By Loren Acuña

Written or edited by Loren Acuña. Please feel free to add to the thoughts presented here by posting a comment or question.

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Robot Chronicles – Is There a Robo-Fiduciary In Your Future?

I resisted getting a Kindle because I really like a good book. Since I have had this little device, I have probably read even more and a wider variety than before. I just finished a compilation of short science fiction stories on Artificial Intelligence (AI), titled Robot Chronicles, edited by David Gatewood, published 2014.  It’s a great read and offers a wider glimpse into how people imagine AI will affect our lives. So I had to ask myself, what about a robo-fiduciary?

We already see more places where specific types of AI are used. For instance, cars that stop or park themselves. Some AI, like “robo investing”, really boil down to a complex set of instructions or rules with lots of “If, then” statements. If interest rates go up, do this. If a stock index goes down by a certain amount, do this, only much more complex.

What about a robo fiduciary?  Would you want a robot programmed with your decisions to handle your life for you once you were deemed mentally incompetent?  I have a hunch most of us would not be that comfortable living with fixed choices made at an earlier age which are executed by a machine -  no matter how “empathic” AI might eventually be programmed to emulate. I still swear at my phone or computer when it crashes or does not work. I can’t imagine being all that comfortable allowing an AI entity to make my living choices for me, would you?
The NEXT 50
One of my unique services offers people an opportunity to explore what they imagine the next 50 years might hold for the world. You might want to get a jump on it and use my LegacyMapping service to pre-write your AI instruction manual. Do we start with medications?  If you oppose taking a stack of pills, what will you accept? What if medical science develops a pill that really does stave off or curtail Alzheimer’s Disease?
Actually, LegacyMapping gives you a chance to explore and revisit areas that can require your or other people's attention during the aging process. Sort of like a regular pre-flight check. It is a dialogue about what choices you want to make, given current circumstances.  One of the segments - The Next 50 – deals with what kind of world would you like to see in 50 years? What do you want to leave behind or what “instructions” do you think are timeless that could help make the world better? What resources do you have to make the world a better place 50 years in the future, whether or not we have AI?
Why Do I Need A Fiduciary? 
I occasionally meet people who don't understand why they might need anyone to be their agent or trustee. They say, “I pay my bills on-line and my investments are part of managed portfolio, why would I need someone to make decisions?”  After looking at all the cases in which I have been involved, it is clear that choice of trustee can make a huge difference in the quality of life an elder experiences or the settlement of a contentious case.
When I step in to act as someone’s agent or trustee, my number one job is to get to know the person – their values, their wishes, their goals – what motivates them.  People’s values change during different circumstances. Because we all change. Because life throws us unexpected curveballs. Mostly because we want to know someone out there cares about us, a fiduciary’s job is much deeper than paying bills or making sure assets are invested. This is why we need to name our “person” with care and foresight.
While there may be a robo-fiduciary option someday (maybe I will write my own short science fiction story about that), you already have a better option than family members who might fight with one another. You have a better option than friends who might be more comfortable as a friend rather than handling your estate or personal business.
Human Touch
A professional fiduciary is not a robot, but we do bring a level of experience to the job that a family or friend will not have. My fifteen years of experience in this field has given me a sense of how to evaluate and handle a variety of situations.  In addition, we offer empathy and non-judgmental care for our clients. We seek your best outcome given the resources you have accumulated. We use a “gestalt of empathy, wisdom, experience and intuition along with analysis that a trained human provides”. We pilot you through the frail elder years as someone without any entitlement to your estate. In this way, we have no conflict of interest whether to use your resources for your wishes and needs.
I would love to know your thoughts, please feel free to comment below.

Monday, March 2, 2015

In Like A Lamb, Out Like A Lion

How does a fiduciary turn an elderly client’s non-liquid, non-investable estate into over $700,000 investable or usable assets? 

My client was referred by the in-home care provider because she had no nearby health agent and was having difficulty paying her bills. Her only daughter lived across the country and suffers from anxiety disorders.

We started out like a lamb. The elderly woman needed help and protection. I did not know how much help until I started working with her. The first steps were to get to know her and help organize and secure her important papers. She was convinced that someone snuck into her Rossmoor condo and moved or took papers.

As I worked with her to understand her financial situation and begin paying her bills, she shared with me a concern that weighed on her. She felt an insurance agent had taken advantage of her. Naturally, I was concerned. She had never talked with an attorney about it and this had occurred many years ago. I wanted to review the insurance policies and paperwork before jumping to conclusions.

It took time to locate and gather all the pertinent paperwork because the client is an information hoarder. She loves to keep old newspaper articles, magazines and statements in stacks and stacks all over her condo. There was room for paramedics to enter, so I decided we would take it at her pace to locate what was needed as we worked together to unravel her financial picture. She took pride in the steps we took together to organize her papers.

When I finished gathering paperwork, my spreadsheet revealed 16 insurance or annuity policies totaling over $800,000 in premiums paid. Many were policies issued through a 1035 exchange or other policies cashed out. Determining how much new money had been placed into these policies was daunting. It would have been impossible for my client to gather and organize this information to discuss clearly with an interested attorney.

It was very clear that a single agent and their partner had churned the policies and oversold an elderly woman with very little income or assets, purely for the lucrative up-front commissions paid.

