Our Care, Our Choice

Before you panic about the new “Hawai‘i Aid in Dying Law,” it’s a great law but not for the reasons you may think.

Governor Ige signed the Our Care, Our Choice Act on April 5, 2018 and it will become law on January 1, 2019. The new law’s purpose is to establish a regulated process whereby a mentally competent adult resident of Hawai‘i with a terminal illness and less than six months to live may choose to end life with a prescription.

The Act provides that any individual desiring to take advantage of this law must first go to counseling, and this is where the true benefit of this law rests. Studies performed in California found that going through this regulated process ultimately rendered the drugs unnecessary.

The studies revealed that, of those seeking assisted death only a quarter actually did so once engaged in the mandatory counseling process. For the first time, a qualified professional took the time to find out what distressed them, what quality of life meant to them, and in doing so helped them gain control of their lives, resulting in better quality of care.

In all areas of estate planning whether it relates to finances, health care, end of life decisions or who gets what, when and why, the key to successful estate planning — ensuring that your intentions are honored — is through the process of deep reflection as to what is meaningful to you, and then engaging in crucial conversations with loved ones, care providers, and other professionals. It is never simply the making of a document.


Distribution - Consider Two Standards

As an estate planning attorney, I have the privilege of observing how families decide how to distribute their assets between and among their children. I have come to understand that there are two distinct standards that parents use to determine the gift.

First, there is the standard of meeting needs. As parents, we observe the needs and wants of our children and do our best to meet both. One child might need or want a musical instrument because of their interest in music, and another child may need volleyball shoes as her interest is in volleyball. While the dollar worth of the musical instrument may not match the dollar worth of the volleyball shoes, we meet each child’s needs and wants equally. This standard parent is alive.

It becomes difficult and near impossible to meet needs and wants once the parent dies, as they are no longer around to make those observations. At best, they can make an educated guess based on prior experience. However, situations change dramatically during the course of life, and what one needs or wants today could be entirely different tomorrow. Because of this uncertainty, many parents shift the standard from “needs and wants” to “equal worth” after they die.

Often, parents think of their Last Will and Testament or Living Trust as the last letter to their children, and many children receive these as a statement of how much their parent loves them. And most parents want their children to know that they are loved equally.


2018 Annual Newsletter

Click here to read the pdf version.

Aloha. We, at the Law Offices of Stephen B. Yim, would like to thank you for allowing us to assist you with your estate planning needs and appreciate your continued loyalty to our firm. It is a pleasure getting to know all of you as we strive to meet your estate planning needs. We take our jobs seriously and endeavor to create an estate plan for you which clearly communicates your intentions. We also want to ensure that there is always someone available to help you and your family in the future should the need arise.

We are pleased to announce that two of our staff members, Monica Yempuku and Marie Yempuku Hansen, will soon be joining our firm as attorneys. Monica is currently in her final year of law school and will be graduating this summer from the University of Hawaii, Richardson School of Law. Marie recently graduated from the University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law, and is currently studying to take the bar exam in July. We are excited for you to meet them and assure you that they will far exceed your expectations as estate planners.

The Hawaii Aid in Dying Law

For those of you who may be panicking about the new “Aid in Dying” law, we want to explain to you why we think it is a great law; just not for the reason you think.

On April 6, 2018, Governor David Ige signed the “Aid in Dying” bill into law. The purpose of this law is to establish a regulated process where an adult Hawaii resident with a medically confirmed terminal illness and with less than six months to live, may choose to obtain a prescription for a medication to end their life. 

The law provides that any individual who desires to take advantage of this law must attend counseling. This is where the true benefit of this law resides. Studies performed in California found that going through the regulated process ultimately rendered the drug unnecessary. The studies revealed that of those seeking to end their lives, once they engaged in the mandatory counseling process, only a quarter of those seeking assisted death actually did so.  This is because for many of them, for the first time, a qualified professional actually took the time to find out what distressed them and what quality of life meant to them. The counseling they received helped them to gain control of their lives resulting in better quality care.

In all aspects of estate planning, whether it relates to finances, health care, end of life, or determinizing who gets what, the key to successful estate planning is through the process of deep reflection as to what is meaningful to you. By engaging in crucial conversations with loved ones, care providers, and other professionals, it will help to ensure that your intentions are understood and honored.  

Funding Factors

Funding a trust is equally as important as creating a trust. Unfortunately, many lawyers do not emphasize the importance of proper funding. At best, they will provide their clients with a letter outlining how clients should fund their trust. However, for clients with busy lives, the last thing they want to do when they leave a lawyer’s office is tackle the funding of their trusts and put if off “ to do later”.  In many instances, later is too late.

In response to this growing need of assisting our clients fund their trusts, we created a Funding Team. We proactively engage with you to inventory your assets and send each asset through a “Funding Wheel” to determine the most appropriate way to title your asset and/or designate a beneficiary.  Factors include: convenience, intention, relational, tax ramifications, creditor-protection, and probate avoidance. Our team will work collaboratively with you and make sure all of your funding tasks are completed.

Upon completion, you will have peace of mind knowing that your estate plan and trust are properly funded. We also provide a one-page balance sheet reflecting your assets in your estate, so your trustees can see how each of your assets is titled and how the beneficiaries are designated.

