Monday, October 16, 2017

Why Mental Health Is Just as Important as Physical Health

Elizabeth D. Johnson
Administrative Assistant
As far back as I can remember, I have always been worried. Worried about where my mom was if she was late coming home, worried about what happens after we die, worried about my health, my pets, my friends – the list goes on and on. In my second year of high school, things started to change and I constantly felt that I was in a dream and that things weren’t real. I wasn’t able to go to school because, while on the way there, something about the way the clouds looked made my chest tighten and I wasn’t able to breathe. I couldn’t shower for longer than five minutes because being alone with my own thoughts was too terrifying, and I was afraid to look in the mirror because I no longer felt like myself. My mom took me to our family doctor, who couldn’t figure out why I felt this way and guessed it was vertigo or something in my ears. After some trial and error, it was suggested I see a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. At the time, I was terrified and didn’t know who else had this, if I was normal, or if I was going crazy.

Throughout my young adult life, I have learned to cope with my anxiety and panic attacks, but I still go through bad episodes. Through medication and therapy, I have started to feel less trapped inside of my own mind. What I wish I knew back then was how common this is and that one in five adults suffer from mental illness and one in five children aged 13-18 have or will have a serious mental illness. (1). Despite the fact that these illnesses can decrease a person’s quality of life, individuals living with a serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions. These conditions can be hard to treat for someone who is already struggling with a mental illness, not to mention costly. Nineteen million Americans suffer from clinical depression and anxiety disorders, so you would think that these numbers would equate to a large support base and a general understanding of mental illnesses. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case, and many people don’t believe that mental illnesses are a physical disease despite the brain being a vital part of your body. People still shame others who come forward with their illness by calling them lazy or unmotivated, and say that they just need to get over it. It is important that when speaking to someone with a mental illness, you ask yourself “Would I say this if it were the flu?” (2). If someone were to wake up one day and have a panic attack, they wouldn’t be able to call out of work or get a doctor’s note, even though driving with one is dangerous and almost impossible. But if someone woke up and started to vomit or had a fever, they wouldn’t have an issue calling out or getting an easy prescription from the doctor for whatever is ailing them.

Because such a large portion of citizens suffer from depression and/or anxiety disorders, seeking treatment should be easier and less frowned upon. Some still view treatment as being personally weak; my favorite example of this is Tony Soprano, who was almost killed by his own uncle because it was discovered that he was on Prozac and seeing a therapist. Getting help for anything that hurts your body, whether physical or mental, is important. Being vocal about your illness and seeking help is brave. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-24, the third leading cause in youth, and each day an average of twenty veterans die by suicide. For those who haven’t experienced a mental illness, it is vital that you try and think of it as any other disease and not something that can be slept off or ignored. And for those who do experience it, remember that you aren’t alone and that help is out there.

Crisis Text Line:
Text “Home” to 741741
Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, providing access to free, 24/7 support and information via the medium people already use and trust: text
Sources Cited:

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Teenage Perspective on Aging

Jack Clemons
Son of Teresa Clemons, TPC Office Manager
As a fifteen-year-old in today’s society, I have adapted to technology more than those who are older. Things that take hours for my grandparents to figure out are second-nature to me. I am so grateful that I have four living grandparents who range from the ages of eighty-three to ninety-three. Even though this brings me happiness to know that I have my grandparents still alive, this also gives me some responsibility, knowing that I have to assist them with learning the technology of today’s world. It takes patience, but when they do get the hang of it, it makes me happy to see them succeed. For example, my grandfather is always asking me for help at his house. From the computer to the printer to the television, there are lots of things that are harder for him that come easily to me. My patience needs to kick in when I’m showing him where the HDMI cable goes and that somehow leads to a fifteen-minute story about the Vietnam War. A lot of these stories are really interesting, but others make me wonder, “Did he forget the task at hand?”

Another big task for me was when my grandmother switched from a basic flip phone to an iPhone. At first, it was like trying to teach a baby to walk. Every time she almost got the hang of it, something went wrong. From hitting the power button instead of the volume to clicking the phone app instead of email, there were so many things that made me almost tell her that she should just get a flip phone again. This stressed me out, but it also made me think: the reason that modern technology comes so easily to us teens is because it’s all we’ve been around growing up. When my grandmother was a teen, it was just as easy for her to turn the page on a book or use a typewriter. Opening a book and operating a phone may seem like completely different things, but when you associate them with their uses in the respected time periods, they both have had the same impact on the world.

Although my grandparents might not be savvy with the internet, they have had to learn lots of skills over their lifetimes which modern technology has allowed me take for granted. Instead of using a card catalog, I can quickly type whatever I’m looking for into the computer. Instead of figuring out how to get somewhere with a big, hard-to-fold map (and hoping you don’t take a wrong turn!), I can just use the maps app on my phone. Rather than get frustrated by their unawareness of the technological way to do things, I should be thankful that people of my grandparents’ and my parents’ generations were innovative enough to inspire and work toward creating the technology that I enjoy using today.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Change is in the Air

Debra C. Pecor, Senior Paralegal
Wow! Summer passed us rather quickly and fall is upon us.  Okay, you can’t tell from the temperature, but the first day of fall has officially arrived.  This is the time of year for all things fall: apple picking, fall festivals, seafood festivals (I live in Poquoson, yum!), peanut festivals – any reason to gather together and enjoy the cool, crisp fall weather.  The leaves change; it’s just a beautiful time of year.

