Do NOT Sit on Your Estate Plan (especially if it’s in the couch) – Learning From Aretha Franklin

After five years and a family battle over two handwritten wills left by the singing legend Aretha Franklin, a jury ruled that the later executed will – found in the cushions of Ms. Franklin’s couch – was her validly executed will.

While we all Respect (1967) Aretha Franklin, you need to Jump to It (1982), Rock Steady (1972), and Think (1968) Who’s Zoomin’ Who (1985) to prepare an estate plan that doesn’t eat up five years of time and legal fees. The estate planners at SYK are saying, “Call Me” (1970) and “Break It To Me Gently” (1977) to put your affairs in order. In short, Do Right Woman, Do Right Man (1967) and you will soon be on the Freeway of Love (1985).

Scam Warning: Be Careful of The Geeks

Oregon’s Attorney General, Ellen Rosenblum warns, “If you get a text message or email that says you were or will be charged hundreds of dollars to renew your Geek Squad membership unless you call a phone number within 24 hours, don’t be fooled. This is a scam.”

The report indicates such emails will often be accompanied by a false invoice. Do not open such emails, attachments or click on the links.

Questions or concerns?  Call the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at 1-877-877-9392.

Online Education for Older Adults – Really, for ALL Of Us

Have you heard of, or been the target of, an online scheme?  Of course you have!

  • Warning!  Your Account Has Been Locked
  • Fake Government Threats From the IRS or FBI About Your Misdeeds
  • Alleged Problems With Your Bank Account with “Vishing” (voice phone hacking)
  • Demands For An Extended Car Warranty
  • Text Message Scams (“Smishing”)
  • Online Dating or Sweetheart Scams

The potential list is much longer than the one above, but with the number of cyberattacks and scams increasing over the pandemic, we must be diligent to protect ourselves and our elders. A detailed online article is available through Berkeley

You will learn not only to recognize the warning signs, but also how to protect yourself by changing your passwords and using strong passwords, contacting your credit bureau and banks, asking for support if you need it, scanning your system for malware, disconnecting your device so malware does not spread, being careful about giving away information, noticing odd emails and avoiding the “too-good-to-be-true” offer.

With respect to assisting older online users, they recommend, “If you want to help your older relatives stay safely connected online during these difficult times, make a point to offer your support.  Set aside an hour or two to talk through online safety protocols with your family member, explain the risks they face online and point out a few common red flags that they might need to look out for.”  You can use the article as an excellent launching point, and since your elders took such good care of you, isn’t it time you return the favor?

SYK Partner Victoria Blachly’s Work on the Uniform Law Commission

Happy 130th Birthday to the Uniform Law Commission (“ULC”)! Samuels Yoelin Kantor Fiduciary Litigation Partner Victoria Blachly is an Oregon Commissioner for the ULC.  Read our interview with Victoria about her work on the ULC.

What does the ULC do?  

The ULC “provides states with non-partisan, well-conceived and well-drafted legislation that brings clarity and stability to critical areas of state statutory law.” They do not have authority to enact legislation, rather they propose legislation to states to address legal issues that cross state lines and would benefit from uniformity.  You may know them from some of their greatest hits, like the Uniform Commercial Code or the Uniform Trust Code.

How did you become involved with the ULC?  

It’s a very long story, but let me see if I can fight my litigator’s tendency to go on forever and give you the highlights.  After seeking to make the laws in Oregon better by chairing a committee with proposed legislation for access to digital assets by personal representatives, trustees and other fiduciaries, I learned the ULC  was interested in the same project, on a national level.  I became an “Observer” to the study committee and then the drafting committee, which resulted in the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act. I was impressed with the diligence of the volunteers, in striving to propose new laws to help so many.  Then, when an opening became available in 2014, I submitted my name for consideration to the Governor of Oregon.  Since then, it’s been nothing but sunshine and lollipops.

What are some highlights from your work as a Commissioner?  