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Summer Special on Power of Attorneys for Your Keiki

It is that time of year again! From June through August we will be offering a summer discount on Powers of Attorney for any of your children heading off to college or heading back to college. Our office will prepare an Advance Health-Care Directive and a Statutory Durable Power of Attorney for any of your children at a discounted fee of $395, plus general excise tax.

For any of you who are wondering if your child needs a Power of Attorney, you should know that once your child reaches the age of majority, which is eighteen in most states, you are no longer entitled to see your child’s medical and financial records, nor are you allowed to make decisions on your child’s behalf. If something unspeakable does happen and you receive a call informing you that your child is in the hospital unconscious, or in need of your help, an Advance Health-Care Directive and Statutory Durable Power of Attorney can make handling the crisis easier.

Heartfelt Legacy Foundation Presents: Theresa Varnet Special Needs Seminar

On Thursday, May 17, 2018, the Heartfelt Legacy Foundation will be presenting a seminar on Special Needs Planning with guest speaker, Theresa Varnet, a nationally-recognized special needs attorney. The topics to be covered are: review and update on government benefits, preserving eligibility for government benefits through estate and financial planning, comparison of first and third party special needs trusts and able accounts, when to start planning, advance directives – guardianship versus powers of attorney, and public policy and advocacy – holding on to benefits.

The seminar is from 5 to 9 pm at the Neil Blaisdell Center’s Hawaii Suite and costs $10 per a person. Bentos and refreshments are included in the cost. Seating is limited, so if you are interested in attending, please contact our office for more information.

We would like to thank those of you who have donated to the Heartfelt Legacy Foundation. Thanks to you, the Heartfelt Legacy Foundation is able to put on this seminar for our community. To be able to fund future events, we are asking for donations again. For those who would like to make a donation to the Heartfelt Legacy Foundation, please visit our website.

Introducing Stephen’s Staff

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Stephen B. Yim graduated from the University of Puget Sound. He received a Juris Doctorate from Santa Clara University and a tax LLM from the University of Denver. He is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Thanotology through Marian University’s online program. He also recently added a new member to his family. This past December, Stephen and his family adopted a yellow lab they named Crozier II, or C2 for short.

 
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Ian J. Young is Stephen’s of-counsel attorney and he assists with probate related cases. He is a graduate from the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law and holds a tax LLM from the University of Denver, Strum College of Law. In his free time, Ian enjoys playing basketball and traveling with his family.

 
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Monica Yempuku will be graduating from University of Hawaii William Richardson School of Law this summer.  She is transitioning from managing the Estate Administration section of our office, to learning the lawyering aspect of estate planning.  She will be regularly sitting in on client meetings with Stephen to gain firsthand experience in the different counseling facets of estate planning. Monica enjoys spending time with her family and friends.

 
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Marie Yempuku Hansen graduated from the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law in 2017.  Prior to attending law school, she worked for Stephen’s firm off and on since 2010.  As a law clerk, she is constantly being mentored by Stephen in matters related to estate planning and works closely with Stephen’s of-counsel attorney, Ian J. Young, to help administer any probate related cases.  Marie was encouraged by her older sister, Monica, to work for Stephen so that she could learn and grow from his intentional style of practicing estate planning.

 
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Britta Lau is our office manager and in charge of organizing office operations and procedures. She is committed to providing clear communication and guidance through the estate planning process.  Outside of the office, she loves the ocean, sports and being outdoors with her husband, Wilson, and their puppy, Chief.

 
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Jennifer Morgado is our administrative assistant/paralegal. She is currently working with our web designer to update our website, which we hope to complete soon. In her spare time, she is an avid photographer and writer and spends much of her time behind a camera or a computer.

 
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Stacie Kauila is currently one-third of the office Funding Team.  You might be meeting her during one your meetings with Stephen.  She will most likely contact you for binder pick up or requesting documents needed. She is always happy to answer questions and forward documents to financial planners or institutions.  To balance her work life, she enjoys spending time outdoors (probably at the beach) with her four boys and husband.

 
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C2 and Brutus are the most recent additions to our staff. They are our therapy dogs-in-training. For those in need, they provide puppy kisses and offer soft bellies for scratching. If you need a little love, just let us know and we’ll happy to bring them around.

 

Mahalo to all of you!

Please allow us to express our gratitude to you for allowing us to assist you with your estate planning needs. As a continued service to you, we hope you found this informative. We encourage you to continue meeting with us periodically to review your plan and hope to see you soon.

Very Truly Yours,

       Stephen B. Yim and Staff

Thanatology Makes Us Think

I am honored that Marian University accepted me into the Masters of Thanatology program this past Fall. “Thanatology? What is that?” is the common remark I hear when I tell people of my new adventure.

A thanatologist is a designated thinker about death. They help people die better than they otherwise might.

I believe every estate-planning attorney is a thanatologist. But we, like many of our clients, allow the underbrush of life, such as tax and probate, to cover up what we really face — our mortality.

In his book, A Commonsense Book of Death: Reflections at Ninety of a Lifelong Thanatologist, Dr. Edward Shneidman sets out 10 Criteria for a Good Death (page 132). Of the 10 criteria, two directly relate to estate planning.

