Wednesday, December 27, 2017

It's Okay for Traditions to Change

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Preventing Holiday Depression

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Greenhouses for Your Average Gardener

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Still Surprised After All These Years

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 6, 2017

Finding Peace of Mind in Planning Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 30, 2017


Jodi B., Paralegal
Today, I savored my cat's purr because it's magical and he smelled like autumn.
Today, I remembered to say I love you before my kids boarded the bus.
Today, I went to my daughter's award ceremony for her perfect 600 SOL score.
Today, I bought my kids a predinner snack of Cheetos Bag o' Bones. For giggles.
Today, I paused to enjoy the laughter of kids at the playground without pulling out my phone. 
Today, I hugged my kids and husband.
Today, I ate dessert first. Chocolate. Of course. 
Today, I took an extra-long hot shower because it felt good and it's been a long week. It's Tuesday. 
Today, I breathed in the breathtaking sunset before the world spun to delight another.

Today, I savored today.

And if Tomorrow becomes Today, I plan on a repeat.

Monday, October 23, 2017

National Estate Planning Awareness Week

Helena S. Mock, Esq.
In 2008, Congress designated the third week in October as National Estate Planning Awareness Week.  Over 55% of Americans do not have a proper estate plan in place, and this number increases for minorities.  Estate planning is important for adults of all ages, no matter your income level or how much you have to leave behind.  An estate plan is necessary to protect both yourself and your family in the event of illness, accident, incapacity, and death.  So, what is an “estate plan?”

An estate plan is a collection of legal documents which are created now, while you are healthy and competent, to ensure that people of your choosing are in place to make decisions and take action for you if you become incapacitated and, ultimately, at the time of your death.  A comprehensive estate plan will include the following documents:  A revocable trust and/or a will, a medical directive (also called a health care power of attorney), a durable power of attorney (sometimes referred to as a property power of attorney), a living will (optional), and a HIPAA declaration.  These documents work together to protect you during lifetime and then ensure your assets pass to whom you want, when you want, and in the way you want after your death.

Estate planning is for EVERYONE.  Not just the “older” client and not just the “wealthy” client. Young couples with children need to plan for what happens if both parents die before the children are adults.  Spouses with children from prior marriages need to plan for the protection of assets and division between the spouse and children.  Individuals with children or other beneficiaries who are disabled or who have other “special needs” must plan for protection of the assets if the beneficiary is receiving government assistance such as Medicaid or SSI. Children and grandchildren going off to college need to have at least a power of attorney, medical directive and HIPAA declaration so that if something happens, parents can step in without the need for a court guardianship.  Everyone needs some sort of estate plan in place, but that’s not the end of the story; once the plan is done, it should be regularly reviewed.

As important as establishing your estate plan is keeping your plan current.  Periodic reviews are a must to ensure your plan will work as intended when needed.  Family situations change, health situations change, assets change, and laws change.  As a result, we recommend a review every 5 years up to age 70, and thereafter every 3 years to ensure that the documents are always up to date.

One of the biggest reasons people either don’t establish an estate plan or don’t keep it current has to do with cost. The overwhelming consensus is that lawyers charge too much. No one says this about doctors because health insurance covers most of the cost of the services provided by the doctor. Without insurance, though, many people would, and in fact do, go without needed examinations, treatments, and medications because they just cost too much. But what are the consequences of these decisions?

Obviously, your health is of paramount importance, which is why most people can see the value in paying for medical services. But what value is found in paying for legal services, specifically paying for an estate plan? The value is found in the intangibles such as peace of mind, security in knowing your family will be protected, comfort in knowing that you will be taken care of by people of your own choosing, minimization of future expenses, taxes, and court costs, and relief in knowing that you have made things easier for your spouse or children to take care of things when you can’t.  As the commercials say, the value of these intangibles is “priceless.”

So, don’t be one of the over 55% of Americans going without an estate plan. If you don’t create a plan of your own, the Commonwealth of Virginia has a default plan for you, but it may not be what you want, or what your family needs.  Make it your goal to complete, or update your plan before the end of the year. You will be glad you did.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Why Mental Health Is Just as Important as Physical Health

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Teenage Perspective on Aging

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

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

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

Monday, September 25, 2017

Change is in the Air

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

Respect for the Aged Day

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 11, 2017

Generations of Concern

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

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

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Mechanics of Probate in Virginia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 21, 2017

Understanding Dementia

Helena S. Mock, Esq.

