E277 Professional Successor Executor for Solo Agers

E277 Professional Successor Executor for Solo Agers


Many of our Solo Ager clients ask if I’ll serve as their successor (not primary) executor. The short answer is yes. We discuss why solo agers ask for successor executors.

Planning to be a future Solo Ager

Planning to be a future Solo Ager

They may not be Solo Agers at the moment, but they are planning for when they will could become a Solo Ager. It’s smart: planning two steps ahead.

Married, no kids

Married, no kids

Mrs. M and her husband named each other as their executors in their wills, which is common. At some point, one of them will die first.

The husband named his brother as his successor executor (in case Mrs. M predeceases him).

Mrs. M doesn’t have siblings or other close family members. She doesn’t want her brother-in-law acting as her executor if her husband predeceases. Mrs. M needed a successor executor of her choosing.

That is why she reached out to our office, and we are happy to work with her.

Girlfriend, no kids, wants to disinherit

Mr. C named his girlfriend as his executor, since he wants to disinherit his family members and leave everything to his girlfriend.

He is also disinheriting his nieces and nephews (next-of-kin). If his girlfriend predeceases him, Mr. C is leaving his estate to charity.

If his girlfriend predeceases him, Mr. C needs someone like a professional executor to handle everything, since there is no one else. Also, since Mr. C is disinheriting family, a professional executor is a good choice.

Girlfriend, no kids, wants to disinherit

Along those lines, even if his girlfriend is alive, she may not want to accept her role of executor. She probably won’t want to deal with a messy contest and engage in a court battle with the heirs. The girlfriend has the option to decline and let a professional executor to step-in to handle the mess. She will still get the inheritance check at the end, but she wouldn’t have to deal with the heirs.

Mr. C set up the will to give her options: she can serve as executor if she’s ok with the situation, or she can let the professional executor take over.

Sometimes we get calls asking us to act as successor executors, and we are happy to help.

If you want to learn more about Solo Ager situations, click the link below for a free copy of my book, “The Solo Ager Estate Plan.”

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E273 DIY Will vs Lawyer for Solo Agers

E273 DIY Will vs Lawyers for Solo Agers


Our solo ager clients often ask “who should draft my will? Should I do it myself or hire a lawyer?”

Default: hire a reputable estate planning lawyer

Default- a reputable estate planning lawyer

The benefit is that you will have peace of mind that your will is done correctly, as opposed to using a computer program. Software is pretty good, but a human (in this case, an experienced attorney) will spot problems that a DIY will can miss.

A drawback is that hiring an experienced attorney can be costly, especially compared to using computer software.

Make sure to find any attorney who specializes in estate planning, not the guy who does DUIs and wills only on the side. (No offense to either subset of the profession, but these are just completely different skillsets).

DIY will tips

Will preparation software is a fine option these days, because it is much more developed than it was even five or ten years ago. Watch our previous episode where we reviewed some DIY options.

DIY wIll tips

You may want to use a software program if you think you’ll make revisions quite often. Each revision with an attorney can be expensive. Simply changing a name can cost more than you’d think. Even if you just want to swap out “Joe” for “Bob” in your will, the attorney still has a duty to look over your entire estate plan and each document to make sure they are accurate and confirm that your situation hasn’t changed.

If you decide to draft the will yourself, please consider hiring a lawyer to at least supervise signing ceremony. This will ensure that the will is signed correctly, including the affidavits and the witnesses. You’d be surprised at the problems that can arise if the will isn’t signed properly.

You can usually find a local experienced estate planning attorney who can supervise the signing for a fraction of the estate planning cost. In this case, the attorney will not review your will for errors, but will simply supervise the signing process. Keep in mind that even if you’ve drafted a perfect will yourself, it is all for nothing if you fail the technicalities of the signing ceremony. It sounds like signing should be something simple, but we’ve even seen inexperienced attorneys mess it up.

Can my professional executor draft my will?