First, it is common sense and good manners to complete the administrative chores associated with death, specifically to have a certified will and, if possible, a living trust. “Every responsible adult should assist his loved ones by doing these thanatological chores.”

Dr. Shneidman refers to the second criteria that directly relates to estate planning as “generative.” He states that a good death has a quality of being generative because, living between your parents and grandchildren, you take pains to relay family stories to the younger generation before you die.

Please consider taking on this thanatological chore of making your estate plan. Take the time to pass on family stories.


Family Peacekeeping Methods

Central to the Hawaiian culture is the value of ‘ohana,’ or family. Maintaining the “family health” was of utmost importance and was achieved through the regular practice of ho‘oponopono. In the article, “To Set Right Ho‘oponopono A Native Hawaiian Way of Peacemaking,” Manu Meyer discusses how families practice ho‘oponopono.

Traditionally, ho‘oponopono discussions were facilitated by a haku, who assisted the family in working out problems through a series of discussions. This led to understanding of each family member’s perspectives and resulted in mutual forgiveness and resolution.

Ho‘oponopono has been compared to the modern-day Alternative Dispute Resolution. A key difference is that ho‘oponopono was not only used to resolve dispute, it also was used to prevent disputes within the family.

According to Roy William & Vic Pressor of Preparing Heirs, “Sixty percent of transition failures were caused by a breakdown of communication and trust within the family unit.” The potential influx in trust litigation is foreseeable, due to the aging demographic of baby boomers, Hawai’i’s high cost of living and the increase in multigenerational homes.

Encouraging clients to partake in often difficult and sometimes messy family discussions, while everyone still is alive and able, is integral in preventing unwanted litigation. A haku or a ho‘oponopono facilitator may be effective in resolving family disputes.


The Importance of the Conversation

I often stare, somewhat embarrassed, at my creation of legal documents on behalf of my clients.  Especially after I explain my role of speaking clearly clients’ intentions at a time when they can no longer speak.  The black and white legal documentation looks nothing like what my clients expressed to me as their most important hopes, wishes, and goals.

Lawyers often believe that the form is most important – that somehow the clarity of the written legal word will communicate clients’ heartfelt wishes.  However, no matter how artfully written, the form cannot stand alone in transferring intention.  The written word is a static, stable, constant form of communication.  This might work in and of itself if expressing a non-changing element such as gravity.  However, we live our lives in process, change, multi-dimension, complexity, and emotion.

The legal documents we prepare do serve an important functional purpose, they explain who, how, when, and what to do.  Alone, they don’t express the meaning and intention underlying the plan.  The Conversation provides the meaning – the “why” and builds empathy, a deep understanding of the maker’s intentions.

Research shows that more than 70% of estate plans fail, failing defined as intentions not being honored.  Research also bears out that process-oriented conversation provides the “cure”.  When families actively engage in conversation, from time to time, over a period of time, this failure rate decreases considerably.

In our practice, family meetings are in integral part of the process, where we set the tone, remove all distractions, and engage in conversation.

Protecting the Family Health

Central to the Hawaiian culture is the value of ʻohana or family.  Maintaining the “family health” was of utmost importance and was achieved through the regular practice of hoʻoponopono.  In an article titled, To Set Right ­ Hoʻoponopono A Native Hawaiian Way of Peacemaking, Manu Meyer discusses how families would practice hoʻoponopono within the family.  Traditionally, hoʻoponopono discussions were facilitated by a haku (usually a kahuna or a respected elder), who would then assist the family in working out their problems through a series of discussions.  These discussions would lead to understanding each of the family members perspectives, which would then lead to mutual forgiveness and resolution.  Hoʻoponopono has been compared to the modern day Alternative Dispute Resolution, however, one of several key differences is that hoʻoponopono was not only used to resolve disputes, it was also used to prevent disputes within the family. 

According to Roy William & Vic Pressor, Preparing Heirs, “60% of transition failures were caused by a breakdown of communication and trust within the family unit”.  With the aging demographic of baby boomers, the high cost of living in Hawaii, and the increase in multigenerational homes; the potential influx in trust litigation is foreseeable.  I believe encouraging clients to partake in difficult and potentially messy family discussions while they are alive and able, is integral in preventing unwanted litigation and will protect the overall health of the family.  Where willing clients feel need assistance in engaging in family discussions, a haku or a hoʻoponopono facilitator may be effective in resolving any family disputes.  

(As seen in the December/January Edition of Generations Magazine)

A Wise Estate Plan Includes the 'Whys'

Estate-planning attorneys offer three types of estate plans: the one-size-fits-all, default “state plan;” the standard “black and white” plan; or the “meaningful” estate plan.

If you do nothing, the State of Hawai‘i has the Guardianship and Probate Court, which is a plan for each Hawai‘i resident upon incapacity and death. The state also has the Table of Consanguinity, listing your beneficiaries — to decide who will be in charge of handling your estate.

The standard “black and white” estate plan carefully crafts legal documents, while focusing on avoiding probate and minimizing taxes. Most often, these plans resemble every other estate plan, with the lawyers focused mainly on the “form” of the plan.

