Monday, January 15, 2018

A Millennial's Perspective to Combating Phone Addiction

Elizabeth D. Johnson
Legal Assistant 
There are many things that differ between my generation and my mother’s but the one I’d like to discuss is the well-known smart phone obsession. My mother is a very smart woman but she just doesn’t get her phone like I do (no offense, mom). Honestly, she is lucky because it’s easier for her generation to shut down and step away from their “entire world in your pocket” device than it is for mine. The average person checks their phone 110-150 times per day! So, with that being said, how do I successfully cut back on cell phone usage and not start nervously twitching? Why do I even want to do this in the first place? Well, I’d like to see if I even can plus I’ve been using a smart phone for a good 10 years at least and my anxiety/stress have only gotten worse. Coincidence? Probably not.

So how do I actually do this? Where do I even begin? First things first, I’ve got to start with social media, i.e. Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. I have started setting up a shortcut that with three clicks of the home button, turns my screen black and white, hopefully making social media “less attractive”. Then, I will designate a certain time in the day to check my social media accounts. For example, when I get home from work the first thing I like to do is plop on the couch and scroll through everything, so that will be my Instagram and Snapchat time. Facebook is something I care less about since it really only connects me to the people I vaguely remember from high school. So, I will delete this app from my phone and check Facebook during my lunch break on a computer.

One tip I read about and may (or may not, let’s be real) try is to not use your phone as an alarm clock. I have my phone as my alarm clock now and therefore it is the first thing I touch in the morning and I see all of my text and social media notifications and lay in bed for 10 minutes longer than I need to just to check everything. Plus, an actual alarm clock set further away from the bed might motivate me to get up instead of staring into an abyss of what activities my friend’s brother’s cousin got into last night. Another tip that I came up with on my own, inspired by being in group chats and hearing a constant buzz or beep every 3 seconds, was to completely silence my phone if I’m not expecting any important calls or texts. I don’t even have the vibration on to really keep the annoyance at bay. I also have specific ringtones for people like my boyfriend and mom so that if I hear it go off I will know who it is and whether or not it may be urgent.

I don’t have the best history with completing projects such as the time I said I was going vegan and then bought a block of cheese the next day. So, I don’t think I’m going to do great with this project but if it helps me combat even a little bit of the obsession, then it was well worth it.  

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Importance of Having a Durable Power of Attorney and Medical Directive

Barbara K. Armstrong
I wanted to write a little bit about the importance of having a durable financial power of attorney and medical directive.  A week doesn’t go by when I do not receive a call from a frantic spouse, child or family member, who is concerned that a family member has become incapable of making decisions for himself (herself).  They can’t assist in taking care of the bills, assist in making medical decision, etc.  At this point, it may be too late for the incapacitated adult to sign a power of attorney and/or medical directive and a guardian/conservator will have to be appointed.  This process can take months to finalize as there are many steps involved.  Then there is the cost associated with attorney’s fees for filing the petition and various documents with the court and the fees for the guardian ad litem that is appointed by the Court for the incapacitated individual. 

There is much more involved with the establishment of a guardian and/or conservator which not only is not only expensive, it can be intrusive in the lives of all that are affected in the process. 

I cannot begin to tell you how important it is to have a power of attorney and medical directive in place.  A power of attorney authorizes a trusted individual to take care of any financial affairs of the incapacitated individual and the medical directive allows for an appointed agent to assist in making medical care decisions in the event that an individual cannot make those choices for himself (herself). 

The most common reasons I hear for not having these documents in place are:
  • Too expensive;
  • Haven’t gotten around to it;
  • Not sure I can trust anyone;
  • I don’t need it.

