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The Real Cost To Your Family: Having No Estate Plan At All

When it comes to putting off or refusing to create an estate plan, your mind can concoct all sorts of rationalizations: “I won’t care because I’ll be dead,” “I’m too young,” “That won’t happen to me,” or “My family will know what to do.”


But these thoughts all come from a mix of pride, denial, and above all, evidence of a lack of real education about estate planning and the consequences to your family. Once you understand exactly what planning is designed to prevent and support, you’ll realize there really is no acceptable excuse for not having a plan, provided you are able to plan and truly care about your family’s experience after you die or if you become incapacitated.


Indeed, the first step in creating a proper plan is to thoroughly understand the potential consequences of going without one. In the event of your death or incapacity, not having a plan could be incredibly traumatic and costly for your family, who will be left to deal with the mess you’ve left behind.


While each estate and family are unique, here are some of the things most likely to happen to you and your loved ones if you fail to create any estate plan at all.

Your family will have to go to court


If you don’t have a plan, or only have a will (yes, even with a will), you’re forcing your family to go through probate upon your death. Probate is the legal process for settling your estate, and even if you have a will, it’s notoriously slow, costly, and public. But with no plan at all, probate can be a true nightmare for your loved ones.


Depending on the complexity of your estate, probate can take months or even years to complete. And like most court proceedings, probate can be expensive. In fact, once all of your debts, taxes, and court fees have been paid, there might be nothing left for anyone to inherit. And if there are any assets left, your family will likely have to pay hefty attorney’s fees and court costs in order to claim them.


Yet the most burdensome part of probate is the frustration and anxiety it can cause your loved ones. In addition to grieving your death, planning your funeral, and contacting everyone you’re close with, your family will be stuck dealing with a crowded court system that can be challenging to navigate even in the best of circumstances. Plus, the entire affair is open to the public, which can make things exponentially more arduous for those you leave behind, especially if the wrong people take an interest in your family’s affairs.


The expense and drama of the court system can be almost totally avoided with proper planning. Using a trust, for example, we can ensure that your assets pass directly to your family upon your death, without the need for any court intervention. Instead, so long as you have planned properly, just about everything can happen in the privacy of our office and on your family’s time.


You have no control over who inherits your assets

If you die without a plan, the court will decide who inherits your assets, and this can lead to all sorts of problems. Who is entitled to your property is determined by our state’s intestate succession laws, which hinge largely upon on whether you are married and if you have children.


Spouses and children are given top priority, followed by your other closest living family members. If you’re single with no children, your assets typically go to your parents and siblings, and then more distant relatives if you have no living parents or siblings. If no living relatives can be located, your assets go to the state.


But you can change all of this with a plan and ensure your assets pass the way you want.

It’s important to note that state intestacy laws only apply to blood relatives, so unmarried partners and/or close friends would get nothing. If you want someone outside of your family to inherit your property, having a plan is an absolute must.


If you’re married with children and die with no plan, it might seem like things would go fairly smoothly, but that’s not always the case. If you’re married but have children from a previous relationship, for example, the court could give everything to your spouse and leave your children out. In another instance, you might be estranged from your kids or not trust them with money, but without a plan, state law controls who gets your assets, not you.


Moreover, dying without a plan could also cause your surviving family members to get into an ugly court battle over who has the most right to your property. Or if you become incapacitated, your loved ones could even get into conflict around your medical care. You may think this would never happen to your loved ones, but we see families torn apart by it all the time, even when there’s not significant financial wealth involved.


We can help you create a plan that handles your assets and your care in the exact manner you wish, taking into account all of your family dynamics, so your death or incapacity won’t be any more painful or expensive for your family than it needs to be.

You have no control over your medical, financial, or legal decisions in the event of your incapacity


Most people assume estate planning only comes into play when they die, but that’s dead wrong. Yes, pun intended.


Indeed, though planning for your eventual death is a big part of the process, it’s just as important—if not even more so—to plan for your potential incapacity due to accident or illness.


If you become incapacitated and have no plan in place, your family would have to petition the court to appoint a guardian or conservator to manage your affairs. This process can be extremely costly, time consuming, and traumatic for everyone involved. In fact, incapacity can be a much greater burden for your loved ones than your death.


We can help you put planning vehicles in place that grant the person(s) of your choice the immediate authority to make your medical, financial, and legal decisions for you in the event of your incapacity. We can also implement planning strategies that provide specific guidelines detailing how you want your medical care to be managed, including critical end-of-life decisions.


You have no control over who will raise your children

If you’re the parent of minor children, the most devastating consequence of having no estate plan is what could happen to your kids in the event of your death or incapacity. Without a plan in place naming legal guardians for your kids, it will be left for a judge to decide who cares for your children. And this could cause major heartbreak not only for your children, but for your entire family.


You’d like to think that a judge would select the best person to care for your kids, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Indeed, the judge could pick someone from your family you’d never want to raise them to adulthood. And if you don’t have any family, or the family you do have is deemed unfit, your children could be raised by total strangers.


What’s more, if you have several relatives who want to care for your kids, they could end up fighting one another in court over who gets custody. This can get extremely ugly, as otherwise well-meaning family members fight one another for years, making their lawyers wealthy, while your kids are stuck in the middle.


If you have minor children, your number-one planning priority should be naming legal guardians to care for your children if anything should happen to you. This is so critical, we’ve developed a comprehensive system called the Kids Protection Plan® that guides you step-by-step through the process of creating the legal documents naming these guardians.


Naming legal guardians won’t keep your family out of court, as a judge is always required to finalize the legal naming of guardians in the event of death or incapacity of parents. But if it’s important to you who raises your kids if you can’t, you need to give the judge clear direction.


On top of that, you need to take action to keep your kids out of the care of strangers over the immediate term, while the authorities figure out what to do if something happens to you. We handle that in a Kids Protection Plan® too.