People may believe that because they consulted a lawyer, everything is complete and will not cause undue stress or conflict when they die.

But the sad fact is that there is more trust litigation occurring now than ever before and fractures in family relationships appear to be on the rise.

The simple reason? When we provide the foundation of the estate plan, we focus on the “how to” and diminish the “why,” meaning our intentions, feelings and hopes for our loved ones. In other words, our “voice.”

The “meaningful” estate plan incorporates the client’s own voice in the foundation of the estate plan. Statistics show that not only are the client’s choices honored and respected, family relationships are stronger and family fights are fewer.

It’s not too late to start a plan that reflects your “whys”— for you and your loved ones.


The Importance of 'The Conversation'

I often stare, somewhat embarrassed, at my creation of legal documents on behalf of my clients — especially after I explain my role — to clearly speak clients’ intentions at a time when they can no longer speak. Inevitably, the black and white legal documentation looks nothing like what my clients expressed to me as their most important hopes, wishes and goals.

Lawyers often believe that the form is most important — that somehow the clarity of the written legal word will communicate clients’ heartfelt wishes. However, no matter how artfully written, the form cannot stand alone in transferring intention. The written word is a static, stable, constant form of communication. This might work in and of itself if expressing a non-changing, fixed element, such as a mathematical constant. However, we live our lives in process, change, multi-dimension, complexity and emotion.

The legal documents we prepare do serve an important functional purpose. They explain who, how, when and what to do. Alone, they don’t express the meaning and intention underlying the plan. “The Conversation” provides the meaning — the “why”— and builds empathy and a deep understanding of the maker’s intentions.

Research shows that more than 70 percent of estate plans fail; failing defined as intentions not being honored. Research also bears out that process-oriented conversation provides the “solution.” When families actively engage in conversation, this failure rate decreases considerably.

Family meetings are an integral part of the process, so engage in “The Conversation”— soon.


Reflecting on What is Important

I had been preparing to write about the importance of conversation in estate planning while watching a documentary on HBO called Cries From Syria. In the midst of this heart-wrenching story about the Syrian situation—a girl, who could not have been older than 8 or 9—facing death from starvation and preparing her will. It had nothing to do with money. Her will expressed the basic foundational needs each of us as human beings share — love and caring of family, food and shelter. This experience moved me to share her will with you.

For me, as much as I felt a deep sadness over the plight of the Syrian people, I could not help but feel gratitude for all that I have, and guilt for ever feeling a “need” for more. I hope this will from a young Syrian girl moves you as it did me.

“I felt that I was going to die. Because of that, I wrote my will. This is my will. I ask you, my mother, to remember me. Prepare my bed every night and remember my continuous smiles. And you, my sister, tell my friends that I died from starvation. And you, my brother, remember when you and I were hungry. Oh angel of death, go ahead and catch my soul so that I can eat in paradise. Don’t worry family, I will eat for you in paradise as much as I can.” 


Estate Planning from the Inside Out

I’ve noticed that many people approach estate planning from the outside in, rather from the insideout. For example, many people want to “avoid probate” or “minimize tax” as a primary goal — good goals, for sure. If we stop there, we miss the opportunity to explore the deeper meaning underlying these goals, such as ensuring that we provide our loved ones as much as we can with assets to supplement their lives, and provide each of them the opportunity to grow, and develop and enjoy the most meaningful life possible.

Take the family home, for example. Often, people want to make sure that their children “get the house equally.” Without exploring underlying values and prioritizing concerns, we may not get to the deeper meaning such as: that they love their children equally; that they want to ensure that each of their children has a place to live; and that they want their children to get along and support each other. In prioritizing these concerns, they find that their children getting along with each other is the most important hope or goal of all.

Understanding this, the attorney can add provisions to ensure that the children don’t fight over the family home.

When we take the time to explore our values with the guidance of a skilled estate planner, we can mirror and reflect our deepest values, and can gain true peace of mind to know that our intentions will be clearly spoken — when we can no longer speak.


2017 Annual Newsletter

Dear Valued Client,

As a reflection of our continued dedication to you, we send you this revised newsletter in order to clarify parts of our initial 2017 newsletter.  We value accuracy and understand the value in being meticulous in our efforts on your behalf. Please replace the previous newsletter with this revised newsletter.  We sincerely appreciate your patience with our office and look forward to continuing our growth together in this estate planning journey.

CONTINUITY OF OUR PRACTICE: THE SUCCESSION PLAN

We take our professional responsibility to each and every one of our clients seriously. Part of that professional responsibility is to be here for you and to meet your long-term needs. Losing a doctor, dentist, or accountant due to retirement or death is difficult. It is often just as difficult for clients to find out their lawyer is no longer practicing law at a time of need. From something as simple as needing a copy of your estate plan when you cannot locate your documents, to discussing changes in your life that may affect your estate plan, it can be very distressing to learn that you now have to look for a new lawyer that you can entrust with your personal matters.

That is why I am happy to announce that Monica Yempuku, who has been with our firm for over eleven years, and is now in her third year of law school, will be joining us as an attorney upon graduation, and she will be serving as our next generation to serve your next generation.