Whatever reason you have for not having a power of attorney or medical directive in place is not a good one.  Anyone over the age of 18 years should have such documents in place if they have the capacity to do so.  If not, they are rolling the dice and gambling with who will take care of them in the event they are not able to make decisions for themselves any longer.   So, if you do not have these documents in place, please contact us or another attorney to discuss.  The process in establishing these documents is so much easier and less expensive than the process of court proceedings in establishing a guardianship/conservatorship.  The choice is yours.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

It's Okay for Traditions to Change

Catherine E. Sears, Esq.
Nearly every family has some sort of holiday tradition. After all, traditions are often part of what makes this time of the year so special; they are time-honored routines that are fun in and of themselves, but also evoke special memories of fun holidays in earlier years.  Whether the tradition is broad in nature (seeing family members sometime during the holiday season) or specific (watching It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve while you finish wrapping last-minute presents), they are nearly always a part of the holiday experience.

However, it’s okay to break traditions, or for the tradition to evolve, especially when aging family members are involved.  There is no shame in downsizing from an eight-foot, live Douglas fir to a more manageable four-foot, pre-lit artificial tree.  Older individuals shouldn’t feel pressure in the name of tradition to climb up on ladders and line the roof with twinkling lights; a simple wreath on the front door evokes the holiday spirit too, and is a much safer way to show your holiday mood to the world.  The matriarch of the family need not always host an elaborate Christmas dinner with homemade food on fine china.  She should feel free to go to a younger family member’s home instead, or continue hosting herself, but have the meal catered and served on paper plates.

I don’t mean to be a Scrooge, but, like it or not, we are all another year older at each annual holiday celebration.  Traditions that once made sense may simply no longer be practical to implement, especially if an aging relative has physical limitations that did not exist when the tradition began.  Furthermore, family situations change.  A child might get married and begin spending alternating holidays with his new in-laws.  A relative might downsize or move out of state, making it difficult to host the holiday dinner.  A loved one might pass away at the holidays, leaving grieving family members in a less-than-festive mood.  Additionally, financial situations change, so what was once a huge stack of presents might turn into a smaller, thoughtful token of love.

It can be difficult to convince someone that he should take on a different, less strenuous role for the holidays.  Certainly, the elderly should be respected and allowed to play a useful role during this busy time of the year if they are able to do so.  However, family members sometimes – even unintentionally – put pressure on aging relatives to continue celebrating the holidays according to the same traditions that were established years and years ago.  Older people may feel that they are “ruining” their family’s holiday celebration by neglecting an old tradition, so they continue to try to keep the tradition alive against their own better judgment by climbing up that ladder, hoisting that turkey pan into the oven, or lugging dozens of ornaments up the basement stairs.

It may be too late this year to consider making a change in traditions, but keep this in mind for next year as you continue your celebrations.  Be on the lookout for signs from aging relatives that perhaps they are no longer up to the challenges that holiday traditions bring.  The holidays should be a time for spreading cheer and putting others above self.  Although it might be sad to bring a beloved tradition to an end, you might be giving your family the gift of peace of mind by being flexible and letting a new tradition begin.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Preventing Holiday Depression

Teresa M. Clemons
Office Manager
Depression can affect anyone, but holiday depression among seniors is very common. This doesn’t just apply to the “big” holidays. Birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day – even Independence Day can cause them sadness. What they all have in common is that family and/or friends usually get together to celebrate. An inability to get around severely limits many seniors’ options to partake in such joyous occasions. Festive events also often make the elderly think of those who have passed before them, which can add to their sadness.

Regardless of whether your elderly loved one lives alone, with family, or in some type of assisted living or nursing home setting, watching for signs of depression is very important. Some of the common symptoms are trouble sleeping, change in appetite, lethargy, and a lack of interest in a beloved hobby or socialization. If you do not live locally and you talk on the phone with your loved one, you may hear a change in their voice or quietness that is not “the norm.” If local friends are around more often, they might be the first to see a change in behavior, so it’s important that your loved one’s friends know how to contact you so they can advise you if they suspect there is a problem. The sooner you can contact the senior’s doctor, the better, so that they can direct the senior to resources that may help. Sometimes, an anti-depressant may be necessary to get them through the “holiday blues.”