You can get started with this process right now for free by visiting our user-friendly website, HERE!


No more excuses

Given the potentially dire consequences for both you and your family, you can’t afford to put off creating your estate plan any longer. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’ll guide you step-by-step through the planning process to ensure you’ve taken all the proper precautions to spare your loved ones from needless frustration, conflict, and expense.

But the biggest benefit you stand to gain from putting a plan in place is the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your loved ones will be provided and cared for no matter what happens to you. 


Don’t wait another day; contact us to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session right away.


This article is a service of Matt Frick, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. 

5 Questions to ask before hiring an estate planning lawyer - Part 2


Since you’ll be discussing topics like death, incapacity, and other frightening life events, hiring an estate planning lawyer may feel intimidating or morbid. But it definitely doesn’t have to be that way.


Instead, it can be the most empowering decision you ever make for yourself and your loved ones. The key to transforming the experience of hiring a lawyer from one that you dread into one that empowers you is to educate yourself first. This is the person who is going to be there for your family when you can’t be, so you want to really understand who the lawyer is as a human, not just an attorney. Of course, you’ll also want to find out the kind of services the lawyer offers and how they run their business.


To gather this information and get a better feel for who the individual is at the human level, we suggest you ask the prospective lawyer five key questions. Last week in part one we listed the first two of these questions, and here, we cover the final three.


3. How will you proactively communicate with me on an ongoing basis?

The sad truth is most lawyers do a terrible job of staying in regular communication with their clients. Unfortunately, most lawyers don’t have their business systems set up for ongoing, proactive communication, and they don’t have the time to really get to know you or your family.


If you work with a lawyer who doesn’t have systems in place to keep your plan updated, ensure your assets are owned in the right way (throughout your life), and communicate with you regularly, your estate plan will be worth little more than one you could create for yourself online—and it’s likely to fail when your family needs it most.


Think of it this way: Yes, your estate plan is a set of documents. But more importantly, it’s who and what your family will turn to when something happens to you. You want to work with a lawyer who has systems in place to keep your documents up to date and to ensure your assets are owned in the right way throughout your lifetime. Ideally, the lawyer should get to know you and your family over time, so when something happens, your lawyer can be there for the people you love, and there will already be an underlying relationship and trust.


Your lawyer should proactively communicate with you and keep you and your family educated on an ongoing basis. We think sending out a weekly (at least) email is best. I prefer to hear from the professionals with whom I work on a monthly basis by regular mail and on a weekly basis by email, but depending on the relationship, it could be even more frequent than that.


If you are considering hiring a lawyer who doesn’t take the time to proactively communicate with his or her clients, this should be a red flag. That’s a sign that the lawyer may be stuck in an old, outdated mindset that won’t address your ongoing needs in the way you deserve.


4. Can I call about any legal problem I have, or just about matters within your specialty?

Given the complexity of today’s legal world, lawyers must have specialized training in one or more specific practice areas, such as divorce, bankruptcy, wills and trusts, personal injury, business, criminal matters, or employment law. You definitely do NOT want to work with a lawyer who professes to be an expert in whatever random legal issue walks through the door.


That said, you do want your personal lawyer to have broad enough expertise that you can consult with him or her about all sorts of different legal and financial issues that may come up in your life—and trust he or she will be able to offer you sound guidance. Moreover, while your lawyer may not be able to advise you on all legal matters, he or she should at least be able to refer to you to another trusted professional who can help you.


Trust me, you wouldn’t want the lawyer who designed your estate plan to also handle your personal injury claim, settle a dispute with your landlord, and advise you on your divorce. But you do want him or her to be there to hear your story, refer you to a highly qualified lawyer who specializes in that area, and overall, serve as your go-to legal consultant.

In this capacity, you can call your personal lawyer before you sign any legal documents, any time you have a legal or financial issue arise, or whenever anything that might adversely affect your family or business comes up, and know that you’ll get excellent guidance.


With this in mind, look for a lawyer who has an ongoing service program or membership program, in which you can pay a low monthly fee and be able to call with all of your legal and financial questions, without being charged hourly for the consultation. And be sure that when you call, you get to schedule time to talk with your own lawyer, who you know and trust. We love the idea of legal insurance plans, but we don’t love that you don’t get your own personal lawyer with them. You need to know your lawyer, and know that your lawyer has your back.


5. What happens if you die or retire?

This is a critically important—and often overlooked—question to ask not only your lawyer, but any service professional before beginning a relationship. Sure, it may be uncomfortable to ask, but a truly excellent, client-centered professional will have a plan in place to ensure their clients are taken care of no matter what happens to the individual lawyer managing your plan.


Look for a lawyer who has their own detailed plan in place that will ensure that someone warm and caring will take over your planning without any interruption of service. If your lawyer prepared a will, trust, and other estate planning documents for you, or if you are in the middle of a divorce or lawsuit, you want to make certain your lawyer has such a contingency plan in place, so you won’t be forced to start over from scratch should your lawyer die, retire, or become otherwise unavailable.


Finally, if your lawyer offers a membership program, you’ll want to make sure he or she has a relationship with another lawyer or a network of lawyers who can continue to service you under that program.


A Lasting Relationship

Although hiring the right estate planning lawyer may not seem like a super important decision, it’s actually one of the most critical choices you can make for both yourself and your family. After all, this is the individual you are trusting to serve on your behalf to protect and provide for your loved ones in the event of life’s most traumatic experiences.


Should you choose the wrong person for the job, your family could potentially face all manner of unnecessary conflicts, expenses, and legal entanglements during a time when they are at their most vulnerable. In the end, estate planning is about far more than having a lawyer create a set of documents for you, and then never seeing you again, or only seeing you when something goes wrong.


With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we develop a relationship with you and with your family that lasts not only for your lifetime, but for the lifetime of your children and their children, if that’s your wish. Our unique, family-centered legal services are specifically tailored to provide our clients with the kind of love, attention, and trust we’d want for our own loved ones.