SUMMER SPECIAL ON POWERS OF ATTORNEY FOR YOUR CHILDREN HEADING OFF TO COLLEGE

For the past three years we have run a special on discounted Powers of Attorney for those of you who have children who are heading off to college. We would like to offer that special to you again this summer. From June through August, we will prepare an Advance Health-Care Directive and a Statutory Durable Power of Attorney for your children at the discounted fee of $395 (plus general excise tax). This is a savings of $1,305.

If you are wondering whether or not your child needs powers of attorney, you should know that once your child reaches the age of majority, which is eighteen in most states, you, as a parent, are no longer entitled to see your child’s medical and financial records, nor are you able to make decisions on your child’s behalf. This is because once your child reaches the age of eighteen, the law classifies him or her as an adult with legal rights to privacy and to govern his or her own life. If the unspeakable does happen, and you receive a call informing you that your child is in the hospital unconscious, in trouble, or in need of your help, a Statutory Durable Power of Attorney and an Advance Health-Care Directive can make handling the crisis easier.

ENCOURAGING THE CONVERSATION

In the process of estate planning, lawyers tend to put each client through a bleaching process. Each client comes in with personal intentions, but when the lawyers draft the documents, they tend to focus on the legal aspects of the estate plan, leaving their clients’ intentions out.

This can prove challenging for your beneficiaries and trustees when they seek to understand what you wanted to accomplish. In order to make sure your intentions are honored, our office offers three booklets:

(1) My Heartfelt Advance Care Plan.  An Advance Health-Care Directive makes up an essential part of your estate plan.  In the Advance Health-Care Directive, there is a section which allows you to make your End-of-Life decision. The form presents itself as a multiple-choice question: whether to prolong your life with medical care, or not. While at first glance this appears to be a simple question, it is anything but simple. To assist you with making this decision, we have prepared a booklet for you. The booklet goes into much greater detail as to what quality of life means to you. Reaching this understanding allows you to engage in conversations with those who will be involved in making medical decisions for you, and it allows for your choices to be honored and respected.

(2) My Heartfelt Personal Property Memorandum. We created this legally-binding booklet so that our clients can take their time to specify who they would like to leave their personal keepsakes to, as well as pass down the story behind each keepsake, such as, why they kept it, what it meant to them, and what they hope their beneficiaries will do with it.

(3) My Heartfelt Will. The late author W. Hodding Carter II once said, “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots; the other wings.” This booklet allows you to provide your beneficiaries and fiduciaries with your personal story (your “roots”), as well as your thoughts about how you see things going (your “wings”).  And, My Heartfelt Will also serves as an organizer so you can let your trustee(s) know where you keep your important documents.

THE HEARTFELT LEGACY FOUNDATION IS NOW ONLINE

Thanks to the help of our winter intern, Jeremy Butterfield, the Heartfelt Legacy Foundation website is now up and running. Our website is designed to provide helpful information regarding special needs planning and Advance Care Planning. We offer book and video recommendations and materials that we think might be useful to you. We also have an upcoming events calendar. Although we have no specific dates set yet, we are hoping to put on another special needs presentation featuring nationally-recognized special needs attorney Theresa Varnet sometime next year. Please check the website, periodically for more information, as we will be posting the date and location once the details are set.  Our website is heartfeltlegacyfoundation.com.

The Heartfelt Legacy Foundation is also looking forward to coordinating an effort among medical professionals, lawyers, financial planners, and other community leaders to implement an integrated process about quality of life at End-of-Life that helps families make, honor, and respect End-of-Life choices. Rather than the usual experience of checking a box as part of a legal document, this process focuses on guiding families in determining what quality of life means for each of them and helping them communicate their choices to loved ones and medical professionals so that their choices are honored and respected. Studies evaluating this type of process show significant positive results in that over ninety percent of individuals make End-of-Life decisions, and well over ninety percent of those decisions are honored and respected (as opposed to about thirty percent of individuals making an End-of-Life decision in communities that do not offer this process, with less than ten percent of those choices being honored and respected). Guilt, anxiety, and depression are greatly reduced in communities that offer this process.

To assist people with making End-of-Life decisions, the Heartfelt Legacy Foundation has created the Heartfelt Advance Care Plan, which is a booklet that helps you determine what End-of-Life means to you. We provide this booklet to each of our clients, and we now have it available online through the Heartfelt Legacy Foundation website. The booklet is a fillable PDF, which you can download or print. 

We would like to ask your assistance in helping us to fund future events, such as the Theresa Varnet Special Needs Presentation. We have included a donation form with this newsletter. If you would like to make a donation to the Heartfelt Legacy Foundation, it is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization registered with the IRS, to which your contributions can be tax-deductible.

THE IMPORTANCE OF PERIODIC REVIEWS

Periodic reviews are an essential part of estate planning as everything in life changes: laws, policies, our intentions, and even family relationships. Reviewing your estate plan from time to time gives us the opportunity to accommodate these changes. My responsibility as your attorney is to help you communicate your intentions clearly at a time when you can no longer speak for yourself. We want to make sure that there are no misunderstandings. That is why we want to use every means of communication possible to clearly pass on your intentions. This includes: (1) preparing the legal documents, such as a trust and powers of attorney; (2) providing each of our clients with our My Heartfelt Will, a booklet where you can write down your intentions in your own words; and (3) by meeting together with your family (and where appropriate, with your professional advisors) to help relay your clear intentions and instructions.

