, are responsible for maintaining a household, and deal with their caregiving duties on top of everything else.  Their to-do lists can be overwhelming, and they do their best to manage it all.

There is one responsibility, though,  that many Sandwich Generation members overlook: putting a plan in place to provide for their children and parents if something happened and the one who handles it all isn’t there to handle it anymore.

Too many people have no estate plan at all, and most who do might have a plan that creates a trust for their young children, but says nothing about Mom or Dad.  If you are responsible for caring for an aging parent, what would happen to them if you died?  If you are providing for them financially, shouldn’t you have an estate plan that makes sure they are comfortable in their old age?  If your parent is living with you, shouldn’t you make sure they’d still have a place to live if you weren’t there anymore?

Some parents do have enough financial resources to provide for themselves, but many are living on Social Security and maybe a small pension, and rely on their children to help cover their expenses.  If a child dies without a plan to provide for the parent, what happens?

Sandwich Generation members need to make sure that all the things they are doing for their children and their parents could still be done even if they are no longer there.

If you’re looking for an expert in helping you plan and protect your children and your parents, then we invite you to contact our office and schedule an appointment today. We can help develop the right estate plan for you and your needs to make sure you are able to take care of all your loved ones.

Pros and Cons of a Joint Account with Mom or Dad

In these uncertain times, many are exploring ways to help their loved ones ensure safety and security.  Adding a child to a bank account might seem like the perfect solution to safeguarding an elderly parent’s finances. Once added to the account as joint owner, the child can help with bill paying, and can monitor the account balance to control double payments or excessive gifts.  When the parent dies, the account passes to the surviving joint owner without requiring probate.

But there are down sides to adding a joint owner to a bank account that should be considered, and too often aren’t.  If the child added to the account has financial problems, the child’s creditors can access the funds in mom’s or dad’s account to satisfy the child’s debt.  In that circumstance, the decision to add a child to the account to make it easier to protect the parent’s money can result in the loss of the entire account.

Another down side to adding a joint owner that is often not considered is what happens when mom or dad dies if there are other children.  Under Georgia law, the child on the account as joint owner receives one hundred percent of the account.  Even if the parent has left a Will leaving everything equally to all the children, the other children will not receive a share of the joint account.  Of course, the child who receives the account is free to split the funds with the other children, but there is no legal requirement to do so.  If the joint owner chooses to keep all the funds, the decision to add that child to the account caused the other children to be disinherited and undid the parent’s intended estate plan.

If the risks to adding a child to the account as joint owner outweigh the benefits, there is another solution.  The parent can execute a Power of Attorney.  Georgia’s 2017 statutory power of attorney form includes provisions authorizing an agent to pay bills and manage bank accounts.

A properly executed Georgia Power of Attorney can accomplish the goal of safeguarding mom’s or dad’s account, without the possible legal risks.

Do you need to update your estate planning to ensure you have the proper documents to suit your needs? Reach out to schedule an appointment with our expert Estate Planning Attorneys.  Call us at (770) 817-4999 or click here to send us a message.

Millennials Need Estate Planning Too!

The COVID-19 crisis is impacting people of all ages.  Jeremiah Amos, an associate attorney at Debra Robinson Law Group, has an important message to share about the necessity of estate planning for younger generations.

Many of my friends are getting married and starting families of their own, yet when I discuss my work as an estate planning attorney, the immediate response is “I should give your business card to my parents!” However, as Millennials settle down, we need to begin planning for our futures to protect our families through life’s changes.

The Last Will and Testament is the first document most people think of when they think of estate planning – it directs what happens to your estate after your death. Without a Will, the entire process is left up to the court. In Georgia, for a married couple with children, if a spouse dies without a Will, the estate is divided among the surviving spouse and children.

A minor child cannot legally own any property that he or she inherits. Without a good plan in place, a court would appoint someone to manage the assets. The person appointed is supervised by the court and must abide by strict rules. Once the child is 18, all of the assets must be distributed to the child, regardless of his or her ability to manage those assets. If the child’s parent had a properly drafted Will, the assets could have been left to the child in a trust. The Will would dictate terms ofthe trust, who would be in control of the assets, and how and when those assets may be used.