Sure, a professional executor can draft your will. I used to do a lot of estate plans, but now I’m 100% focused on being best executor possible for you. Being a professional executor is time consuming, and it doesn’t leave a lot of room to be good at extra jobs on the side.

Personally, I don’t have the software, fancy paper, or setup any more to draft wills. I would be doing it from scratch, and that’s not an ideal situation. However, I am happy to do a non-legal advice review of your draft plan to check for any glaring red flags. It’s a good idea to have a review to point out obvious mistakes that could blow up your whole estate plan.

If you want learn how probate works for Solo Agers, check out the link to my free book, “The Solo Ager Estate Plan.”

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E268 Professional Executor and Trustee for California Solo Agers

E268 Professional Executor and Trustee for California Solo Agers


To my surprise, we keep getting calls from Solo Agers in California asking me to serve as their executor and trustee. Let’s explain why this is surprising.

California is a leader of professional executors and trustees

California is a leader of professional executors and trustees

I thought that California has a robust and developed industry of professional executors. For instance, California has a state licensing agency: Professional Fiduciaries Bureau. You have to apply to receive a license to be an in-state professional fiduciary. There are also trade groups like the Professional Fiduciary Association of California.

There is a whole infrastructure for personal executors in California that you don’t see in other states. This led me to believe that there is an abundance of professional fiduciaries in California.

Yet, solo agers can’t find professional executors in California

Yet, solo agers can't find professional executors in California

While Californians are able to find professional executors, it is hard to find a professional executor that is focused on Solo Ager issues. So, these Solo Agers feel like they’re put into a cookie-cutter plan. For example, some Solo Agers are being told to just leave everything to their kids – even when they are estranged, or they don’t have kids!

Yes, I can be executor outside of NY, including California

For the above reason alone, I want you to know that even though I am based in New York, I can be a professional executor for someone outside of New York, including California.

Yes, I can be executor outside of NY, including California

Just keep in mind that there are some drawbacks when you choose an out-of-state executor. There may be travel costs and slightly less familiarity with local customs. The trade-off is that you’ll have a professional that you are comfortable with. A professional executor is well-versed in administering an estate generally, even if not specific to a certain location’s customs.

Whether you live here or across the country: If you are looking for a professional fiduciary to focus on your Solo Ager issues, it would be my honor to help you.

If you want learn how probate works for Solo Agers, check out the link to my free book, “The Solo Ager Estate Plan.”

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E264 3 Lessons from a Late Solo Ager

E264 3 Lessons from a Late Solo Ager


What happens if you become a Solo Ager later in life? How does this happen? How does this affect you toward the end of your life? And what are some consequences to your probate estate?

Let’s review “Ms. B.’s” situation and discuss.

How Ms. B. became a Solo Ager late in life

How Ms. B became a Solo Ager late in life

Ms. B. was married with a daughter, so she was not your typical Solo Ager. Her adult daughter moved far away out of state. The daughter was not quite estranged, but not much involved either. They stayed in touch and were friendly, but the daughter was effectively estranged, as she was not there to see to her mother’s care.

Then, Ms. B.’s husband got sick and passed faster than anyone expected. So, Ms. B. was alone, rather unexpectedly. Ms. B. did not have a solo-ager plan, or a support network established, because she did not expect to be in this situation.

How Ms. B. got a court-appointed guardian

How Ms. B got a court-appt guardian

As is common, sadly, soon after her husband passed, Ms. B. degraded physically and mentally. As mentioned earlier, because she didn’t expect to be a Solo Ager, Ms. B. had no support network. Once she was hospitalized, there was no one to whom the hospital could release her. So, she was shuffled from rehab to a nursing home.

Wanting to go home and understandably frustrated, she was deemed “uncooperative.” This led the nursing home to petition the court for a guardian appointed for Ms. B. (a court-appointed stranger). The court-appointed guardian was a nice attorney, but he had never met Ms. B. before. Now, this court-appointed guardian is responsible for carrying out her wishes, and he understandably has no idea what those wishes are. His job is to help her get out of the nursing home and to keep the nursing home from compelling her to take medication that she didn’t want. Unfortunately, the guardian was unable to remove Ms. B. from the nursing home before she passed away.

