By Marilyn Hawkes
Experts can help you map out your next moves.
The financial issues facing people over 50 are legion. Investment questions. Downsizing dilemmas. Property decisions. Estate planning. Creating a blueprint for one’s financial future late in life can seem daunting; luckily, there are a plethora of professionals who specialize in these topics and can offer advice in almost any area.
Downsizing and Selling the House: Lydon Senior Pathways
About eight years ago, Scottsdale realtor Thomesa Lydon found herself in the middle of a crisis. Her elderly parents, who lived 1,000 miles away, became unable to care for themselves independently due to health issues. Suddenly, Lydon and her sister were thrust into making important decisions for her parents about where they would move, what they would keep and what they would discard. “It broke my heart,” she says.
While trying to navigate “a disjointed web of unknown service providers,” Lydon and her sister felt frustrated and alone and had no one to guide them.
The experience prompted Lydon to take her real estate business in a new direction and she founded Lydon Senior Pathways, a one-stop senior relocation service that helps seniors plan for the “next living chapter in their lives.” She is affiliated with Realty One Group.
Lydon often invokes what she calls the 60/40 rule – when parents are in their 60s and the children are in their 40s – as the time when families should have a conversation about what will happen down the road. “While I’m still in control, I want my family members to know what my intentions and desires are for the future,” Lydon explains.
She offers a free one-hour consultation to assess the family’s living situation and then advises them on how to plan accordingly. “It’s important to instill in people not to wait until it’s too late when the transition is more difficult for all parties,” she says. In some cases, the house has become a burden due to maintenance and financial concerns.
As a real estate professional and former interior designer, Lydon can help seniors decide the right time to sell, assess the condition of the home and advise them if repairs are necessary or if they should sell “as is.” She can stage the home by arranging furniture and accessories to create greater appeal for potential homebuyers.
Lydon is also a certified senior move manager and can help seniors organize, sort and decide which items to donate, pack or disburse to family members. She encourages seniors to find their “story items,” and express in writing or on video why they’re significant. “If you’re downsizing, it’s important to capture the essence of who you are in the items that you take with you,” she says. “Everything has a story.”
Sorting through items can be overwhelming, Lydon says. She advises clients to start in one room, “the least emotional room,” and don’t quit until you’re finished. “When you’re going through items, pick them up and ask: Does it have value? Does it have purpose? Does it bring you joy? If you can’t answer yes to at least one of those, then get rid of it,” she says.
When the time comes for the move, whether to a smaller house or a senior community, Lydon makes sure there’s no lag time in between so her clients aren’t living out of boxes or in a state of uncertainty. “It’s a process from consultation to close of escrow,” she says.
“I’ve helped hundreds of clients navigate the waters of late-in-life transitions,” Lydon says. “I think my heart, compassion and caring for their well being comes across. I help them thrive, not just survive.”
For more information, call 480-375-1974 or visit lydonseniorpathways.com.
Estate Planning: Morris Hall
When it comes to estate planning, there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, according to Andrea Claus, principal attorney and partner at the Scottsdale branch of Morris Hall PLLC, an Arizona and New Mexico law firm that specializes in estate planning.
At Morris Hall, attorneys make estate plans for everyone – from people with large portfolios and real estate holdings to those with smaller assets. When meeting with new clients, the attorney will determine what’s best for each situation and will discuss everything from establishing a revocable living trust and state and federal estate taxes to divorce and creditor protection and community property issues.
In addition, Morris Hall attorneys can help clients with legacy planning, power of attorney, probate and estate administration, wills and many other issues pertinent to estate planning.
Claus talks with new clients not only about financial goals and assets, but also about family dynamics. “Everybody’s got a horror story of the family that fell apart after mom or dad died and unfortunately that does happen,” Claus said. “We try to make sure all of those issues, including potential family issues, are addressed. That’s important.”
Comprehensive estate planning ensures the client’s wishes will be carried out after he or she dies and will make the transfer of assets as easy and efficient as possible, Claus said.
But when a person dies without an estate plan, they die intestate (without a will) and his or her assets will be divided by the state. In Arizona, as in all states, there’s a formula for intestate succession, starting with the person’s spouse and children.
For those who already have an estate plan, Claus recommends reviewing the plan every few years to make sure there haven’t been any changes in the law that might impact what they have in place. As part of the review, Claus also examines the client’s finances and personal relationships to learn about any changes: “Estate plans tend to be a little like cars. They need maintenance.”
Claus enjoys estate-planning law because she gets a chance to be the “good guy.”
“I do everything in my power to keep things out of court and to make sure someone’s assets go to whom they want, when they want with the least amount of expense and issue when they pass,” she said.
For Claus, helping families through probate and trust administration is also very rewarding. “You get a chance to help someone through a dark hour.”
Morris Hall sets itself apart by being a relationship firm, rather than a transactional firm. “I speak for every attorney here when I say we get to know families,” Claus said. “We look at everything comprehensively. I’m not just drafting a document and our business is done. We remain connected.”
While other firms may include estate planning in their collective portfolio, Morris Hall attorneys are solely devoted to helping clients manage their estate plans. “We’re not doing a little bit of bankruptcy and a little bit of DUI; our focus is 100 percent estate planning,” Claus said. “That allows us to be extraordinarily knowledgeable in what we do.”
Theron M. Hall, Jr. (Tim), senior partner of Morris Hall PLLC in Mesa, has practiced many different types of law. “I’ve done divorce work, criminal work, defended people and sued people,” he says. He gravitated to estate law because he feels it’s the best way he can help people. “Everybody’s happy when you’re finished.”
Estate planning is important because if you don’t have a plan in place, other people will make decisions for you if you become incapacitated, Hall says. “But if you have your estate set up properly and your affairs in order and you become incapacitated, you have the people you chose to make the decisions, not only for your health care, but also your financial decisions.”
In many cases, people don’t think they need an estate plan, but Hall advises that if a person or couple has any type of retirement assets such as an IRA, 401k or a 403b that amounts to more than $30,000 to $40,000; has minor children or potential minor beneficiaries; children from another marriage; or beneficiaries with some type of special needs, then he or she should consider an estate plan.
Some people also choose to set up a pet trust or make provisions in their trusts to ensure their pets are taken care of. “We have a lot of clients who do that,” Hall says. “They have a strong attachment to their current pets and pets they will have in the future.”
When setting up a pet trust, clients must name a caretaker who will provide a loving home for the animal(s) and a trustee to distribute the money that’s been set aside. Often they are the same person.
For those who already have a trust or estate plan in place, it’s a good idea to review the documents every three years to make sure there haven’t been any changes, Hall says. “In the last few years, there have been some very significant changes – some good, some bad, so we keep our clients in the loop.”
The attorneys at Morris Hall also review already established estate plans for new clients because often the documents are not properly drafted, which can result in beneficiaries not being protected against creditors, lawsuits, ex-spouses, taxes and other issues, Hall says.
As a service to its clients, Morris Hall offers free estate planning seminars as well as question and answer sessions at its offices throughout Arizona and New Mexico. Non-clients are also welcome to attend. Information is available at morristrust.com.
Morris Hall is one of two firms in Arizona that belongs to the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, a group of 150 estate-planning firms throughout the United States.
“We’ve written and reviewed about 75,000 trusts. We’ve been doing this for a long time and seen literally everything,” Hall says. “We’ve often said estate planning is not just our practice, it’s our privilege and our passion and we love doing it.”