To learn more about our one-of-a-kind systems and services, schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session™ today.


This article is a service of Matt Frick, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. 

5 Questions to ask before hiring an estate planning lawyer

Since you’ll be discussing topics like death, incapacity, and other frightening life events, hiring an estate planning lawyer may feel intimidating or morbid. But it definitely doesn’t have to be that way.


Instead, it can be the most empowering decision you ever make for yourself and your loved ones. The key to transforming the experience of hiring a lawyer from one that you dread into one that empowers you is to educate yourself first. This is the person who is going to be there for your family when you can’t be, so you want to really understand who the lawyer is as a human, not just an attorney. Of course, you’ll also want to find out the kind of services your potential lawyer offers and how they run their business.


To this end, here are five questions to ask to ensure you don’t end up paying for legal services that you don’t need, expect, or want. Once you know exactly what you should be looking for when choosing a planning professional, you’ll be much better positioned to hire an attorney who will provide the kind of love, attention, care, and trust your family deserves.


1. How do you bill for your services?

There’s no reason you should be afraid to ask a lawyer how he or she bills for the work they do on your behalf. In fact, questions about billing and payment should be among the very first subjects you bring up when you first contact them. No one wants surprises, especially when it comes to the bill.


If you call a lawyer’s office and they are reluctant or refuse to give you clear answers to questions about how they charge for their services, determine your fees, or what they expect certain services will cost, this is a big red flag. When someone is hesitant to discuss their billing or business practices, you could be in for some major surprises about what things cost down the road.


Find an estate planning lawyer who bills for all of their services on a flat-fee, no surprises, basis—and never on an hourly basis. And ideally, you want a lawyer who will guide you through a process of discovery in which they learn about your family dynamics, your assets, and they educate you about what would happen for your family and to your assets if and when something happens to you, and then support you in choosing the right plan for you that meets your budget and your desired outcomes.


Our process for your planning begins with a Family Wealth Planning Session, in which we educate you about the law and you educate us about your family dynamics and assets, and then you choose the right plan, at the right cost, for the people you love.


2. How will you respond to my needs on an ongoing basis?

One of the biggest complaints people have about working with lawyers is that they are notoriously unresponsive. Indeed, I’ve heard of cases in which clients went weeks without getting a call back from their lawyer. This is all too common, but totally unacceptable, especially when you’re paying them big bucks.


That said, in most cases, these lawyers aren’t blowing you off—they simply don’t have enough support or the systems in place to be able to be responsive. Far too many lawyers believe they can take care of everything themselves. From paperwork and client meetings to scheduling and returning phone calls to connecting their clients with other advisors, there are just too many responsibilities for one person to manage all on their own.


The truth is, if a lawyer is a complete solo practitioner without support or works for a firm that doesn’t provide adequate support, sooner or later, they are almost certain to become overwhelmed and unresponsive. Given this, it’s vital that you ask your lawyer about how they will respond to your needs if you decide to become their client.


Ask them how quickly calls are typically returned in their office, ask them if there will be someone on-hand to answer quick questions, and ask them how they will support you to keep your plan up to date on an ongoing basis and be there for your loved one’s when you can’t be.


What you want is for the person who answers the phone—or another team member—to offer to help you. And if that individual cannot help you, then he or she should schedule a call for you to talk with your lawyer at a future date and time.


Your lawyer simply can’t be effective or efficient if he or she is taking every call that comes through. Ideally, all calls to your lawyer should be pre-scheduled with a clear agenda, so you both can be ready to focus on your specific needs.


Next week in part two, we’ll talk more about the ways in which your attorney should communicate with you and list the remaining three questions to ask before hiring your estate planning lawyer.


This article is a service of  Matt Frick, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. 

4 Reasons Why You Can’t Afford to Go Without An Estate Plan

When it comes to putting off or refusing to create an estate plan, your mind can concoct all sorts of rationalizations: “I won’t care because I’ll be dead,” “I’m too young,” “That won’t happen to me,” or “My family will know what to do.”


But these thoughts all come from a mix of pride, denial, and above all, a lack of real education about estate planning and the consequences to your family of not planning. Once you understand exactly how planning is designed to work and what it protects against, you’ll realize there is no acceptable excuse for not having a plan.


Indeed, the first step in creating a proper plan is to thoroughly understand the potential consequences of going without one. In the event of your death or incapacity, not having a plan could be incredibly traumatic and costly for both you and your family, who will be forced to deal with the mess you’ve left behind.


While each estate and family are unique, here are some of the things most likely to happen to you and your loved ones if you fail to create a plan.


1. Your family will have to go to court

If you don’t have a plan, or if you only have a will (yes, even with a will), you’re forcing your family to go through probate upon your death. Probate is the legal process for settling your estate, and even if you have a will, it’s notoriously slow, costly, and public. But with no plan at all, probate can be a true nightmare for your loved ones.


Depending on the complexity of your estate, probate can take months, or even years, to complete. And like most court proceedings, probate can be expensive. In fact, once all of your debts, taxes, and court fees have been paid, there might be nothing left for anyone to inherit. And if there are any assets left, your family will likely have to pay hefty attorney’s fees and court costs in order to claim them.


Yet, the most burdensome part of probate is the frustration and anxiety it can cause your loved ones. In addition to grieving your death, planning your funeral, and contacting everyone you’re close with, your family will be stuck dealing with a crowded court system that can be challenging to navigate even in the best of circumstances. Plus, the entire affair is open to the public, which can make things all the more arduous for those you leave behind, especially if the wrong people take an interest in your family’s affairs.


That said, the expense and drama of the court system can be almost totally avoided with proper planning. Using a trust, for example, we can ensure that your assets pass directly to your family upon your death, without the need for any court intervention. As long as you have planned properly, just about everything can happen in the privacy of our office and on your family’s time.