Reviewing your estate plan not only allows us to gain a deeper understanding of your intentions so that we can prepare a more meaningful plan for you, it allows us to get organized. So often we hear about those cases when a parent passes away and their children have no idea what their parent owned, much less where important documents are located.  Reviewing your estate plan also allows us to double-check the funding of your trust, check on the brokerage and bank account ownership records, and review beneficiary designations for retirement accounts and life insurance policies.

We also recommend coming in for a review if you have not yet updated your Durable Power of Attorney. In April 2014, the Hawaii Statutory Power of Attorney was signed into law as a response to the fraud surrounding the “older powers of attorney,” which many banks and financial institutions were no longer accepting. Under this new law, all financial institutions must accept this new Statutory Power of Attorney. If you have not yet updated your Durable Powers of Attorney, we encourage you to contact our office so that we can assist you in making this new Statutory Durable Power of Attorney.

SCAM ALERT

We have recently been informed about some local “scams,” and we wanted to pass on the warnings to you as follows:

Phony IRS Calls. If someone calls you telling you they are with the IRS and that you owe them money, hang up. The IRS will not call taxpayers to tell them they owe money. These individuals are brazen in their efforts, and even threaten to imprison you if you hang up the phone. Hang up anyway. If you are at all concerned about tax liability, call your accountant to double-check that are you current with your taxes.

Letters Demanding Payment to Release Your Deeds to You. Companies are writing letters to Hawaii residents who recently transferred title of their property, particularly to trust. These letters demand payment from you and state that they will then release your deed to you. Do not pay these companies. The Hawaii Bureau of Conveyances has your recorded deed, and we will be the one who will provide you a copy of your recorded deed.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

One of our goals at the Law Offices of Stephen B. Yim is to continue to grow and develop, both individually and professionally as an estate planning law firm. This year our office will be taking a course called Non-Violent Communication, which teaches us to communicate by expressing our feelings, needs, and requests. The skills that we look forward to developing in this course will allow us to have more meaningful relationships at home, in the office, and with each of our clients. Our mission includes helping each and every client make meaningful estate planning decisions, and helping them communicate their wishes and choices clearly to their loved ones so that their choices will be honored and respected. Since our goal is to help communicate our clients’ wishes at a time when they can no longer speak for themselves, it is imperative that we continue to develop and hone our own personal communication skills.

Also, the legal profession is often criticized for lacking character. Because of this, we at the Law Offices of Stephen B. Yim take this very seriously. We subscribe to a monthly journal from Strata Leadership. Each month the journal focuses on a specific quality, with the sole purpose of encouraging companies to build character within their organizations.

GETTING TO KNOW OUR STAFF

Here at our firm, we pride ourselves on the integrative support you will receive from us. Our goal is to provide top-notch service to you, not only in memorializing your intentions through your estate plan, but also by taking care of your needs as they come up. This is who we are:

Monica Yempuku – Monica has been with our firm for over eleven years. She handles the Estate Administration side of our practice as well as managing the day-to-day operations. She is in her third year of law school and will graduate in the summer of 2018.

Britta Lau – Britta is our office manager. She is committed to providing clear communication and guidance through the Estate Planning process. To provide the most competent service, she will carefully listen to you to make sure that your specific needs are being met. Britta recently married Wilson Lau, whom she met canoe paddling.  She also coaches girls’ varsity soccer during the winter.

Jennifer Morgado – Jennifer is in training to become our newest paralegal. She assists our other paralegals in gathering information and preparing files. She also helps to maintain our newly designed Heartfelt Legacy Foundation website.

Stacie Kauila – Stacie is in charge of our “Going Green” process. She is in charge of scanning all our physical files into our computer system. You are most likely speaking to her when you call our office. She is always happy to assist with answering questions and forwarding documents to financial planners or financial institutions.

Mahalo!

Please allow us to express our gratitude to you for allowing us to assist you with your estate planning needs. As a continued service to you, we hope you find the information informative. We encourage you to continue meeting with us periodically to review your plan. We hope to see you soon.

Very Truly Yours,

Stephen B. Yim and Staff

Capturing the Heart of an Estate Plan

The usual response I receive when I ask, “What brings you here?” during an initial meeting with clients, is, “To avoid probate and minimize taxes.” Avoiding probate and taxes are good goals, and easy to resolve.

The much more difficult — and much more meaningful work — is all relational. When we delve further into clients’ goals for estate planning, I have found that they want much more, especially concerning family. They want their children to get along, want them to know that they were loved, and they want their hard-earned wealth to be utilized appropriately and wisely.

Relational goals are long-lasting. By engaging the client in these kinds of discussions, we can make the estate planning experience so much more significant. Not addressing these concerns could result in long-term, negative effects on the client and the client’s family.

It is difficult for clients and their attorneys to get below the surface to address relational and emotional concerns. Staying above the surface with financial, legal and tax matters seems safer.