If both parents pass away, someone needs to care for minor children. The best way to ensure that the Court appoints the person of your choosing to fulfill this role is to name a guardian in your Will. Without any indication, the Court is left to appoint a guardian on its own. This uncertainty can result in legal conflicts between family members over who is best suited to care for minor children.

Millennials, we need to think of estate planning not only for our parents, but also for our own families. Making these decisions now protects your family, provides for their future, and alleviates unnecessary chaos and confusion during an extremely difficult time.

One Thing You Shouldn’t DIY

In light of the current pandemic, many Americans are becoming aware of the importance of creating or updating their estate planning documents. With the extension of some states’ stay in place orders, it may be tempting to create your own documents all on your own. Whether you are considering writing your own will or using an online “do it yourself” (DIY) document creator, there are many reasons why this is one project you shouldn’t undertake without the help of a professional.

What is a DIY estate plan? 

A DIY estate plan is something that you “do yourself” without the advice of an estate planning attorney. Someone who DIYs their own legal documents could be:

  1. Handwriting a “will” themselves; 
  2. Downloading a “fill in the blank” document that they got on the internet; or
  3. Using an online document generator that asks pre-set questions. 

Below are five common mistakes associated with DIY estate plans.

  1. DIY estate plans may not conform to the applicable law

Forms that can be found on the internet may claim to conform to your state’s law, but this may not always be the case. The laws that apply to estate planning are determined by each state—and there can be wide variations in the law from state to state. In addition, if you own property in another state or country, the laws in those jurisdictions may differ significantly, and your DIY estate plan may not adequately account for them. 

  1. A DIY estate plan could contain inaccurate, incomplete, or contradictory information

If you attempt to create a will using an online questionnaire, there is the possibility that you may select the wrong option or leave out important information that could prevent your will from accomplishing your goals. Potential problems could be made even worse when do-it-yourself services allow users to insert additional information not addressed by the service’s preset questionnaire: the information added by a DIYer could contradict other parts of the automated will.

  1. Your DIY estate plan may not account for changing life circumstances 

For example, if you create a will in which you leave everything to your two children, what happens if one of those children dies before you? Will that child’s share go entirely to his or her sibling—or will it go to the child’s offspring? What if one of your children accumulates a lot of debt? Is it okay with you if the money or property the indebted child inherits is vulnerable to claims of the child’s creditors? What if your will states your daughter will receive the family home as her only inheritance, but it is sold shortly before you die? Will she inherit nothing? As opposed to a computer program, an experienced estate planning attorney will help you think through the potential changes and contingencies that could have an impact on your estate plan– and help you design a plan that prevents unintended results that could frustrate your estate planning goals. 

  1. Mistakes in executing the plan can be easily made

Under the law, there are certain requirements that must be met for wills and other estate planning documents to be legally valid. For example, a will typically requires the signatures of two witnesses, but state law differs regarding what is necessary for a will to be validly witnessed. Some states require not only that the will be signed by the will-maker and the witnesses, but also that they all sign the will in each other’s presence. In other states, witnesses are not required to be in the same room when the will-maker signs the will, and they can even sign it later if the will-maker tells them his or her signature is valid.  

Similarly, for a valid power of attorney, some states require only the signature of the principal (the person who is granting the power of attorney) to be notarized, but some states require the signatures of both the principal and the agent (the person who will act on behalf of the principal) to be notarized. In other states, one or more witnesses are required—and these requirements may also differ depending upon the type of power of attorney (financial vs. medical) you are trying to execute. If you seek the help of an estate planning attorney, you can rest assured that all of the “i’s” are dotted and the “t’s” are crossed, and that your intentions will not be defeated because of mistakes made during the execution of your documents.

  1. Assets may be left out of your estate plan

Many people do not realize that a trust is frequently a better estate planning tool than a will because it avoids expensive, time-consuming, and public court proceedings that would otherwise be necessary to transfer your money and property to your heirs after you pass away. Even if you have created a DIY trust, if you do not “fund it” (i.e., transfer title of your money and property into the name of the trust) it will be ineffective and your loved ones will still have to endure the probate process to finish what you started. 

Further, if you do initially transfer the title of all your assets to the trust, it is likely you will acquire additional property or financial accounts over the years that must go through probate if the titles are not transferred to the trust. Regular meetings with an estate planning attorney can help ensure that your plan accomplishes your goals and that your grieving family members are not left with major headaches after you die.