Change isn’t always easy in life.  Some changes are good, some not so good.  But each change brings with it an opportunity to grow in strength and, hopefully, in love.  We hear about so many friends, family, and clients (who have become like family too) being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  It’s such a sad diagnosis because the body is strong but the brain is just not functioning the way it should.  I saw Dr. Oz show pictures of what happens to a brain with Alzheimer’s and truthfully, it was rather shocking and made me realize it is really much more than just losing your memory.  Dr. Oz did say that he expects that within 10 years there will be a cure for Alzheimer’s. 

Our firm is participating in a fundraising walk for Alzheimer’s in October.  Perhaps if more funds for research can be raised, the cure could come more quickly.  If you want to help, you can click this link:  Thank you!

In the meantime, enjoy your family.  And enjoy this beautiful fall season!  Enjoy each day… no one knows what tomorrow will bring.  

Monday, September 18, 2017

Respect for the Aged Day

Catherine E. Sears, Law Clerk
The calendar at my parents’ house is a little unusual. It lists mainstream American holidays like Labor Day, of course, but it also features selected holidays from around the world. Because of this, I now know that September 2nd is Independence Day in Vietnam and that September 24th is Republic Day in Trinidad & Tobago. With no disrespect meant to the Vietnamese or Trinidadians, however, the international holiday I found most interesting is September 18th: Respect for the Aged Day in Japan.

I had mixed feelings in reflecting on this holiday. Has our society fallen so far that we really need to designate a day to remind ourselves to respect the elderly? What happened to the Judeo-Christian commandment to “honor thy father and thy mother”? On the other hand, though, elder abuse runs rampant, with perpetrators coming not only from internet or phone scams, but from trusted caregivers and family members. This abuse can take many forms. There is physical abuse or neglect, especially in light of increased frailty and the heightened levels of care that many senior citizens need. Emotional abuse and undue influence occurs when a person manipulates a senior or isolates him from the rest of his family, often taking advantage of his diminished judgment or poor decision-making skills. Financial abuse has become heartbreakingly widespread, with seniors collectively being scammed out of millions of dollars each year as perpetrators take advantage of the good credit and sizeable savings that many elderly individuals have accrued from a lifetime of hard work. Maybe, then, we need a “Respect for the Aged Day” in the United States after all.

Being curious, I researched what exactly “Respect for the Aged Day” entails in Japanese culture. It sounds delightful. This holiday always falls on the third Monday of September, giving people a long weekend to spend time with their families. Consequently, it apparently is a busy travel weekend in Japan, with younger generations making trips across the country to visit their older relatives and spend quality time with them. Visits often include going out to lunch, and many restaurants will let senior citizens eat their favorite meal for free. Families bring gifts and celebrate as though it were the senior’s birthday. People who no longer have older family members often volunteer on this day by providing meals, a comforting visit, or musical entertainment to the senior community. News stories focus on the accomplishments of seniors, and the Japanese government bestows a special silver dish on those seniors who have turned 100 years old within the past year. If the holiday falls in the same week as the Autumnal Equinox, the celebration is extended and people get even more time off from work to be with their families, a phenomenon known as “Silver Week.”

Clearly, I am not Japanese. I am at work and writing this blog today instead of spending time with my grandparents in Connecticut and Massachusetts. However, as cheesy as it sounds, every day truly is “Respect for the Aged Day” at The Peninsula Center. We strive to break the negative stereotypes about lawyers, focusing instead on meeting our clients’ unique needs and doing what is genuinely best for them, not simply what will be the most profitable for us. It may not be as glamorous as a complimentary lunch and a three-day weekend, but we will continue to do our part to protect seniors, accomplish their goals, and help them age with dignity. Happy Respect for the Aged Day!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Generations of Concern

Barbara K. Armstrong, Paralegal
I went to a conference last year and a discussion was had regarding the different generations. Of course, the subject of millennials and how they just don’t seem to have the same work ethic as the generations before them was a hot topic. It seems to me that every generation has always thought that the one that came after them would never amount to anything.