2. You have no control over who inherits your assets

If you die without a plan, the court will decide who inherits your assets, and this can lead to all sorts of problems. Who is entitled to your property is determined by our state’s intestate succession laws, which hinge largely upon whether you are married and if you have children.


Spouses and children are given top priority, followed by your other closest living family members. If you’re single with no children, your assets typically go to your parents and siblings, and then more distant relatives if you have no living parents or siblings. If no living relatives can be located, your assets go to the state.


But you can change all of this with a plan and ensure your assets pass the way you want.

It’s important to note that state intestacy laws only apply to blood relatives, so unmarried partners and/or close friends would get nothing. If you want someone outside of your family to inherit your property, having a plan is an absolute must.


If you’re married with children and die with no plan, it might seem like things would go fairly smoothly, but that’s not always the case. If you’re married but have children from a previous relationship, for example, the court could give everything to your spouse and leave your children out. In another instance, you might be estranged from your kids or not trust them with money, but without a plan, state law controls who gets your assets, not you.


Moreover, dying without a plan could also cause your surviving family members to get into an ugly court battle over who has the most right to your property. Or if you become incapacitated, your loved ones could even get into conflict over your medical care. You may think this would never happen to your loved ones, but we see families torn apart by it all the time, even when there’s little financial wealth involved.


We can help you create a plan that handles your assets and your care in the exact manner you wish, taking into account all of your family dynamics, so your death or incapacity won’t be any more painful or expensive for your family than it needs to be.


3. You have no control over your medical, financial, or legal decisions in the event of your incapacity

Most people assume estate planning only comes into play when they die, but that’s dead wrong—pun fully intended. Although planning for your eventual death is a big part of the process, it’s just as important—if not more so—to plan for your potential incapacity due to accident or illness.


If you become incapacitated and have no plan in place, your family would have to petition the court to appoint a guardian or conservator to manage your affairs. This process can be extremely costly, time consuming, and traumatic for everyone involved. In fact, incapacity can be a much greater burden for your loved ones than your death.


We, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, can help you put planning vehicles in place that grant the person(s) of your choice the immediate authority to make your medical, financial, and legal decisions for you in the event of your incapacity. We can also implement planning strategies that provide specific guidelines detailing how you want your medical care to be managed, including critical end-of-life decisions.


4. You have no control over who will raise your children

If you’re the parent of minor children, the most devastating consequence of having no estate plan is what could happen to your kids in the event of your death or incapacity. Without a plan in place naming legal guardians for your kids, it will be left for a judge to decide who cares for your children. And this could cause major heartbreak not only for your children, but for your entire family.


You’d like to think that a judge would select the best person to care for your kids, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Indeed, the judge could pick someone from your family you’d never want to raise them to adulthood. And if you don’t have any family, or the family you do have is deemed unfit, your children could be raised by total strangers.


What’s more, if you have several relatives who want to care for your kids, they could end up fighting one another in court over who gets custody. This can get extremely ugly, as otherwise well-meaning family members fight one another for years, making their lawyers wealthy, while your kids are stuck in the middle.


With this in mind, if you have minor children, your number-one planning priority should be naming legal guardians to care for your children if anything should happen to you. This is so critical, we’ve developed a comprehensive system called the Kids Protection Plan® that guides you step-by-step through the process of creating the legal documents naming these guardians.


Naming legal guardians won’t keep your family out of court, as a judge is always required to finalize the legal naming of guardians in the event of death or incapacity of parents. But if it’s important to you who raises your kids if you can’t, you need to give the judge clear direction.


On top of that, you need to take action to keep your kids out of the care of strangers over the immediate term, while the authorities figure out what to do if you’re incapacitated or dead. We handle that in a Kids Protection Plan®, too.


You can get this process started right now for free by visiting our user-friendly website: lakecountry.kidsprotectionplan.com/


No more excuses


Given the potentially dire consequences for both you and your family, you can’t afford to put off creating your estate plan any longer. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we will guide you step-by-step through the planning process to ensure you’ve taken all the proper precautions to spare your loved ones from needless frustration, conflict, and expense.


That said, the biggest benefit you stand to gain from putting a plan in place is the peace of mind that comes from knowing your loved ones will be provided and cared for no matter what happens to you. Don’t wait another day—contact us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to schedule an appointment, so you can finally check this urgent task off your to-do list.


This article is a service of Matt Frick, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. 

6 Things You Should NOT Include In Your Will

A will is one of the most basic estate planning tools. While relying solely on a will is rarely a suitable option for most people, just about every estate plan includes this key document in one form or another.


A will is used to designate how you want your assets distributed to your surviving loved ones upon your death. If you die without a will, state law governs how your assets are distributed, which may or may not be in line with your wishes.


That said, not all assets can (or should) be included in your will. For this reason, it’s important for you to understand which assets you should put in your will and which assets you should include in other planning documents like trusts.


While you should always consult with an experienced planning professional like us when creating your will, here are a few of the different types of assets that should not be included in your will.


1. Assets with a right of survivorship: A will only covers assets solely owned in your name. Therefore, property held in joint tenancy, tenancy by the entirety, and community property with the right of survivorship, bypass your will. These types of assets automatically pass to the surviving co-owner(s) when you die, so leaving your share to someone else in your will would have no effect. If you want someone other than your co-owner to receive your share of the asset upon your death, you will need to change title to the asset as part of your estate planning process.


2. Assets held in a trust: Assets held by a trust automatically pass to the named beneficiary upon your death or incapacity and cannot be passed through your will. This includes assets held by both revocable “living” trusts and irrevocable trusts.

In contrast, assets included in a will must first pass through the court process known as probate before they can be transferred to the intended beneficiaries. To avoid the time, expense, and potential conflict associated with probate, trusts are typically a more effective way to pass assets to your loved ones compared to wills.