Most people confuse dementia with Alzheimer's Disease. Although Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia, it is not the only one. There are actually four different types of dementia: Alzheimer's Disease, Vascular Dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia, and Normal Pressure Hydrocephalous. However, just because a loved one is experiencing some memory loss doesn't mean he has dementia. Some memory loss is common with age. Dementia, however, is caused by damage to the brain cells which can occur from any number of things, such as a traumatic brain injury, head trauma, stroke, or disease, just to name a few.

Identifying the type of dementia will help determine the best care and treatment going forward.  Here are some of the warning signs to look for.

1.    With Alzheimer’s, the individual will have difficulty remembering recent conversations, names, or events. He will often also suffer from apathy or depression.  And, as the disease progresses, his ability to communicate becomes increasingly impaired.  Over time, the individual will also develop difficulty walking, speaking, and swallowing (which may eventually lead to death because of the inability to eat).

2.     With Vascular Dementia, the individual will have difficulty making decisions, planning, and organizing.  Judgment will also be impaired.  Unlike Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia doesn’t necessarily involve memory loss; it is more about loss of judgment and manifests itself in poor decision-making.  Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia and normally occurs after a stroke.

3.     With Frontotemporal Dementia, there is nerve cell loss in the temporal lobe.  It is most recognizable by a change in personality and/or behavior.  Some also experience an inability to remember simple language functions, and there may be changes in muscle memory or motor function as well.  An individual suffering from frontotemporal dementia might behave erratically or anger easily.  She also may “overreact” to small issues or minor inconveniences.

4.     With Normal Pressure Hydrocephalous, the person will have difficulty walking and balancing because it is caused by a build-up of fluid in the brain.  There is usually a decline in thinking skills or processing information and often loss of bladder control.  Caught early, this type of dementia may be reversible, or it may be possible to at least relieve some of the symptoms.  The symptoms are often confused with Alzheimer’s, though, so it is important to seek medical attention early.

One in three seniors will experience some form of dementia prior to death.  Diagnosis of the proper type of dementia is key to proper treatment, which, in many cases, can slow the progression of the disease.  A diagnosis of any type of dementia is a warning sign which indicates that the window of opportunity for long-term care planning will be closing.  It is time to meet with your estate planning or elder law attorney to ensure your estate plan, especially your medical and property powers of attorney, are up to date and to discuss options available to protect assets against the costs of long-term care.  After incompetency, your options are far more limited and become more complicated and costly.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Looking Forward to Retirement

Debra Pecor,
As the months tick by way too quickly, I am looking to retire before the end of this year.  I will only be 62, but I have been working since I was 16.  My passion then was to be a nurse and I did go to nursing school, graduated and got my LPN license.  I worked as an LPN but always third shift.  Then my husband joined the Army (he got laid off from his job four months before the birth of our first child).  At least being in the military, we knew we would have medical insurance to cover the medical expenses and off to Colorado we went.  (Okay there were stops along the way, but that’s for another day).   Our oldest son was born the day after I arrived in Colorado Springs….and my husband was still in Oklahoma.  He missed the whole thing.  He was there though when our second son was born.  My husband served 3 years active duty and then back to Vermont we went to do 4 years of National Guards, since we knew that his next duty station would probably be Germany.  This was in the 1970s, we were young and thought we couldn’t possibly go to another country.  I was terribly homesick while we were in Colorado and our children wouldn’t be around their grandparents, all kinds of excuses.  
            Now looking back, it seems like perhaps he should have stayed in.  I hear everyone talk about how they were stationed all over the world and the adventures they had.   I am sure we all have times when we look back and think “why did we do that?” or “why didn’t we do that?”  I don’t regret the decision we made because I still feel it was best for our family.  I wanted our children to grow up in the same town I did (even though others couldn’t wait to get out of there), to know their grandparents and spend time with them.  My sons were old enough to even have great-grandparents on my side of the family.  Those are memories that can never be replaced.  What does this have to do with retiring?  I hear and see so often in obituaries or through friends “oh he just retired a month ago” or “she was set to retire at the end of the month.”  I want to be sure that I have time with my husband, with my grandchildren, with my sisters.  My Mom passed away at the very early age of 70……..just 2 years after her 88 year old mother died.  Never expected that.  No one knows what a day will bring.  There is only one who knows the number of our days, but I want to make sure that I make those days count.  I expect I won’t just be sitting around!  But maybe all those craft supplies in my closet will be put to good use!! Well, I can hope!!

            Make sure your life is full of wonderful memories and no regrets!!