Making seniors feel like they have a purpose and have not been abandoned and forgotten is also key. If you cannot see them in person, schedule phone calls. Engage in meaningful conversation, not just idle chit-chat. This makes them feel that they are part of your life and that you recognize that they still have relevant thoughts and opinions. If you can visit, make the time you have together memorable, and more than just a token visit to say you saw them. Visiting before the big holiday and including them in the preparations can also make them feel useful.  Do things together. Write out greeting cards, wrap gifts, bake, or decorate. Help them shop online for that special birthday gift they want to buy someone. Even if their physical participation is limited, just being there and feeling like they have input makes them feel appreciated.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Greenhouses for Your Average Gardener

Elizabeth D. Johnson
Administrative Assistant
It’s the time of year when leaves begin falling, the air becomes chilly, and we start stressing about our outdoor plants and vegetables. Not everyone may feel that they have the luxury of a greenhouse, but there are structures you can easily build to protect your plants from the winter air.

When building a greenhouse, local climatic data should be analyzed to determine maximum and minimum monthly temperatures, precipitation types and totals, heating and degree days, and sunny/cloudy days. This information is helpful in estimating energy cost and choosing the proper greenhouse design. Greenhouses will either be connected or disconnected and if building a simple one in your backyard, you will usually have a disconnected one. You could also build one off of a preexisting porch.

After you decide the design, you will want to figure out if you want a cold frame or hot bed. Cold frames are scaled-down, greenhouse-like structures that lack heating, and are used to extend the growing season. In the spring, they are typically used to start or harden-off seedlings. In the fall and winter, they are used for overwintering plant materials. A hotbed has essentially a cold frame design, but with some type of supplemental heat. Heat is generally controlled by a thermostat, and supplied with subsurface electric cables, hot water, or steam pipes. With both types of structures, care must be taken on sunny days to provide ventilation, as temperatures inside can rise quickly.

Having a greenhouse can also invite pests and there are some natural ways to control them if you find you have a problem. Biochemical solutions can be cost-effective and environmentally conscious to control pests such as whiteflies, thrips, spider mites, and mealy bugs.

Praying mantises can be bought as small egg pods, and each one holds around 200 babies. As young and as adults, they will eat basically any pest, as well as wasps. A whitefly parasite will lay 50 to 100 eggs in both pupae and larvae stages of the white fly, which destroys them before they become adults. If you’ve had a whitefly infestation, you know how annoying they can be. Finally, ladybugs spend their lives in both adult and larval stages feeding on mites, aphids, other soft-bodied bugs and all the insect eggs they can find. Adults will consume more than 5,000 insects during their lifetime.

In short, building a greenhouse can be done without hiring a crew or spending thousands of dollars. However, it will take proper analyzing, lots of maintenance, and lots of patience to ensure success.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Still Surprised After All These Years

Debra C. Pecor, Senior Paralegal
In all my years of doing estate administration, it is weird to think that there would still be some things that would make me say, “What?” but here are just a couple from this year:

First:  This has been the year of unfiled income tax returns.  When a spouse died, the surviving spouse thought (or perhaps was even told by someone) that they didn’t need to continue to file income tax returns every year.  This isn’t true!  If all the assets passed to you as the surviving spouse and those assets are generating income, you have to continue to file annual income tax return every April 15th.

What to Do?:  If you are not sure, please do not take advice from a co-worker, a friend, your child, or your nosy neighbor.  Please check with a professional, a certified public accountant, or the IRS themselves to hear it from someone who knows what they are talking about.  Don’t just ignore it … it won’t go away, I promise you, and your executor or your heirs will not have an easy time of recreating tax returns for bygone years.