However, because it can be difficult to transfer all of your assets into a trust before your death, even if your plan includes a trust, you’ll still need to create what’s known as a “pour-over” will. With a pour-over will in place, all assets not held by the trust upon your death are transferred, or “poured,” into your trust through the probate process.


Meet with us for guidance on the most suitable planning tools and strategies for passing your assets to your loved ones in the event of your death or incapacity.


3. Assets with a designated beneficiary: Several different types of assets allow you to name a beneficiary to inherit the asset upon your death. In these cases, when you die, the asset passes directly to the individual, organization, or institution you designated as beneficiary, without the need for any additional planning.

The following are some of the most common assets with beneficiary designations, and therefore, such assets should not be included in your will unless your own estate is the designated beneficiary:


● Retirement accounts, IRAs, 401(k)s, and pensions

● Life insurance or annuity proceeds

● Payable-on-death bank accounts

● Transfer-on-death property, such as bonds, stocks, vehicles, and real estate


4. Certain types of digital assets: Given the unique nature of digital assets, you’ll need to make special plans for your digital assets outside of your will. Indeed, a will may not be the best option for passing certain digital assets to your heirs. And in some cases—including Kindle e-books and iTunes music files—it may not even be legally possible to transfer the asset via a will, because you never actually owned the asset in the first place—you merely owned a license to use it.


What’s more, some types of social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, have special functions that allow you to grant certain individuals access and/or control of your account upon your death, so a will wouldn’t be of any use. Always check the terms of service for the company’s specific guidelines for managing your account upon your death.


Regardless of the type of digital asset involved, NEVER include the account numbers, logins, or passwords in your will, which becomes public record upon your death and can be easily read by others. Instead, keep this information in a separate, secure location, and provide your fiduciary with instructions about how to access it.


For more information on transferring ownership of your digital assets upon your death, read 5 Steps to Adding Digital Assets To Your Estate Plan and What Happens To Your Facebook Account When You Die? From there, meet with us for more detailed guidance and support with properly including digital assets in your plan.


5. Your pet and money for its care: Because animals are considered personal property under the law, you cannot name a pet as a beneficiary in your will. If you do, whatever money you leave it would go to your residuary beneficiary (the individual who gets everything not specifically left to your other named beneficiaries), who would have no obligation to care for your pet.


It’s also not a good idea to use your will to leave your pet and money for its care to a future caregiver. That’s because the person you name as beneficiary would have no legal obligation to use the funds to care for your pet. In fact, your pet’s new owner could legally keep all of the money and drop off your furry friend at the local shelter.


The best way to ensure your pet gets the love and attention it deserves following your death or incapacity is by creating a pet trust. We can help you set up, fund, and maintain such a trust, so your furry family member will be properly cared for when you're gone.


6. Money for the care of a person with special needs: There are a number of unique considerations that must be taken into account when planning for the care of an individual with special needs. In fact, you can easily disqualify someone with special needs for much-needed government benefits if you don’t use the proper planning strategies. To this end, a will is not a suitable way to pass on money for the care of a person with special needs.


If you want to provide for the care of your child or another loved one with special needs, you must create a special needs trust. However, such trusts are complicated, and the laws governing them can vary greatly between states.


Given this, you should always work with an experienced planning lawyer like us to create a special needs trust. We can make certain that upon your death, the individual would have the financial means they need to live a full life, without jeopardizing their access to government benefits.


Don’t take any chances


Although creating a will may seem fairly simple, it’s always best to consult with an experienced planning professional to ensure the document is properly created, executed, and maintained. And as we’ve seen here, there are also many scenarios in which a will won’t be the right planning option, nor would a will keep your family and assets out of court.

With this in mind, you should meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to discuss your specific planning needs, so we can find the right combination of planning solutions to ensure your loved ones are protected and provided for no matter what. Schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session™ today to get started.


This article is a service of Matt Frick, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. 

Getting Divorced? Don’t Overlook These 4 Updates to Your Estate Plan—Part 2

Going through divorce can be an overwhelming experience that impacts nearly every facet of your life, including estate planning. Yet, with so much to deal with during the divorce process, many people forget to update their plan or put it off until it’s too late.


Failing to update your plan before, during, and after your divorce can have a number of potentially tragic consequences, some of which you’ve likely not considered—and in most cases, you can’t rely on your divorce lawyer to bring them up. If you are in the midst of a divorce, and your divorce lawyer has not brought up estate planning, there are several things you need to know. First off, you need to update your estate plan, not only after your divorce is final, but as soon as you know a split is inevitable.


Here’s why: until your divorce is final, your marriage is legally in full effect. This means if you die or become incapacitated while your divorce is ongoing and haven’t updated your estate plan, your soon-to-be ex-spouse could end up with complete control over your life and assets. And that’s generally not a good idea, nor what you would want.


Given that you’re ending the relationship, you probably wouldn’t want him or her having that much power, and if that’s the case, you must take action. While state laws can limit your ability to make certain changes to your estate plan once your divorce has been filed, there are a handful of important updates you should consider making as soon as divorce is on the horizon.


Last week in part one, we discussed the first two changes you should make to your plan: updating your beneficiary designations and power of attorney documents. Here in part two, we’ll cover the final updates to consider.


3. Create a new will

Creating a new will is not something that can wait until after your divorce. In fact, you should create a new will as soon as you decide to get divorced, since once divorce papers are filed, you may not be able to change your will. And because most married couples name each other as their executor and the beneficiary of their estate, it’s important to name a new person to fill these roles as well.


When creating a new will, rethink how you want your assets divided upon your death. This most likely means naming new beneficiaries for any assets that you’d previously left to your future ex and his or her family. Keep in mind that some states have community-property laws that entitle your surviving spouse to a certain percentage of the marital estate upon your death, no matter what your will dictates. So if you die before the divorce is final, you probably won’t be able to entirely disinherit your surviving spouse through the new will.