We Can Help

A DIY estate plan can lead to a false sense of security because it may not achieve what you think it does. If your DIY will is not valid, your property and money will go to heirs specified by state law—who may not be the people you would have chosen. An unfunded trust will be ineffective. Banks may not accept a generic power of attorney you found on the internet. Laws affecting your estate plan may change. 

These are just some of the mistakes or unforeseen issues that could cost your family dearly. An experienced estate planning attorney is aware of any trends in the law that could dramatically affect your estate plan and has the expertise needed to help you design and create a comprehensive plan. 

Call us today so we can help provide you and your family with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you have an estate plan that accomplishes your goals and will avoid unnecessary attorneys’ fees, headaches, or conflict for your grieving family when you pass away. 

You protect yourself by washing your hands. What are you doing for your finances?

Many Americans spend a lot of time and effort in managing their finances. While most are worried about how the coronavirus (COVID-19) will impact their income—whether that’s because they are temporarily furloughed, find themselves suddenly without a job, or watching their investment and retirement accounts dwindle—there is another way COVID-19 can wreak havoc on American’s finances: lack of incapacity planning.  

As the coronavirus continues to expand across the country, thousands of Americans are unable to carry out normal financial responsibilities because they are too ill, or they are stuck abroad and unable to travel home, or from a lack of resources due to being isolated at home. 

While feeling healthy, individuals should plan ahead now and ensure that someone will take care of their financial duties by setting up a Financial Power of Attorney. This important legal document will not only protect your finances should you fall ill from COVID-19 but also from any events that might leave you incapacitated, like an injury or accident.  

Financial Power of Attorney: what is it?

A Financial Power of Attorney (FPOA) allows you to select a trusted family member or friend who will be responsible for managing your money and other property if you become mentally incapacitated (unable to make your own decisions) due to illness or injury. Without this document, bills won’t get paid, tax returns won’t be filed, bank and investment accounts held in your name will become inaccessible, retirement distributions can’t be requested, and property can’t be bought, sold, or managed.

What happens if I don’t have one and get sick? 

If you get sick and are unable to make or communicate your financial decisions and don’t have an updated FPOA in place, a judge can appoint someone to take control of your assets and make all personal and medical decisions for you through a court-supervised guardianship or conservatorship. 

Why would a court do that?—You may ask.  As an adult, no one is automatically able to act for you, you must legally appoint them through the use of an FPOA. Without it, you and your loved ones could lose valuable time, money, and control. 

WORD OF CAUTION: Don’t think you’re protected just because your assets are held jointly with your spouse, child, or family member. Here are three reasons why you shouldn’t rely on joint ownership:

  1. Limited power. While a joint account holder may be able to access your bank account to pay bills or access your brokerage account to manage investments, a joint owner of real estate will not be able to mortgage or sell the property without the consent of all other owners. 
  2. Tax liability. By adding a family member’s name to your accounts or real estate titles you might be saddling them with gift tax liability.
  3. Property seizure. You read that correctly. If your joint owner is sued than your property could be seized in order to pay their debt.  
  4. Medicaid disqualification. Putting a loved one’s name on a joint bank account or property title can disqualify them from receiving government benefits, such as Medicaid.   

Only a comprehensive incapacity plan will protect you and your assets from a court-supervised guardianship or conservatorship and the misdeeds of your joint owners. Do not rely on joint ownership as your plan—it’s simply too risky and unreliable.

Already got one? Chances are it’s outdated.

An FPOA can become “obsolete” in as short as one year. This is because many institutions don’t want to rely on stale, outdated documents. Depending on your circumstances, a stale, obsolete power of attorney may not be able to help you and your family with insurance contracts, retirement plans, banking and investment accounts, online personal accounts such as email, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, and elder care and special needs planning.

If it’s been more than a year or two since you’ve signed your power of attorney, it might be time for a fresh one. Call us! We can help make sure you and your family are fully protected by helping you determine:

  • Who would be the best choice for this responsibility,
  • How much authority you should give your financial agent, and
  • When to make your power of attorney become effective.

Regardless of your priorities, there is a financial power of attorney right for your situation and goals. Determine your specific needs while you are of sound mind. Of course, nothing tops the advice and recommendations of an attorney experienced in these matters.  So if you are wavering between your options, give us a call.

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