Second:  Did you know that if you opened your bank account at a branch located somewhere other than Virginia and you still have that same account when you die, some banks will tell your heirs that they have to open an estate in the state where you first opened your account in order to close that account?  This is the craziest thing ever.  When this first came up earlier this year, I just thought that it couldn’t possibly be right.  The heir called the probate clerk in the state where the account was opened, and the clerk told them that no estate could be opened since the decedent didn’t reside there and owned no real property in that state.  So, the heir went back to the bank, told them what the probate clerk said, and the bank still insisted that an estate had to be opened in order to close that account.  Isn’t this one of those Catch-22 situations that people talk about?  After several letters, I finally was able to talk to someone at one of the banks and luckily, he knew exactly how to get around this problem.  In the meantime, though, it is extra work and extra expense that really doesn’t need to happen.

What To Do?:  Please go to your local branch and verify that the account you opened will fall under the state law of your current residence, or just add a “payable on death” or “transfer on death” beneficiary.  Your family will already be dealing with the grief of losing you.  No need to add to that.  

Monday, November 6, 2017

Finding Peace of Mind in Planning Ahead

Catherine E. Sears, Esq.
Over the summer, I took the Virginia bar exam.  I was terrified, of course – the bar is a two-day exam which covers an overwhelming number of complex topics.  Only after passing the exam could I begin practicing the livelihood for which I have been training for the past three years.  As if I was not already acutely aware of this, I received a notification from my student loan provider the day before the exam to remind me that my mountain of law school loans would be coming due soon.  Needless to say, it was a stressful time.

Despite the high stakes and the mental exhaustion, however, I felt a remarkable sense of calm as I walked toward the testing center on the first day of the exam.  This was due, in no small part, to my faith.  However, I also attribute this peace of mind to the thoroughness with which I prepared for the exam.  I had studied for 40+ hours per week for the past two-and-a-half months, ever since my law school graduation.  I selected the most well-regarded test preparation program with the best reputation for success, and, according to the company’s metrics, I completed enough assignments within that program to become statistically more likely to pass.  I had an amazingly supportive group of family and friends encouraging me along the way.  I studied in a friendly environment with minimal distractions, and I avoided talking to other bar-preppers about their studying experience to keep myself from making comparisons that would hurt my self-esteem.  All in all, I had done everything within my power to plan ahead and be prepared, which allowed me to face the unpleasantness of the exam with as much peace of mind as was possible.

I firmly believe that being prepared and staying calm in the face of a difficult situation go hand in hand.  Unfortunately, we will all face stressful situations in our lives.  Although only some people are crazy enough to subject themselves to the bar exam, we all must face our own mortality.  Many of us will also need to cope with the decline of loved ones – our spouse, our parents, our siblings, or our friends.

Although I am still new to the field of estate planning, I have already heard countless stories from families about their experiences in caring for sick loved ones or in trying to sort through a family member’s affairs after death.  Though their individual stories are different, they share a common theme: how much easier it is to face this difficult, emotionally-charged situation if the proper estate planning documents had been executed and a plan was in place.  Recently, a client told me about how emotionally difficult it was to make medical decisions for her incapacitated father, who had left no guidance on the treatment he would have wanted.  In addition to facing the sadness that comes with a loved one’s illness and death, this woman was forced to try to read her father’s mind and faced mental anguish over not knowing whether her dad would have approved of the medical decisions she was making on his behalf.  To keep this stress from passing to her own children, the woman signed a health care power of attorney to give her kids not only the authority to make these difficult decisions, but also the guidance they will need to determine what decisions to make.

So much of life is unknown.  After taking the bar exam, I had to wait three agonizing months to get the results, which gave me ample time to fear the unknown situations that the future brings and contemplate “worst case scenarios.”  Instead of worrying about the stressful unknown, however, let us at The Peninsula Center help you make a plan to give you and your loved ones some much-needed peace of mind.

Finally, in case you’re curious, I recently learned that I passed the bar!!  It just goes to show that working hard and making a plan can truly pay off.