Yet, it’s almost certain you wouldn’t want him or her to get everything. With this in mind, you should create your new will as soon as possible once divorce is inevitable to ensure the proper individuals inherit the remaining percentage of your estate should you pass away while your divorce is still ongoing.


Should you choose not to create a new will during the divorce process, don’t assume that your old will is automatically revoked once the divorce is final. State laws vary widely in regards to how divorce affects a will. In some states, your will is revoked by default upon divorce. In others, unless it’s officially revoked, your entire will —including all provisions benefiting your ex— remains valid even after the divorce is final.


With such diverse laws, it’s vital to consult with us as soon as you know divorce is coming. We can help you understand our state’s laws and how to best navigate them when creating your new will—whether you do so before or after your divorce is complete.


4. Amend your existing trust or create a new one

If you have a revocable living trust set up, you’ll want to review and update it, too. Like wills, the laws governing if, when, and how you can alter a trust during a divorce can vary, so you should consult us as soon as possible if you are considering divorce. In addition to reconsidering what assets your soon-to-be-ex spouse should receive through the trust, you’ll probably want to replace him or her as successor trustee, if they are so designated.


And if you don’t have a trust in place, you should seriously consider creating one, especially if you have minor children. Trusts provide a wide range of powers and benefits unavailable through a will, and they’re particularly well-suited for blended families. Given the likelihood that both you and your spouse will eventually get remarried—and perhaps have more children—trusts are an invaluable way to protect and manage the assets you want your children to inherit.


By using a trust, for example, should you die or become incapacitated while your kids are minors, you can name someone of your choosing to serve as successor trustee to manage their money until they reach adulthood, making it impossible for your ex to meddle with their inheritance.


Beyond this key benefit, trusts afford you several other levels of enhanced protection and control not possible with a will. For this reason, you should at least discuss creating a trust with an experienced lawyer like us before ruling out the option entirely.


Post-divorce planning

During the divorce process, your primary planning goal is limiting your soon-to-be ex’s control over your life and assets should you die or become incapacitated before divorce is final. In light of this, the individuals to whom you grant power of attorney, name as trustee, designate to receive your 401k, or add to your plan in any other way while the divorce is ongoing are often just temporary.

Once your divorce is final and your marital property has been divided up, you should revisit all of your planning documents and update them based on your new asset profile and living situation. From there, your plan should continuously evolve as your life changes, especially following major life events, such as getting remarried, having additional children, and when close family members pass away.


Get started now

Going through a divorce is never easy, but it’s vital that you make the time to update your estate plan during this trying time. Meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to review your plan immediately upon realizing that divorce is unavoidable, and then schedule a follow-up visit once your divorce is finalized.


Putting off updating your plan, even for a few days, as you are in the process of a divorce can make it legally impossible to change certain parts of your plan, so act now. And if you’ve yet to create any estate plan at all, an upcoming divorce is the perfect time to finally take care of this vital responsibility. Contact us today to learn more.


This article is a service of Matt Frick, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. 


Getting Divorced? Don’t Overlook These 4 Updates to Your Estate Plan—Part 1

November 12, 2020

Going through divorce can be an overwhelming experience that impacts nearly every facet of your life, including estate planning. Yet, with so much to deal with during the divorce process, many people forget to update their plan or put it off until it’s too late.

Failing to update your plan for divorce can have a number of potentially tragic consequences, some of which you’ve likely not considered—and in most cases, you can’t rely on your divorce lawyer to bring them up. If you are in the midst of a divorce, and your divorce lawyer has not brought up estate planning, there are several things you need to know. 


First off, you need to update your estate plan, not only after your divorce is final, but as soon as you know a split is inevitable. Here’s why: until your divorce is final, your marriage is legally in full effect. This means if you die or become incapacitated while your divorce is ongoing and haven’t updated your estate plan, your soon-to-be ex-spouse could end up with complete control over your life and assets. And that’s generally not a good idea, nor what you would want.

Given that you’re ending the relationship, you probably wouldn’t want him or her having that much power, and if that’s the case, you must take action. While state laws can limit your ability to make certain changes to your estate plan once your divorce has been filed, here are a few of the most important updates you should consider making as soon as divorce is on the horizon.


1. Update your power of attorney documents

If you were to become incapacitated by illness or injury during your divorce, the very person you are paying big money to legally remove from your life would be granted complete authority over all of your legal, financial, and medical decisions. Given this, it’s vital that you update your power of attorney documents as soon as you know divorce is coming.

Your estate plan should include both a durable financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney. A durable financial power of attorney allows you to grant an individual of your choice the legal authority to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf should you become unable to make such decisions for yourself. Similarly, a medical power of attorney grants someone the legal authority to make your healthcare decisions in the event of your incapacity.

Without such planning documents in place, your spouse has priority to make financial and legal decisions for you. And since most people typically name their spouse as their decision maker in these documents, it’s critical to take action—even before you begin the divorce process—and grant this authority to someone else, especially if things are anything less than amicable between the two of you.

Once divorce is a sure thing, don’t wait—immediately contact us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to support you in getting these documents updated. We recommend you don’t rely on your divorce lawyer to update these documents for you, unless he or she is an expert in estate planning, as there can be many details in these documents that can be overlooked by a lawyer using a standard form, rather than the documents we will prepare for you.


2. Update your beneficiary designations

As soon as you know you are getting divorced, update beneficiary designations for assets that do not pass through a will or trust, such as bank accounts, life insurance policies, and retirement plans. Failing to change your beneficiaries can cause serious trouble down the road.

For example, if you get remarried following your divorce, but haven’t changed the beneficiary of your 401(k) plan to name your new spouse, the ex you divorced 15 years ago could end up with your retirement account upon your death. And due to restrictions on changing beneficiary designations after a divorce is filed, the timing of your beneficiary change is particularly critical.

In most states, once either spouse files divorce papers with the court, neither party can legally change their beneficiaries without the other’s permission until the divorce is final. With this in mind, if you’re anticipating a divorce, you may want to consider changing your beneficiaries prior to filing divorce papers, and then post-divorce you can always change them again to match whatever is determined in the divorce settlement.