Why a court-appointed guardian makes probate harder

Though Ms. B.’s court-appointed stranger was a nice, professional attorney, he had no prior relationship with Ms. B. As with most guardianships, there is a disjoin between the guardian (who has control of the funds) and the estate.

The guardian, upon Ms. B,’s death, has to make sure the court approves of how he conducted himself during Ms. B.’s life. The guardian has to keep records of how the money was controlled and spent under the guardianship. If the court approves of how the guardian conducted himself, then the guardian gets released. This may sound simple, but we’re talking about a check register that could span a few years. (When we saw Ms. B.’s register, it was pretty thick).

Also keep in mind that Ms. B. was not his only client; he probably has dozens of others.

Why a court-appt guardian makes probate harder

The accounting procedure could take months or years after the client passes away. During this time, the executor (me, in this case) and the heirs are stuck waiting. There are things we need to take care of, and that is hard to do without knowing about or having access to the estate’s funds.

For example, Ms. B.’s apartment needed repairs to leaks and mold, as well as some renovations just to get it ready for sale. The accounts are stuck with the guardian until the accounting is complete. Until then, the executor has to bootstrap and even take out loans to take care of the necessary expenses.

How can one avoid this situation? If you even suspect that a guardian may soon be required or forced upon you, then you should make a revocable trust. When creating a revocable trust, YOU choose the trustee who will manage your funds. Secondly, it’s a seamless transition from the person managing your money while you were alive to the same person managing your money after your death. Lastly, this could help avoid court delays during probate.

I hope this helps you understand what could happen if you become a Solo Ager late in life. Below is a link to my book that sheds some additional light on the topic.

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E260 3 Recent Solo Ager Estate Plan Questions

E260 3 Recent Solo Ager Estate Plan Questions


The following are three recent questions from our Solo Ager readers. Thanks for your questions!

As a side note before we begin: I’ve noticed that a more popular phrase is “Elder Orphans” rather than “Solo Agers.” I feel like “orphans” sounds like a bit of a downer. Please let us know what you think in the comments.

Can I disinherit with a poor man’s will?

Can I disinherit with a poor man’s will?

A “poor man’s will” is a slang term for not having an official will, but rather, using your beneficiary designations to patch together an estate plan. You can disinherit people this way, but it probably won’t work out the way you hope.

Too often, beneficiary designations do not reflect your final wishes. People often forget who they named as beneficiaries on their accounts. That kind of information doesn’t show up on your monthly statement; you have to call the bank. Another reason is that your account balance is continually changing. Maybe you want to leave your bank account to your nephew, but you like your niece more, so you leave her your larger brokerage account. Then, you leave the other brokerage account to your brother. What if one brokerage account over-performs and the other account tanks? Now your wishes are out of whack.

When doing a poor man’s will, you don’t have the structure to run your estate. People like to avoid probate because the process is long, but probate actually gives structure to the process after someone passes away. Structure is important to make sure debts, taxes, and expenses get paid. You could run into the situation where no one knows who is supposed to pay for the funeral. Or maybe the IRS is hunting down all possible heirs to pay the taxes.

Without a probate estate, there are no funds to pay an executor. If all the assets have a named beneficiary, there is no operating account for the estate. Most people don’t want to do the executor work without compensation.

The way to disinherit without using a poor man’s will is using an “in terrorem” clause with a disincentive payment. An in terrorem clause is when you disinherit someone by cutting them out of the will if they object to the will. But that only works if that person is going to get something. (It doesn’t work to say they get nothing, and if they object, they get more of nothing!).

Who will scatter my ashes if I move out of state?

Who will scatter my ashes if I move out of state?

One reader asked who will scatter her ashes if she moves out of state, away from her executor (in this case, I’m her professional executor).