Discussions about relationships are risky and may elicit feelings of vulnerability. Avoiding them is easier but can leave devastating deep-rooted negative effects — sometimes for decades.

As attorneys, we are professional counselors. I believe we can not only help our clients by serving as catalysts for these types of conversations, but also feel that it is our duty to do so.

We need to reach beyond the superficial nature of taxes, probate and finances to capture and include the heart of an estate plan.


Make Yours a Soulful Estate Plan

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If an estate plan is our final personal and intimate letter to our loved ones, why is it that we can’t understand it when we read it? This last intimate writing should be full of our unique, personal and emotional voice, yet, it reads like a sterile contract, devoid of any human feeling or emotion. Why?

Historically, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Jewish traditions all included emotion and feeling in their estate plans, and in fact, each of these cultures expected it.

How did we come so far from heartfelt expressions to today’s trivial, routine documents lacking uniqueness or personal statements?

I think that three reasons exist. First, we bought into the notion from law’s logic that only financial matters are important in our estate plan.

Second, we rely on lawyers to write our estate plan for us, and lawyers, for the most part, discourage putting emotion and feeling into our plans. Third, we may feel it is too difficult to put our feelings into written words.

I believe that if we, as lawyers, are fortunate enough to serve as your estate planner, we must help you not only pass on your material wealth, but also provide you with the opportunity to express your unique, emotional and personal feelings, as well as your desires and messages to be left behind for when you can no longer communicate with your loved ones.


The Hidden Cost of Probate Court

As an estate planning attorney, I spend my time helping my clients stay out of court.
We value privacy, confidentiality and self-determination. Making one’s estate plan is one of our country’s most valued opportunities to exercise personal freedom of choice. The alternative is letting the court decide through guardianship, conservatorship, probate, district, circuit, federal or other administrative forums. The court should, in my opinion, always be the last resort.

It does take time, energy and courage to face our mortality; however, I encourage each and every one of you to take this precious opportunity to exercise this unique privilege afforded by our country to make your own decisions with regard what happens with your assets when you are not here. Here are some differences between making your own estate plan and relying on court:

                        Good Estate Plan                             In Court
                         Collaborative                                     Conflict-driven
                        Relationship preservation                    Divisive
                        Private with dignity                           Public
                        Control                                             Loss of control
                        Time-sensitive                                   Time-consuming 
                        Cost-sensitive                                    Costly
                        Emotionally satisfying                       Emotionally draining
                        Value-driven and process-oriented      Procedural-driven

Take the opportunity to carefully determine how you would like to be cared for all the way through the end of your life.


 

                                       

                                

 

Put Your Voice Into Your Estate Plan

Singing has always been a passion of mine — with my brothers, in choirs or in the shower. In choir, when the director handed out new music, I remember looking at the black notes on the white sheets of paper and thinking that the music made no sense, and it’s going to be really boring to sing.

As our choral group rehearsed and blended in harmony, the melody would always come to life and become a beautiful story in song—even more so as I connected more with the composer of the music, and the meaning and emotion the author intended to convey.

Everyone’s voice is unique, textured and lovely in its own way. When everyone sings in harmony, it makes the song exponentially more beautiful.

An estate plan has been regarded “as the sole, authentic voice of a man who is dead.” However, much like that sheet of paper with notes on it during the first day of choir practice, if left as a template legal document, without the maker breathing life (voice) and personal meaning into it, the legal document will remain sterile, sometines rendering it almost meaningless.

What is at risk in this case is family harmony.

Family members will apply their own song and lyrics to the document in the absence of the ma-kers’s voice, rather than being able to hear and honor the loved one’s story.

When you work with your attorney to establish or update your plan, to ensure harmony, please remember to make sure to incorporate your unique, textured and dynamic solo voice.


Sycamore Row

I recently finished reading the John Grisham novel Sycamore Row. Filled with intrigue, suspense and surprises around every corner, it deserves its No. 1 New York Times Bestseller status as a fiction novel.

As the story opens, Seth Hubbard hangs himself from a Sycamore tree. Before he does, he composes a handwritten will and sends it to Attorney Jake Brigance, instructing him to make sure that it’s enforced. In the document, Seth leaves 90 percent of his estate to his housekeeper and disinherits his children.

Because all Seth’s children and grandchildren hire lawyers who all try to discredit the will, Jake finds himself embroiled in a big, controversial trial. Over the next 600-or-so pages, Jake tries to find out why Seth disinherited his children and gives almost everything to the housekeeper.

Greed and family conflict make great fiction, but sadly, many families find themselves in similar real-life battles.

Author Simon Sinek wrote a book entitled Start with Why. If Seth had written his “reasons why,” Sycamore Row would be about 10 pages long — and very boring.

We must, as estate planners, do a better job of encouraging clients to pass on assets with clear intention. Our goal is to help clients clearly define their wishes in anticipation of a time when they may no longer be able speak for themselves.

Then, we can leave the mystery, intrigue, conflict and suspense to Grisham, and then focus on families and honoring real-life intentions.


Advanced Care Planning

I recently appeared on KITV's Aging Well segment to speak about Advance Care Planning. For those of you who are new to Advance Care Planning I wanted to give you a little more information.