If your divorce is already filed, consult with us and your divorce lawyer to see if changing beneficiaries is legal in your state—and also whether it’s in your best interest. Finally, if naming new beneficiaries is not an option for you now, once the divorce is finalized it should be your number-one priority. In fact, put it on your to-do list right now!

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the estate-planning updates you should make when getting divorced.


This article is a service of  Matt Frick, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. 

Will Your Estate Plan Actually Work When Your Family Needs It?

November 6, 2020


November 6, 2020 is “National Love Your Lawyer Day,” which started in 2001 as a way to celebrate lawyers for their positive contributions and encourage the public to view lawyers in a more favorable light... because we need the help. 


As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’re dedicated to improving the public’s perception of lawyers by offering family-centered legal services specifically tailored to provide our clients with the kind of love, attention, and trust we’d want for our own loved ones. With that in mind, this post gives some insight into how this vision for a new law business model first came about.


If you’re like most people, you likely think estate planning is just one more task to check off of your life’s endless “to-do” list.

You may shop around and find a lawyer to create planning documents for you, or you might try creating your own DIY plan using online documents. Then, you’ll put those documents into a drawer, mentally check estate planning off your to-do list, and forget about them.


The problem is, estate planning is not a one-and-done type of deal.

In fact, if it’s not regularly updated when your assets, family situation, and the laws change, your plan will be worthless. What’s more, failing to update your plan can create its own set of problems that can leave your family worse off than if you’d never created a plan at all.


The following true story illustrates the consequences of not updating your plan, and it happened to a mentor of mine. Indeed, this experience was one of the leading catalysts for her to create the new, family-centered model of estate planning we use with all of our clients.


A game-changing realization: When Ali was in law school, her father-in-law died. He’d done his estate planning—or at least thought he had. He paid a Florida law firm roughly $3000 to prepare an estate plan for him, so his family wouldn’t be stuck dealing with the hassles and expense of probate court or drawn into needless conflict with his ex-wife.


And yet, after his death, that’s exactly what did happen. His family was forced to go to court in order to claim assets that were supposed to pass directly to them. And on top of that, they had to deal with his ex-wife and her attorneys in the process.


Ali couldn’t understand it. If her father-in-law paid $3,000 for an estate plan, why were his loved ones dealing with the court and his ex-wife? It turned out that not only had his planning documents not been updated, but his assets were not even properly titled.


Ali’s father-in-law created a trust, so that when he died, his assets would pass directly to his family, and they wouldn’t have to endure probate. But some of his assets had never been transferred into the name of his trust from the beginning. And since there was no updated inventory of his assets, there was no way for his family to even confirm everything he had when he died. To this day, one of his accounts is still stuck in the Florida Department of Unclaimed Property.


Ali thought for sure this must be malpractice. But after working for one of the best law firms in the country and interviewing other top estate-planning lawyers across the country, she confirmed what happened to her father-in-law wasn’t malpractice at all. In fact, it was common practice.


This inspired Ali to take action. When she started her own law firm, she did so with the intention and commitment that she would ensure her clients’ plans would work when their families needed it and create a service model built around that mission.


Will your plan work when your family needs it?

We hear similar stories from our clients all the time. In fact, outside of not creating any plan at all, one of the most common planning mistakes we encounter is when we get called by the loved ones of someone who has become incapacitated or died with a plan that no longer works. Yet by that point, it’s too late, and the loved ones left behind are forced to deal with the aftermath.


We recommend you review your plan annually to make sure it’s up to date, and immediately amend your plan following events like divorce, deaths, births, and inheritances. This is so important, we’ve created proprietary systems designed to ensure these updates are made for all of our clients, so you don’t need to worry about whether you’ve overlooked anything as your family, the law, and your assets change over time.


Furthermore, because your plan is designed to protect and provide for your loved ones in the event of your death or incapacity, we aren’t just here to serve you—we’re here to serve your entire family. We take the time to get to know your family members and include them in the planning process, so everyone affected by your plan is well-aware of what your latest planning strategies are and why you made the choices you did.


Unfortunately, many estate planning firms do not engage with the whole family when creating estate plans, leaving the spouse and other loved ones largely out of the loop. We believe the planning process works best when all of your loved ones are educated and engaged. We can even facilitate regular family meetings to keep everyone up-to-date.


Built-in systems to keep your plan current

Our legal services are designed to make estate planning as streamlined and worry-free as possible for both you and your family. Unlike the lawyers who worked with Ali’s father-in-law, we don’t just create legal documents and put the onus on you to ensure they stay updated and function as intended—we take care of that on our end.


For example, our built-in systems and processes would’ve prevented two of the biggest mistakes made by the lawyers who created her father-in-law’s plan. These mistakes include: 1) not keeping his assets properly inventoried, and 2) not properly titling assets held by his trust.


Maintaining a regularly updated inventory of all your assets is one of the most vital parts of keeping your plan current. We’ll not only help you create a comprehensive asset inventory; we’ll make sure the inventory stays consistently updated throughout your lifetime. In fact, we’ve even created a unique (and totally FREE) tool called a Personal Resource Map to help you get the inventory process started right now, by yourself, without the need for a lawyer.


To learn more, visit PersonalResourceMap.com and start creating an inventory of everything you own to ensure your loved one’s know what you have, where it is, and how to access it if something happens to you. From there, meet with us to incorporate your inventory into a comprehensive set of planning strategies that we’ll keep updated throughout your lifetime.


As to properly titling assets held by a trust, when you create a trust, it’s not enough to list the assets you want it to cover. You have to transfer the legal title of certain assets—real estate, bank accounts, securities, brokerage accounts—to the trust, known as “funding” the trust, in order for them to be disbursed properly.