The first thing that comes to mind is that I am so very grateful for meeting and working with such a dedicated group of volunteers, including the rest of the Oregon delegation:  Justice Martha Lee Walters, Lane Shetterly, Joe Willis and Carl Bjerre.  Also, the annual ULC meetings are filled with other volunteer attorneys, professors and judges that take the work seriously, are very detail-oriented and raise and address complicated legal issues with the utmost of professionalism and respect for a variety of ideas and insights.  The ULC, as a non-political group, is a refreshing contrast to how some currently opt to debate legal issues.

Tell us about some issues that the ULC is currently working on.

The number of active committees and projects is too voluminous to address here, but their website has a wealth of information available. Currently I am on a Committee for updates to the Uniform Determination of Death Act. There are a large number of medical professionals, patient advocates and lay people Observers with amazing and often heartbreaking stories, who all share their perspectives.  As science has progressed and knowledge has changed, the convergence between law and science makes the topic a challenge to decipher in a way that provides good answers to often bad choices.

Too Good To Be True: Inheritance Scams

The Federal Trade Commission just posted a strong reminder on their Consumer Advice page:  If you get a letter from an alleged law firm claiming you are the beneficiary of large piles of money, to be split between the law firm, you and some charities – but you must keep it a SECRET – it is a scam.

They suggest you delete it, warn your friends and family of the scam and report it to

Then again, if you DO get a legitimate notice of a massive and unexpected inheritance, CONGRATULATIONS! – and make sure you meet with your SYK estate planners and update your plans.

This Is ALL Of Us: Musings From the End of a Television Series and The End of A Life

NBC’s “This Is Us” aired its penultimate show last night.  It is perhaps the most poignant and heart wrenching writing and acting that I have ever seen on television.  As the matriarch of the family, Rebecca Pearson, suffers with Alzheimer’s Disease and, in a way, had already left her family behind some time ago, as her memories failed her with the insidious disease.  Her final journey is then portrayed through a series of vignettes through the cars of a train, showing her family and other important people in her life, at various ages.  The thread woven through it all is love and sharing, and a good deal of open communication.  (Those Pearsons DO love to talk.)

Planning for an aging loved one’s journey is something we all need to face with compassion and courage, and the legal tools to get the right people situated for success is apparent in the show.   Take the time to talk with an elder law attorney or estate planner to make that journey less painful.

Nobody wants to plan for their final train, but leaving behind less stress for your loved ones is important.  As they said in the show, “If something makes you sad when it ends it must’ve been pretty wonderful when it was happening.”

Aphasia – Planning for the Unimaginable

At 67 years of age, Bruce Willis recently disclosed his diagnosis for aphasiaAphasia is a communication disorder, with various manifestations of impairments.  It can affect ones ability to understand language, including affecting speaking and writing, but aphasia does not impair one’s intelligence.  This is an important factor to appreciate.

The main symptoms of aphasia include:

  • Trouble speaking
  • Struggling with finding the right term or word
  • Using strange or wrong words in conversation
  • Trouble understanding what other people say or following conversations
  • Writing sentences that don’t make sense or trouble expressing yourself in writing
  • Speaking in short sentences or phrases
  • Using unrecognizable words

I once had an elderly client with aphasia, and she was discriminated against as generally being entirely mentally unwell, when the truth was her intelligence was still intact, but she struggled to make her words – which had once come to her so easily – match what she had actually intended to say.  Unfortunately, it was a challenge to get some medical care providers, some of her family, and the court to understand that she knew what she wanted, but we all had to sloooooooooow down to make sure she could speak her mind, and that just because she said the wrong words sometimes, it did not mean she was not capable of participating in her own advocacy.

Consider this a gentle reminder that in this fast-paced world, it is often the best strategy to slow down and show kindness, so that true understanding can occur.  Accordingly, putting together your estate plan, advance health care directive, and a power of attorney, before you need it and before there are struggles, is the best plan.

Celebrate National Estate Planning Awareness Month

With our adoration of All Things Estate Planning, here at SYK, please take a minute to enjoy the festivities that come around this time of year for National Estate Planning Awareness Month.  What are they?  Presents?  Decorations?  Delicious food?  Feats of strength?  No such luck – just an acknowledgement that you owe it to those loved ones you leave behind to have your affairs in order.  In addition to working with excellent estate planners, to make sure you have your will or trust, power of attorney and advance directive in place, Easeenet is a local company that provides another valuable estate planning service.  They help you create a real-time password manager and provide document storage and sharing that helps you “seamlessly” transfer your online information to your next-of-kin or fiduciary.