The executor can still honor those wishes out of state. FedEx delivers ashes, and we work with the local funeral director to make sure the ashes get shipped correctly – The estate will pay for the shipping costs. Alternatively, the estate can pay for the executor to fly out of state if there are sufficient funds.

Who should I hire to make my funeral arrangements?

Who should I hire to make my funeral arrangements?

One reader asked if they should hire me, as a professional executor, to make funeral arrangements. Is hiring a person better than buying a prepaid funeral arrangement?

I am not a fan of prepaid funeral plans. With all due respect to my funeral director colleagues, I’m not a fan of prepaying for anything. If you want to set aside money in an account for your heirs to pay for the funeral, that is fine. Locking yourself into a prepaid plan is not the best idea. Funeral homes are not great managers of other people’s money. For example, we had an estate of a deceased funeral director and had to open the funeral home books to see who was owed what. We were tasked with refunding money to people who had prepaid funeral plans, since the funeral director passed. The records were not well-kept, and it was quite a mess.

You can use legal documents for choosing who will be in charge of your funeral plans, and you can have a separate account with funeral funds available. This allows you to change your plans. Suppose you buy burial plots in one state and then you move to another state. Don’t lock your plans in too much because you don’t know how your wishes will change in the future.

A similar question: is the professional executor a “one-stop shop?” Yes, if you ask me to serve as your professional executor, I will have annual check-in calls with you. I can’t just meet you once and put my name on your documents. We don’t have to be best friends, but we need to have a relationship that gives me a general sense of how to carry out your wishes.

Another question: should I name my funeral director as my executor? No. Unless your funeral director is a unique individual who has significant experience serving as executor, then it’s a definite no. They might be excellent at managing final affairs and ceremonies but acting as an executor is a completely different skill set. Just because death relates the two roles doesn’t mean the skill sets are related.

Again, we appreciate your questions. Please keep sending them in! If you don’t have a copy of my book, the Solo Ager Estate Plan, click the link below.

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E255 How Solo Agers Should Hide Cash and Jewels at Home

E255 How Solo Agers Should Hide Cash and Jewels at Home


Lots of people like to keep cash and valuables hidden at home. But what if you do too good a job of hiding them that even your executor can’t find them? They could end up lost or thrown away. Let’s discuss how to avoid that.

Why people hide cash and valuables at home

Why people hide cash and valuables at home

Some folks don’t trust banks or the government, in general. Perhaps they came from a country or grew up in another era where banking was much less reliable.

Others want to hide valuables from home aides, cleaning staff, EMTs, etc. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual for items to go missing when someone gets transferred to a nursing home or when they pass away.

Lastly, some folks want to be prepared for a recession or bank runs/panics. Panic bank/ATM runs could have easily been the scenario two years ago when we witnessed the toilet paper shortage.

Where NOT to hide cash and valuables at home

Where NOT to hide cash and valuables at home

If you hide valuables too well, the executor/heirs probably won’t find it either. From personal experience, treasure hunting for hidden money and jewelry is just one thing on a long list of the executor’s tasks to do when cleaning out a home. The executor needs to document items for family members, and the home needs to be cleared out and in broom-clean condition to get it on the market in a reasonable time frame. There’s really not much time to tear up the floorboards to look for hidden cash…

Here are some examples of where people hide things and why the executor/heirs might miss it:

  1. In the freezer, wrapped in foil or Ziploc bag. It’s not really reasonable for someone to go through every item in the fridge/freezer to see if there’s money in it. By the time we’re cleaning out the fridge, everything is probably rotting. We do our best to check, but often, there just isn’t much time before we need to move on to the next task.
  2. In the pantry, inside flour jars, sugar jars, cereal boxes. Again, there isn’t time to look through all of these things for hidden valuables. Sometimes we hire a cleaning company, and they certainly are not going to take the time to examine each item.
  3. Inside books or hollowed out books. It’s not realistic for an executor to take every book off of the shelf and leaf through the pages. We do tend to check the dictionaries and Bibles, which are more common “hiding places.”
  4. Taped on the underside of the drawer. Some public administrators will take out every drawer, examine it, then toss it on the floor. After doing so, it tends to look like someone robbed the place. We do our best to look around, but we also respect the emotional reaction of the heirs. We do not trash the place.
  5. Inside a cigar box. We do check these, but if the box is tucked away, we might miss it.
  6. Sewn into the lining of clothes. We might do a pat-down of some items, but generally, clothing is overlooked. Although one time, we found cash in a sofa cushion because we noticed a lump.
  7. Under floorboards. If there is an obvious discolored board, we’ll take a look. However, we’re not wrecking a house to find possible valuables. It’s time consuming and costly to pull up floorboards and get them neatly back into place. By the way, if the floorboard hiding place is so obvious that we can find it, chances are the home aid or EMT can find it, too.

Good places to hide cash and valuables at home

Good places to hide cash and valuables at home

A fireproof safe costs money and it can draw attention, but it also means that your executor knows to look in there. Try not to worry about the home aid seeing your safe. Most crimes are crimes of opportunity. You are more likely to have cash or jewelry swiped off of your dresser than for a visitor to spend time trying to get into the safe.

There is no need to buy a huge safe that is incredibly obvious. You also don’t want to get a tiny safe that is easy to carry away. A standard safe might weigh 50 to 100 pounds and can be bolted into the floor or the wall.

Solo Ager Book

This topic came up because we have been talking about hunting for Bitcoin keys after death. We thought this would be helpful to cover other types of treasure hunts.

You can tell your professional executor that you have hidden things in certain places, but this may not help if you die years later and change the hiding place.

If you want to learn more, click the link below to get a free copy of my book, “The Solo Ager Estate Plan.”

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E251 Should Solo Agers Tell Heirs About Inheritance?

E251 Should Solo Agers Tell Heirs About Inheritance?


Our Solo Ager clients often ask, “Do I have to tell an heir that I’ve named them in my will?” For one reason or another, you may not be sure what to do. We will discus the pros and cons of telling your heirs they have been named in your will.

Do heirs have to be notified?

Do heirs have to be notified?

You are not legally required to notify your heirs when you make your will. However, once you die and your executor begins the probate process, your executor is required to notify your heirs that they are named in the will. In fact, the executor must send a copy of the will to the heirs. This means the heirs will also see who the other heirs are and what they will inherit.

Why not tell your heirs?

Why not tell your heirs?

First of all, nothing is final. There is a good chance you might change your will again before you die. It would be pretty awkward to tell someone that they are inheriting something, and then you change your mind. You don’t want to cause drama between you and your heirs, or among the heirs themselves. Suppose you have two nieces between whom you were going to split your estate 50/50. Then they find out that you’ve changed it to 75/25. This will create an awkward situation among all of you, especially if the nieces are sisters.

You may find that once you tell your heirs what they will inherit, the heirs’ behavior changes. It could feel as if you are dangling their inheritance in front of them. Or maybe the ones inheriting the most won’t try as hard to win your favor or hang around as much, since they feel secure in what they plan to receive.

When to tell heirs

When to tell heirs

Generally, I don’t recommend telling your heirs what they will specifically inherit for the reasons described above. However, there are times when it makes sense to tell them. One reason is to help them plan for the future. Say you have a niece with school-aged children, and she is struggling to figure out how much to save up for college. You know that by the time her children are in college, you won’t be around. You can let your niece know that they will receive an inheritance to take care of those costs. This news could alter how aggressively she saves, which will make their lives easier now (not just when the inheritance comes). Just remember – once she relies on this information to set her financial plan, it will not look good if you change your mind!

If you are not planning on giving much to your heirs or you plan to give mostly to charity, then set expectations for your heirs. Let them know that you plan to give your wealth to charities and for them not to expect a large inheritance. Doing this can help avoid hard feelings after your death. If you have a relative who’s expecting to receive a lot and they find out after you pass that it’s going to charity, it may tarnish your legacy in their eyes. But if you set expectations before you pass, then the heirs will be prepared.