WHAT IS ADVANCE CARE PLANNING?

Advance Care Planning provides each and every one of us the opportunity to make informed decisions about end of life care, to help communicate these decision to loved ones and health care providers, so that our choices can be honored and respected.

Medical care has advanced so much that it can keep one alive indefinitely, far beyond what a person might feel is quality of life. We're not dying from the same things we used to die from like catastrophic sudden events. Because of the advance of medicine, we are dying from lingering chronic illness. This adds complexity to end of life care, and makes it that much more important that we are intentional as to our wishes.

Sadly, statistics reveal that about 30% of people make an end of life decision. And, only 30% of these choices are honored and respected.

This means that about one in fifteen choices are honored and respected.  Because of this, family relationships are often strained, and surviving family members experience guilt, anxiety, and depression in feeling that they had to make the decision to either end or prolong a loved-one's life.

We want to get to know everyone's values about end of life medical treatments, and honor these. To do this, we must start early on to normalize this as a systematic, uniform, process where the entire community gets involved, to make it become a ritual - part of the planning process. Helping people make an informed decision about what quality of life means to them, to help them communicate this to their loved ones, so that we can honor and respect their decisions. And because life changes, we must treat this as a process so that we take a look every now and then. 

This is Advance Care Planning.

WHAT BENEFITS DOES ADVANCE CARE PLANNING OFFER?

We must move from form-based, "check the box" planning  to client-centered, process-oriented, and value-driven planning.

If you are fortunate enough to make an end of life decision, you will usually be asked a quest like, "If you were in a coma and going to die soon unless you were put on a respirator, would you want to be put on a respirator, A or B?"

Whatever you choose, it really doesn't reveal anything about what quality of life means to you. No one's life is an A or B multiple choice question. Everyone's life is unique, textured, and dynamic. We must mirror this in our planning.

In communities where the switch is from form-based advance care planning to client-centered, process-oriented, and value-driven planning, the statics are remarkable. Over 95% of people make an end of life decision, and over 95% of those choices are honored and respected. Guilt, depression, and anxiety are greatly reduced. And while we don't like to talk about money, the cost of unwanted medical procedures goes way down.

HOW CAN ONE TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ADVANCE CARE PLANNING?

While a recent survey shows that about 7 out of 8 people believe we are going to die one day, I think they are wrong. I think we are all going to die one day. I am reading a book called "Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death" by Irvin D. Yalom. The book is about our unique human awareness of our own mortality. The author contends that if we take a look at our death anxiety, we can have a better life. I believe this as well. 

Since we are all in this together, one of our roles as estate planning attorneys is to walk together with our clients and "stare at the sun" every once in a while. And because we all share this common experience, we need to make this a community effort. 

I'd like to leave you with this quote from Dame Cicely Saunders, found of the Hospice Movement:

"You matter because you are you, and you matter to the last moment of your life."

If you would like to watch the segment of Aging Well, please follow the link below:

http://www.kitv.com/clip/12368047/aging-well-advance-care-planning

Beware the Joint Account

A joint bank account with a child can be an efficient, effective, and simple estate planning tool. Either of the joint owners can write checks, and the survivor can continue to use the account after one owner dies.

However, a joint account can be fraught with problems if not handled carefully and intentionally. Potential problems are misuse of funds, exposure to creditors (such as a joint owner child’s divorce), and family disagreements as to whom the account should belong after the parent dies.

Once you add a child to your bank account, the child becomes a legal owner with full access to your money — potentially, the child’s creditors may have legal access too.

Sadly, after the parent dies, many families fight over who the money belongs to. The legal ownership of the account automatically shifts entirely to the surviving joint owner. Did the parent really intend the money for the surviving joint owner child, or did the parent want the money distributed equally among all the children?

While children can fight this out in court, I don’t think the parent planned to leave a fractured family fighting over money.

To avoid confusion and family squabbles, be clear with your children now as to how you want the money in your account disbursed after you die. Better yet, hold only a nominal amount in this joint account, just enough to pay bills, and keep the rest of your cash in trust.


The Most Difficult Conversation

During the winter break, I read a book called Difficult Conversations, how to discuss what matters most. The authors teach ways to engage in conversations, maintain good relationships and convey and receive meaning and intentions without blame and defensiveness. They point out that the key to engaging in successful difficult conversations is to talk about feelings, intentions, underlying meaning and past experiences that shape who we are. Attempting a difficult conversation without sharing feelings and intentions is compared to throwing a live hand grenade. The results are usually destructive.

Making your will or trust can be the most difficult conversation of all because it is often a one-way conversation. And sadly, when reading these trusts and wills, we find that they tell “what to do” and “how to do,” but leave out the author’s deepest meaning, intent and wishes. No wonder only 30 percent of people ever make a will or trust. Worse yet, 70 percent of wills and trusts do not go as intended because they omit the person’s intention and leave the heirs to guess.

So, I encourage you to consider making your estate plan if you haven’t yet done so. If anxiety, fear and uncertainty are holding you back, this is where an attorney skilled in estate planning can guide you. When you do engage in this process, make sure that in this most difficult conversation, you relay not only the legal “how to,” but also work with your attorney to convey your deepest meaning, intentions and wishes.