In comes the lioness side of my work. Once I had the paper trail, I began to aggressively search for an attorney qualified to handle the potential litigation against the agents and the insurance companies; combined with the complexity of having the Power of Attorney pursue the claims against these entities. This took persistence. Most attorneys I spoke with did not have the right amount of experience with insurance companies or in some other way disqualified themselves.

I was not willing to let it go. Diligence and persistence paid off for my client. Through a series of steps taken this past year, including pursuing the insurance companies, my client now has enough in liquid, investable assets to serve her needs for the remainder of her lifetime. She is living in a memory care facility near her daughter and granddaughter. She can enjoy this time of her life without the worry that was nagging at her when I first met her.  A happy ending to the story of "In Like A Lamb, Out Like A Lion" could be available to you or your clients.

If you or your client needs a fiduciary who knows how to come in like a lamb, but go after your needs like a lion, please call (925) 906-1882 for a free initial consultation.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tips To Start "The Talk"

Myth or Reality?  I will pass away suddenly in my sleep, with no need for medical intervention.
REALITY: Only 10% of us die suddenly, 90% of us will experience some type of medical intervention.

Myth or Reality?  I will be able to tell people what I want until the day I die.
REALITY:  Over 40% of us will die with some type of dementia.

Myth or Reality?  Most people have a current Advanced Health Care Directive naming a suitable person and have talked with their family, loved ones or agent about their wishes.
REALITY: In a 2011 survey, 82% of Californians stated they thought it extremely important to have their end of life wishes in writing, only 23% actually had a written document.

Myth or Reality? My doctor knows what I want and will choose the right thing for me.
REALITY: Doctors will not decide for you. Nurses cannot decide for you. Only your agent can decide if you are not able to make informed consent.

Death is not considered a pleasant or polite topic of conversation. The humorist, Roz Chast, has received a lot of attention for a graphic novel titled, "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?"  Things that make us uncomfortable are also often funny.  After the laughter stops, we realize we need to start that conversation.  The best gift we can give someone is a meaningful conversation.
We often know it's important but don't know how to start the conversation. What follows are some tips offered by a professional fiduciary who has many of these conversations with her clients.

If you are the one who wants to talk about your own wishes:

• Do some personal reflection about your own values, wishes, thoughts, and feelings about death and dying.

• Realize that your values do not have to be like other people’s. In fact, the values we hold dear are what help make us unique and interesting people. It’s o.k. if you value something different.

• We get what we think about in life. To have a joyfully wise 5th Chapter, know what you want and imagine life "as if" you are experiencing the positive outcome you want rather than wasting time thinking about what you don’t like or want.

• Tell your family you went to a seminar that discussed The Conversation Project. Let your family know you want to make it easier on them, when the time comes, and that you have an Advanced Health Care Directive to reduce chaos and confusion.

• Once you have selected an agent, share some of your concerns or thoughts about what matters most to you with that person. A conversation is meaningful and a legal document provides authority and guidance to your named agent.

If you are the one who wants to talk about someone else’s wishes:

• Do some personal reflection about your own values, wishes, thoughts, and feelings about death and dying.

• Tell your family you went to a seminar that discussed The Conversation Project and it brought up some interesting questions you would like to discuss.

• Tell a story about someone who experienced some problems when not planning for and putting in place a document to name an agent.

• Remember, this is most likely a conversation that will be re-visited so kind and loving conversation will pave the way for future conversations.

• Ask your loved one if they sometimes think about death or dying and what would they want if they were facing that moment.

• Express an interest in understanding how their values, wishes and beliefs can be honored if they are incapacitated.

• Call on a Family Council Moderator to help the whole family navigate this topic if there are conflicts brewing or you find it difficult to bring up sensitive topics together.  If you would like more information about Family Council Moderator services, please call The ACE Fiduciary Group.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The 12 Days of Christmas

When our kids were little, we celebrated the Twelve Days of Christmas by picking a different character in the Christmas story for each night: Mary, Joseph, the angels, Herod, the Magi, the shepherds, Anna, Simeon, Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist, and Jesus.  There were presents many nights; food and games were planned to go with the character (i.e. honey and “locusts” for John the Baptist or hide and seek for Herod).  This tradition started many interesting conversations about faith and the real people who were part of bringing the joy of Christmas to the world.
It was fun……..and……..exhausting.

What started out as one of Mom's crazy ideas became an annual tradition. Each year, we would add some new twist or fun. By the time Epiphany arrived, it felt like Christmas had been going on all year. Kind of like our current home remodel project.
Each day I come home to see some new bit added.  It's a lot like opening a new present every day.  It also feels like the 12 Days of Christmas going on and on and on. I am ready for the New Year!

But I also kind of miss the “good 'ol days”.  I miss the way the girls woke us up really early on Christmas morning, after only a few hours sleep because we spent all night wrapping presents. I miss having to keep the Santa wrapping paper different from the other presents. Right now, I miss my bedroom.
Even when I miss what we used to do at Christmas, I know that if I hold too tightly onto the “good 'ol days” I might miss the absolutely amazing gift waiting for me right now 

Families change; kids grow up; special people are no longer with us during the holidays; but Christmas is about God entering our world in a mysterious way at a particular time in history to make things new, to make love real. A baby in a manger came to remind each of us how much God loves us, every day, all year long.
So no matter what holiday traditions you celebrate, take a moment away from the tinsel and fake snow to breathe in a moment of real joy and peace – to celebrate God's presence all around, here and now.
To each of you, may you experience Peach on Earth in the coming year.