May you live as long as you want, and never want as long as you live.

Blachly Recognized by Oregon Super Lawyers

Oregon Super Lawyers recently interviewed Victoria Blachly for her outstanding work on elder law cases. Complicated families and complicated medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia increase the challenging legal issues in preparing for end-of-life events, but Blachly strives for soft landings.  Read the article written about her impactful work, “Soft Landings:  Victoria Blachly Speaks For Those That Can’t Speak For Themselves.”

Disinherit Your Child?  Sure – It’s Your Money.

Christine Fletcher had an article in last month’s online Forbes, entitled “Should You Disinherit Your Child?”  The full text of the article is below, but I have to say that – to me – the answer is not one that should be made by an attorney, but by the owner of the assets.  If someone wants to disinherit their child, as long as that someone has legal capacity to do so and is not being unduly influenced by a wrongdoer, then that someone should do whatever they want with their estate plan.  While some have a bias that all children should inherit equally, an inheritance is a gift, not a given.  Such that the person giving the gift can decide exactly what they want to do with their money, or exactly what they do not want to do with their money. 

As a fiduciary litigator, I have handled many cases where a disinherited child simply cannot fathom why THEIR money wasn’t left to them, in spite of piles of evidence confirming it was their own poor choices that alienated them from their parent, but those children also forget that it wasn’t THEIR money to begin with.    

An experienced estate planner can talk a client through the pros and cons of disinheriting a child, but the decision rests with the client and must be respected. 

Article:  “Most people should not disinherit their child. If your child does not buy you a birthday present or forgets to call you on Mother’s Day – even if it is every year without fail – do not run to your lawyer and cut them out of the will. Those are not reasons to disinherit a child.  

Political differences are also not a reason to disinherit a child. You should have stronger familial bonds with your children that can withstand differences of opinion and political views.  

Your will is often the last act you will do (or not do) for your child. I encourage people to use their will to treat their children equally to the extent possible and include all their children. I have seen children reduced to tears by what their parent left them in their will, and others who had difficult relationships with their parents solidified by being cut out. The child was always the outcast of the family, and mom’s will reinforced that. Your will can be used to heal old wounds or to deepen them. 

There are, however, times when children should be disinherited. These situations mostly involve children who have experienced extreme addiction or mental illness issues that have been left untreated and have caused severe pain within the family. It can be difficult to get clients to discuss these children, but it is important to know the story behind the disinheritance.  

People do not come to the decision to disinherit a child easily and often spend months or years agonizing before making the decision to cut them out of the will. I often counsel clients to think about the child’s siblings and whether disinheriting the child will worsen his or her relationships with siblings. Perhaps including the child in the will can help foster better relationships with his or her siblings in the long run.  

If the decision is made to include the “problem” child, consider trust provisions that will limit the child’s access to the inheritance. This could be a matter of life or death if a child has a drug addiction. It can also preserve family assets for grandchildren if the child has a gambling issue or a greedy spouse. 

If you are going to disinherit a child, be sure to review your entire estate plan thoroughly with your advisors. In addition, you want to avoid probate. In most states if a will needs to be probated, all your children will receive notice of the court proceeding even the disinherited ones. This is because they are your heirs and are entitled to notice under the law. You can avoid a court hearing by transferring your assets to a trust during your lifetime and having assets pass by beneficiary designation where possible.    

Sometimes, someone wants to leave a child out of a will because the child has sufficient assets. For instance, a widow wants to leave all her assets to her daughter Sally because Sally has three kids and is divorced. The widow’s son Billy is cut out because he is a successful investment banker. That situation will work if Billy is fine with this arrangement. Be sure to speak with Billy and make sure that he is on board with this plan and pleased that his sister will be well provided for. Perhaps he is not as well off as his mother thinks he is, or perhaps he will feel slighted if he is cut out. In this situation, full disclosure is the best course of action.  

Think long and hard before disinheriting a child. The consequences could have lasting effects on them and it could leave a legacy that you did not intend.”