Monday, July 3, 2017

A New Era for the Augmented Estate Statute

Erin A. Smith, Esq.
This year, the Virginia Assembly adopted new rules with respect to Virginia’s augmented estate. The Augmented Estate Statue protects married couples from disinheriting each other by allowing the surviving spouse to make a claim against the decedent spouses’ estate for probate assets, non-probate assets, and even transfers of assets to third parties. These combined assets are considered the decedent’s augmented estate.
The philosophy behind the statute is that a spouse has a duty to support his or her spouse even at death. The changes in the statute modernize this view of statutory “support” in favor of a financial partnership theory. The amount that the spouse will receive depends on the number of years they were married.
Under the new law, the surviving spouse is still entitled to up to one half of the augmented estate, but what is considered the “marital share” depends on the duration of the parties’ marriage and ranges from 1.5% of the total augmented estate for a marriage of less than one year to a full 50% for a marriage of fifteen years or more.
There is a now a two-step process: the determination of the percentage of the marital-property portion which is dependent upon the number of years married, then, there’s a determination of the “elective share amount” which is always 50% of whatever that marital-property portion turns out to be.  
The new statute also clarifies that the surviving spouse making an elective share claim may also claim a homestead allowance of $20,000.00, which is to be paid to the spouse first after expenses are paid.
Domestic relations and estate planning often intersect. After a divorce in Virginia, in determining the amount and duration of spousal support, courts look at a number of statutory factors including the years of marriage. The duration of the marriage is one of the key factors considered.
In a previous blog, I explained why a pre-nuptial agreement is a wise choice because you can make the decision about the disposition of your property in the event of divorce or death. Otherwise, the laws of the Commonwealth will make that decision for you.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Birthday Reflection

Barbara Armstrong, Paralegal
I am celebrating my birthday this wonderful month of June.  When my mother was alive, she would always make me an angel food cake with Jiffy frosting and strawberries and bring me fresh gladiolas from her garden.  It didn’t matter how old my siblings and I got- “Mama” would make our day special.

I know that as we get older, I hear a lot of my friends say that they no longer celebrate their birthday or simply choose to ignore it.  I, on the other hand, embrace it!  If anything, it reminds me of how lucky I am to be here.  I have my health.  I have a great job.  I have a wonderful home.  I am blessed to have a wonderful husband who, for reasons only known to him, adores me.  I have three wonderful children, an awesome daughter-in-law, and three beautiful granddaughters.   

I am lucky to be working for a woman who has not only taught me and mentored me along the way over the last nine years, but who I also call a dear friend.  My co-workers are exceptional!  I could not ask for better people to work with.  We all respect each other, are there for each other when needed, laugh and cry together, and we genuinely love each other. 

Over the years, I have established friendships along the way, and although we may not be in touch as often as we would like, we know that if anyone needed us, we are only a call away.

I enjoy spending time with my husband and our beagle.  During the days that we can, we love sitting out on the deck enjoying nature and each other’s company.  Although we grow older, we never stop dreaming.   

So, for those who don’t celebrate birthdays anymore, I implore you to revisit that choice and enjoy that birthday.  Life is good. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

World Elder Abuse Day

Helena S. Mock, Esq. 
Did you know that there is a whole day dedicated to the issue of Elder Abuse?  I find this an extremely sad state of affairs that we, not just Americans, but all members of the world’s population feel the need to address issues of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of the elderly, which is a problem that is expanding exponentially within all societies.  It is estimated that each year over 5 million older adults are abused, neglected, or exploited.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) is June 15th.  WEAAD was launched in 2016 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations with a purpose of providing an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of the potential for abuse and neglect of older persons and to raise awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.

Last year, I had the privilege of being part of a workgroup established by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) pursuant to House Bill 676.  DARS was delegated the responsibility of evaluating the problems of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation within the Commonwealth and making recommendations to facilitate improvements.  Their report is published,aging, and is interesting, albeit sad, reading.  Upon review of state Adult Protective Services (APS) data compiled during fiscal year 2015, the records revealed Virginia victims lost an estimated $28,226,512 in that fiscal year alone.

As part of its mission, WEAAD provides information on recognizing and preventing abuse as well as protecting yourself from abuse.  Additional information can be obtained by visiting the University of Southern California’s Center on Elder Mistreatment at  Make a commitment to take some action this June 15th to help yourself or someone else, or even to just get more educated.  Every small step gets us closer to making the future brighter for all seniors.