While most lawyers will create a trust for you, few will ensure your assets are properly funded. We’ll not only make sure your assets are properly titled when you initially create your trust, we’ll also ensure that any new assets you acquire over the course of your life are inventoried and properly funded to your trust. This will keep your assets from being lost, as well as prevent your family from being inadvertently forced into court because your plan was never fully completed.


For the love of your family

With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, our planning services go far beyond simply creating documents and then never seeing you again. In fact, we’ll develop a relationship with your family that lasts not only for your lifetime, but for the lifetime of your children and their children, if that’s your wish.


We’ll support you in not only creating a plan that keeps your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your death or incapacity, but we’ll also ensure your plan is regularly updated to make certain that it works and is there for your family when you cannot be. Contact us today to get started.


This article is a service of  Matt Frick, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. 

6 Changes to Watch For In Your 2020 Taxes

November  1, 2020


Although you may have just filed your 2019 income taxes in July, now is the time to start thinking about your 2020 return due next April. While it’s always a good idea to be proactive when it comes to tax planning, it’s particularly important this year.


In addition to annual updates for inflation, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides individual taxpayers with several new tax breaks, most of which will only be available this year. The sooner you learn about the different forms of tax-savings available, the more time you will have to take advantage of them.


Here are 6 ways your 2020 return will differ from prior years, and for your benefit:


1. Waived RMDs

You are typically required to take an annual required minimum distribution (RMD) from your IRA, 401(k), or other tax-deferred retirement account starting in the year when you turn 72, but the CARES Act temporarily waived the RMD requirement for 2020. The waiver also applies if you reached age 70½ in 2019, but waited to take your first RMD until 2020, as allowed under the SECURE Act.


RMDs generally count as taxable income, so taking this waiver means that you may have lower taxable income in 2020 and therefore owe less income taxes for 2020.


However, there are a number of factors to consider, including the state of the market and your living expenses, when deciding whether or not to waive your RMDs. Given this, consult with us or your tax professional before making your final decision.


2. Higher standard deduction

If you do not itemize deductions, you can use the standard deduction to reduce your taxable income. Trump’s tax reform legislation nearly doubled the standard deduction starting in 2018, and it has increased even more for inflation since then. For 2020, the new standard deduction amounts include the following:

● $12,400 for single filers

● $24,800 for those who are married filing jointly

● $18,650 for people filing as a head of household


3. Higher contribution limits for certain retirement accounts

Depending on the type of retirement account you are invested in, the maximum amount you can contribute may have increased this year. The contribution limit for a 401(k) or similar workplace-retirement plan has increased from $19,000 in 2019 to $19,500 in 2020. If you are 50 or older in 2020, the 401(k) catch-up contribution limit is $6,500, up from $6,000.


On the other hand, the amount you can contribute to a traditional IRA remains the same for 2020: $6,000, with a $1,000 catch-up limit if you’re 50 or older. However, if you made too much money to contribute to a Roth IRA last year, the maximum income limits for contributing to a Roth have increased, so you may be able to contribute in 2020.


In 2020, eligibility to contribute to a Roth IRA starts to phase out at $124,000 for single filers and $196,000 for married couples filing jointly. Those phase-out limits are up from 2019, which started at $122,000 for single individuals and $193,000 for married couples.


4. New charitable deduction

In most years, you are only able to deduct charitable donations on your income tax return when you itemize deductions. However, the CARES Act included a provision to allow everyone to claim up to a $300 “above-the-line” deduction for charitable contributions even if you take the standard deduction in 2020. This change was designed to encourage people to donate money to charity to help with COVID-19 relief efforts.


5. Adoption credit changes

If you adopted a child this year, you can claim a higher tax credit on your 2020 return to cover your adoption-related expenses such as adoption fees, court and attorney costs, and travel expenses. The maximum credit amount for 2020 is $14,300, which is a small increase from last year.


6. New rules for early withdrawals from retirement accounts

If your finances were seriously impacted by the coronavirus, you may be in dire need of funds to cover your expenses. Thanks to new rules under the CARES Act, you now have more flexibility to make an emergency withdrawal from tax-deferred retirement accounts in 2020, without incurring the normal penalties.


Ordinarily, permanent withdrawals from traditional IRAs or 401(k) accounts are taxed at ordinary income rates in the year the funds were taken out. And pulling out money before age 59 1/2 would also typically cost you a 10% penalty.


But thanks to the CARES Act, you can avoid the 10% penalty (if under 59 1/2) on up to $100,000 in coronavirus-related distributions (CRDs) from your retirement account. You are also allowed to spread such distributions over three years to reduce the tax impact. Or better yet, you can opt to put this money back into your retirement account—also within three years—and avoid paying taxes on the money all together.


That said, emergency withdrawals are only available to those individuals with a valid COVID-19-related reason for early access to retirement funds. These reasons include:

● Being diagnosed with COVID-19

● Having a spouse or dependent diagnosed with COVID-19

● Experiencing a layoff, furlough, reduction in hours, or inability to work due to COVID-19 or lack of childcare due to COVID-19

● Have had a job offer rescinded or a job start date delayed due to COVID-19

● Experiencing adverse financial consequences due to an individual or the individual’s spouse’s finances being affected due to COVID-19

● Closing or reducing hours of a business owned or operated by an individual or their spouse due to COVID-19


Because early withdrawals can negatively impact your retirement savings down the road, if you are looking to take advantage of this provision, you should consult with us and your financial advisor first. Also note that employers are not required to participate in this provision of the CARES Act, so you’ll also need to check with your plan administrator to see if it’s available at your workplace.

Maximize tax-savings for 2020


While the deadline for filing your 2020 income taxes isn’t until April 15, 2021, with all of the new COVID-19 legislation, the earlier you start planning your taxes, the better. Consult with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, for support in clarifying how these new changes will affect your return and to implement strategies to maximize your tax savings for 2020 and beyond.


This article is a service of Matt Frick, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. 

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