The “Greatest Generation” or “Builders” believed their path to success was to:
  1. Serve your country,
  2. Find a good job,
  3. Fulfill your “role” in life,
  4. Build the institution,
  5. Stay steady and remain faithful, and
  6. Retire on a fixed income.
They were a great generation who fathered the “Baby Boomers.” The Boomers believed their path to success was in valuing intelligence and education by:
  1. Maintaining good grades,
  2. Getting an education,
  3. Reforming the institution,
  4. Working hard and saving,
  5. Downsizing, and
  6. Living your life to the fullest.
Then we have “Generation X,” or “Busters.” They became disenchanted with the “institution.”  This generation rebelled against the previous establishment and became politically disengaged.
  1. Many came from broken homes,
  2. Went to college,
  3. Went into debt,
  4. Worked to live,
  5. Were hyper parents, and
  6. Had “perfect children.”
Millennials are involved in personalized technology. You can’t go anywhere and not see someone on their cell phone or tablet. At a restaurant, you see four people sitting with each other but not talking as they are looking at their phones. Millennials:
  1. Are individualized,
  2. Lack patience,
  3. Seek to find a shared sense of reality,
  4. Believe they can own their career through another’s business,
  5. Believe if everything is the same, then nothing can have meaning, and
  6. Love.
I come from the “Baby Boomer” generation. I was at the latter end. I have raised a Generation X’er, one on the cusp, and a Millennial. I’ve watched their friends grow up, and some now have families of their own. I can tell you that they are all going to be all right. The way I see it, as long as you become a productive part of society in all ways, then I don’t see anything to worry about. The Millennials will be just fine, and I am sure that they will do whatever they need to do to make sure that they succeed in life on their own terms.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


Jodi Y. Barder, Paralegal
Recently, my mind has been rewinding to not-so-ancient memories when my girls were preschoolers and Veggie Tales characters were part of our morning routine.  In case you missed the episode starring Madame Blueberry, she is a blueberry cartoon character and lives in a simple treehouse at the top of a very tall tree.  Shopping at Stuffmart thrills her and she goes on a massive shopping spree, filling her house with stuff until the weight causes her house to plummet to the ground in shattered pieces. 

Estate law and blueberries…what’s the common denominator??  Stuff.

When our loved ones pass away, sometimes “stuff” (or rather tangible personal property) becomes so important, and there’s often a race to claim items before someone else can.  Changing locks.  Box trucks arriving in the middle of the night.  One family member often takes possession of the stuff and begins to gather as much as they can, perhaps forgetting that their mom was also someone else’s mom and that her “stuff” is to be split according to her last wishes or state intestacy laws if no record was left. People can be in such a hurry to gather as much “stuff” as possible to stuff into their own houses without realizing the hurt they are causing others.  Perhaps this illustration is far too simple for our non-blueberry lives because blueberries lack emotion, memories, and relationships.  But the principle is still the same. 

At The Peninsula Center for Estate and Lifelong Planning, we get calls all the time about “stuff.”  In the estate world, the personal representative of the estate should be the one in charge of marshalling assets, keeping assets (including tangible personal property) safe, and distributing the estate.  If you find yourself serving as the personal representative of an estate, open communication often puts anxieties to rest and can prevent feuds from happening.  And if you are not the personal representative and the personal representative is not communicating at all, try a soft approach.  Instead of accusing them of stealing the “stuff,” ask if they need help sorting through items or arranging a time for the heirs to get together.  Grief overwhelms and skews our judgment and causes us to jump to conclusions and speak harsh words that sometimes have lasting consequences.

Estate administration can be overwhelming not only because one is wrapping up someone else’s affairs that they may not have known much about, but because it’s also an extremely emotional time filled with constant reminders of who we have lost.  Please don’t get me wrong and think that I’m condoning those who truly steal from an estate, because that does happen.  But sometimes, harsh words and actions over “stuff” sever and damage family relationships.  Put relationships first and perhaps “stuff” will follow into its proper place.  And if that happens, consider bringing blueberry pie for desert at the next family dinner.  I promise Madame Blueberry won’t mind.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Mechanics of Probate in Virginia

Erin A. Smith, Esq.
Many of my clients express their desire to avoid probate or to make probate easier for their family members at the time of their demise. By understanding the probate purpose and process, it can help an individual craft their ideal estate plan.

Assets that are in the decedent’s name alone go to probate. Those assets with a survivorship interest, payable on death beneficiaries, transfer on death beneficiaries, or those assets that are in a trust do not go through probate.

Probate is the process through which title is transferred to heirs on all of the assets that are in the decedent’s probate estate. It is also an opportunity for interested persons – for example, creditors of the estate or a disinherited spouse or child – to make claims. A person’s estate is probated whether he dies with or without a will.

The basic outline of the process is as follows:
1.     The executor files the will with the Clerk of Court where the decedent was domiciled at death. The Clerk “qualifies” the executor to handle the administration.
2.     The executor pays the probate tax and posts a bond to cover the value of the estate. Surety, which is insurance, is required on the bond in some cases. It can be waived in a will. However, it will always be required if there is an executor who lives out of state.
3.     The executor is then required to prepare an inventory of all assets in probate within 4 months of their qualification.
4.    The executor must account to the court for all receipts, checks, and disbursements from the estate to the penny.
5.      Debts, expenses, allowances, taxes, filing fees, bonding fees and fiduciary commissions are all paid first. Then once expenses and debts are paid, the assets can finally be distributed to the beneficiaries. At that point, the executor can file a final accounting. 

Probate can be long, usually a minimum of one year, but can also remain open for much longer in some cases. Everything done in probate is considered a public record, so confidential information is available to the public, which is enough to discourage many people from the process.

There are ways to avoid probate, namely, by holding title jointly with rights of survivorship or always establishing a payable on death beneficiary. The most effective way to avoid this process is by creating and funding a trust.