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E247 Solo Ager Annual Estate Plan Review

E247 Solo Ager Annual Estate Plan Review


As we know, Solo Ager estate plans are a bit trickier than other estate plans. We recommend that our clients take a look at their estate plan every 4 to 5 years. However, for Solos Agers, we suggest a light annual review.

1. Your Executor

Your Executor

The first thing you should review is whether your executor is still alive. This is important for Solo Agers because they often have non-traditional executors. Solo Agers often hire a professional executor like me because they don’t have family members who they feel comfortable appointing. This professional executor is probably not someone they keep in touch with on a daily basis.

Is your executor still living nearby? Perhaps if the executor has moved far away, it’s not practical to have them named in your will any longer.

Are you still confident your executor will fulfill his or her duties to your liking? Perhaps the executor is someone who is developing close relationships with relatives that you are planning to disinherit. Maybe your executor is getting older and declining. Maybe your assets have become more technologically advanced, and your executor isn’t familiar with the types of accounts you have (bitcoin, for example).

2. Who inherits

Who inherits

Again, you want to make sure that the beneficiaries of your will and/or trust are still alive. It sounds depressing to have to think about such things, but a 5-to-10-minute review of your documents could prevent a headache for your executor when you pass.

Are your beneficiaries still worthy of inheriting your money? Sometimes family members slowly stop keeping in touch with their aging relatives. As a Solo Ager, you may want to evaluate whether those people are still worthy of receiving your estate. Does it still make you feel good that you’re leaving your money to them?

You may have set up a trust for a beneficiary, or you may have chosen to give them their share outright. It’s best to re-evaluate to see if that choice is still appropriate for that beneficiary. For example, you may have chosen an outright distribution to someone who has since started having drinking problems or gambling issues. Perhaps you’ve left money to someone who needs asset protection. Now, a trust or some other planning tool may be better. On the other side, you may have put a minor beneficiary’s share in a trust, and now he or she is an adult who can handle money.

Many Solo Agers prefer to leave some money to charities. Take time to review if your charity of choice still exists and if it is still worthy of inheriting your money. Perhaps the charity was very efficient in serving the original cause, but now a change of management style has resulted in less money going toward the charitable cause itself.

Does the charity still align with your values? Have your passions or interest changed? Maybe when you created your will, you were really into pets, and you left a large share to the ASPCA. Maybe now your passion is something else that you’d rather leave your money to.

3. Your Guardian

Your Guardian

You may not have a guardian in your estate plan. But, are you satisfied with what happens if you lose capacity? If you don’t have a trust or other mechanism in place, are you happy with the idea of a court-appointed guardian? You may have listened to our prior podcast in which we reviewed the Netflix move, “I Care a Lot.” The movie is obviously a dramatization, but it shows how bad it can be when the system takes over someone who doesn’t really need a guardian.

It’s best to have a plan in place now before the court decides it’s a good idea to appoint a stranger as your guardian. If you are unfamiliar with court-appointed strangers, we suggest you check our podcast on the topic.

In conclusion, an annual light review of your documents can go a long way in making sure your plan is strong. To learn about estate planning tips for Solo Agers, please check out my book, “The Solo Ager Estate Plan,” available on Amazon.

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E242 Solo Ager Movie “I Care a Lot”

E242 Solo Ager Movie: “I Care a Lot”


The Netflix movie, “I Care a Lot,” shows a nightmare scenario for Solo Agers. It is a dramatization of what could potentially happen to our Solo Ager friends.

Below we’ll separate 7 myths from reality in this movie. Spoiler alert! If you want to watch the movie first, then save this blog to read after you’ve seen the movie. We’ll be discussing mostly just the first 30 minutes of the movie (the set-up) but we will touch on parts later in the movie.

The sole job of the main character, Marla, is to act as a guardian for people who are incapacitated. Elderly Ms. Peterson is deemed to be incompetent, and Marla is appointed to take over her affairs. Marla represents what a bad guardian can look like. Ms. Peterson’s situation shows how brutal it can feel if you are a vulnerable Solo Ager.

1. “Pain in the rear” patients get nudged into system

“Pain in the” rear patients gets nudged into system

In one scene, Marla talks to the doctor about how Ms. Peterson is a pain in the rear. Marla prefers for Ms. Peterson to get nudged into the system and out of her hands.

I would say that yes, this is real. It may not happen as maliciously or overtly as the movie, but doctors, nursing homes, social workers, and courts/guardians are human. We don’t like dealing with people who are a pain.

What happens when the doctor, social worker, etc., thinks a patient is a pain? They are more prone to medicate the problem or pass the patient onto the next facility or next guardian.

2. Solo Agers targeted

Solo Agers targeted

In the same scene, Marla is speaking with the doctor and assistant. They describe Ms. Peterson as a “cherry.” It’s clear from the context that a “cherry” is a wealthy Solo Ager who is vulnerable and has no family.

I’d say that this is real. Solo Agers aren’t necessarily targeted by bad guy movie characters, but by advertising, financial advisors, and prepaid funeral plans. There are a lot of eyes on wealthy Solo Agers. This kind of person is more likely targeted than someone with a family to help or less money to grab.

3. “The System” = judge, doctors, homes

“The System” = judge, doctors, homes

Is there a gamut through which the Solo Ager gets pushed?

There’s a scene where Marla is in court, and the judge knows her. Even though Marla is doing bad things, they are a bit chummy, and the judge seems to trust her. Marla also has ongoing relationships with the nursing home directors, who want to fill their rooms while Marla is looking for places to put her Solo Agers. There are also scenes showing kickbacks where money is exchanged, and Marla gets paid in stocks.

Yes, this is real too. Again, it’s not a dramatized as the movie, but it’s easy to imagine subtler versions. There is a system, and these professionals know each other. Once you’re a victim in the system, it’s hard to get out. You can get pushed from the court to the guardian to the nursing home to the social worker. Even Ms. Peterson’s dangerous and powerful son couldn’t get her out of the system.

4. Court-appointed stranger

Court-appointed stranger

In an early scene, Ms. Peterson’s morning tea is interrupted by a knock on the door. Marla is at the door telling her that she is Ms. Peterson’s court-appointed guardian. She tells Ms. Peterson to come with her or she will have to deal with the sheriffs.

It is possible to get stuck with a stranger as a court-appointed guardian. We had a case where our client expressed that she wanted her attorney or family member to be her guardian and the court ignored it.

5. Hearing without the solo ager?

Hearing without the solo ager?

Can all of this happen without a Solo Ager being able to stop it?

There were courtroom scenes where Ms. Peterson was not present to speak up for herself. It seems that Ms. Peterson had no idea what was going on until Marla knocked on her door.

This is a myth, at least in New York. I’m sure it could happen in some states or in an emergent circumstance. However, in New York, judges have gone to GREAT lengths to have the Solo Ager at the hearing, especially now that platforms such as Zoom can be used. They have the right to be heard, to testify, to make their wishes known. I’ve even been in situations asking the judge to end the testimony sooner because our person is in pain, etc. But the judges are adamant that the hearing is important.

6. Taking her phone

Taking her phone

There is a scene where Marla takes away Ms. Peterson’s phone as she is ushered into the nursing facility. It was like Ms. Peterson was in a prison, because she was not allowed to have contact with the outside world.

This is a partial myth. In New York, nursing home patients are allowed to have their own phones. But if the phone breaks, runs out of battery, runs out of plan time, etc., is it SUPER hard to connect with a patient in a nursing home to replace or repair the phone. It’s not because the nursing home is trying to cut off communication; it’s just difficult to accomplish even small things when dealing with nursing homes.

7. Raiding the safe deposit box

Raiding the safe deposit box

As Marla takes control of Ms. Peterson’s life, she goes to the bank to raid the safe deposit box.

This is a myth. In New York, when an executor/guardian opens a safe deposit box, there is a procedure set up. The box opening has to be performed in front of two bank witnesses and all people present must sign the inventory of contents to submit to the court. In real life, there’s no way anyone can walk into a bank and get into a safe deposit box without abiding by the procedures.

Overall, it was a good movie. For professionals in our line of work, the first 30 minutes of the movie are probably the most frustrating. If you’ve seen the movie, please let us know your thoughts. If you are a Solo Ager watching it, don’t get stressed out that this is how life will be.

To learn about estate planning tips for Solo Agers, please check out my book, “The Solo Ager Estate Plan,” available on Amazon.

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E238 A Solo Ager’s Court-Appointed Stranger, 6 Months Later

E238 A Solo Ager’s Court-Appointed Stranger, 6 Months Later


About six months ago, the court chose a court-appointed stranger for “Ms. H.,” a lovely solo ager who has named me executor in her will. In this episode, we are going to check in and see what’s happened since then.

To refresh, Ms. H. is unmarried with no kids and is somewhat estranged from her nieces and nephews. Ms. H. named me as executor in her will many years ago. She recently rekindled a relationship with a niece, who has been attentive to her.

Ms. H. is in declining health and was placed involuntarily into a nursing home. She asked me and the niece to petition the court to be her guardians to get her out of the nursing home and into the comfort of her own home.

Six months ago, when we petitioned the court, the court ignored Ms. H.’s wishes and appointed a random attorney (court-appointed stranger), instead.

So, what’s happened since then?

Has the court-appointed stranger contacted anyone?

Has the court-appointed stranger contacted anyone?

Nope. Neither Ms. H., nor the niece, nor I have heard a peep since the court hearing. Up until the court hearing, the court-appointed stranger was very attentive in calling Ms. H. to make sure she understood the situation. Now, we’ve heard absolutely nothing.

In fact, Ms. H. and her niece didn’t even know the court had ruled against them and appointed a stranger. They were patiently waiting for the court to contact them. They had no idea the court-appointed stranger has been Ms. H.’s guardian for months. The only way they found out was because the niece randomly called me to ask a few questions about estate planning.

Has our Solo Ager moved home?

Has our Solo Ager moved home?

No. She hasn’t even heard from her guardian, let alone begun the process of exiting the nursing home. There is no indication of any movement on this.

Sadly, ever since the court hearing, Ms. H. has been hopefully waiting for signs that she will be released. She had been asking daily if today is the day that she will go home.

Unfortunately, the niece had to break the news that not only is Ms. H. not going home, but that neither she nor I are her guardians. (And that the actual guardian has been silent for the past six months).

What can our Solo Ager do now?

In her situation, sadly, there is not much Ms. H. can do. Perhaps in another six months, if there is no activity or contact from the guardian, it’s egregious enough to go back to court and ask for Mr. H.’s originally requested guardians. There’s no guarantee that the judge will agree, but after a year of no activity, it can’t hurt to try.

For now, Ms. H. is stuck with the court-appointed stranger. Unfortunately, a year in a nursing home probably feels like a very long time, and she just wants to go home.

So, how can others avoid this type of situation? For most folks, I don’t recommend a revocable trust, but, for Solo Agers, having a revocable trust makes sense. With a revocable trust, your chosen trustee can step in immediately, without having to rely on a judge to respect your wishes.

If Ms. H. had made a revocable trust, we’d have the power and authority to execute her wishes. We did recommend drafting a trust for her, but it never happened. We’re wishing Ms. H. the best of luck, and we hope we can give you a positive update on her case in the future.

We’ve talked about revocable trusts in a few prior episodes: Guardian vs Revocable Trust for Solo Agers and Getting Final Affairs in Order Before Death.

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