Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

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Month: September 2018

6 Things You Can Do Now To Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s and Dementia When You’re Older

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

Alzheimer’s and dementia affect the families of many of our clients.  In the later stages, these debilitating diseases often lead to complete physical dependency and lack of awareness of surroundings. The dependency caused by the disease requires families to step in and take over for their ailing loved one.

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are on the rise in the U.S. The Alzheimer’s organization reports there are currently 5.7 million people suffering from these illnesses. They estimate that by 2050, more than 14 million people will suffer from these diseases.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s and it is hitting more people earlier and earlier in their lives and causing more and more families to devote their time and resources to caring for people suffering.

Luckily, studies are helping doctors understand behaviors that increase the risk of dementia.  With this knowledge, we can make choices in our own lives that will reduce our risk of developing the disease later in life.

(1) Control Blood Pressure

The World Alzheimer Report from 2014 discussed several studies that found people with high blood pressure had an increased risk of dementia. People with high blood pressure are also at an increased risk for stroke. Strokes cause the death of brain cells, which can also lead to Alzheimer’s.

How does this happen?  High blood pressure strains your arteries.  This makes the arteries’ walls stiffer and the passage for blood to flow through narrower. The stiffer, narrower walls restrict the amount of oxygen and essential nutrients that flow to your brain and damages your brain cells.

You may not notice if you have high blood pressure because it will not necessarily affect your day-to-day life.  Get your blood pressure checked every 5 years to make sure you are still on the right track.

Indicators for high blood pressure include being overweight, diets high in salt, excessive alcohol consumption, and smoking.

(2) Kick Those Butts

Smoking increases problems with your heart and blood vessels, which are linked to Alzheimer’s. Also, the toxins in cigarette smoke cause inflammation and oxidative stress, additional factors in Alzheimer’s.  According to the Alzheimer’s Society, smokers are 30 – 50% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than non-smokers.

Luckily, when smokers kick the habit, the increased risk factors are gone.

(3) Cut the Sugar

Columbia University studied the affects of sugar on dementia.  They found that people who used more than 2 1/2 teaspoons per day in their foods or drinks were 54% more likely to get dementia than those who didn’t.

For those who enjoyed more than half a can of soda each day, there was a 47% increase in the risk of developing dementia.

The study concluded that adding more than 30 grams (the equivalent of one can of soda) of sugar to your diet daily increases your risk of dementia by 33%.

When you increase your blood sugar, you are also increasing your risk for diabetes. Changes in glucose metabolism affect both diabetes and Alzheimer’s and can cause changes to your brain. Any excess sugar, whether from soda or fruit juice, can have the same affect.

(4) Protect Your Head

When people get hit in the head constantly, it can cause mini strokes, and strokes increase your risk of dementia. Repeated hits to the head can cause the central nervous system to become inflamed and lead to tau buildup- a protein that can cause memory loss, aggressive behavior, confusion, depression, and dementia.

Keep your head protected if you do contact sports.  If you do get a severe hit to the head, seek medical attention.  Follow your doctor’s advice about when to return to the sport.

(5) Exercise

A Cardiff University study found that exercising greatly reduces the risk of dementia. The study found that participants who developed 4 out of 5 healthy behaviors- exercising regularly, quitting smoking, keeping a healthy weight, and drinking little alcohol- reduced their risk of developing dementia by 60%.

As a bonus, adopting the healthier lifestyle reduced the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke by 70% over those who did not have any of the studied healthy behaviors.

Exercise caused a greater reduction of health risks than any other single factor. When reviewing clinical trials, the Alzheimer’s Society found one month of regular exercise- just 20 – 30 minutes, several times per week- improved processing speed, attention, and memory in participants.

(6) Exercise Your Brain

Keeping you brain active regularly increases your brain health.  Studies found bi-lingual people developed dementia more than 4 years later than people who only knew one language. In addition, playing an instrument lowers your risk of dementia by 36%.

If language or music aren’t your forte, doctors suggest counting backward from 100 in 2s,3s, or 4s, while doing something else, such as tapping your hand on your thigh. You can also exercise your brain with problems at work or crossword puzzles.


3 Estate Planning Tips for Families with Businesses

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

Estate planning helps families preserve their assets and make sure they go to the right people at the right time if a family member dies or is unable to care for themselves. Estate planning can include a variety of documents and roadmaps to reach each individual’s planning goals.

Though estate planning is important for everyone, business owners face unique challenges when it comes to protecting their families and businesses if something happens to the owner. If you are a business owner, make a plan for your business to help your family.

(1) Pre-Plan

Entrepreneurs require more complex planning than their employee counterparts.  Not only do business owners have to plan for what happens to their families and things when they die, they also have to plan for their business.  As a responsible family member and business owner there are several items you want to consider to properly protect your business and family.

Disability Insurance

Disability insurance can replace your income if you become disabled due to illness or injury.  Call an insurance agent to find out how you can sign up and make sure you can still pay the bills if you become disabled.

Life Insurance

What would your family do if they lost your income?  Could they survive month-to-month?  If not, and let’s be honest, the answer is usually not, how much would your family need to pay the mortgage/rent, buy food, clothe themselves, and pay for utilities if you weren’t contributing? You need enough to cover those costs and add some extra cushion to help them get back on their feet after your death.

You will also want to consider life insurance to help keep the business alive while your family grieves.  Family members may not be educated in your business and may have to hire outside help or sell your business once you’re gone.  Consider the costs that will come with that and get life insurance to cover them.

Finding a Successor

You need to find someone who can take over if something happens to you.  If your family is involved in the business, figure out if anyone is interested in and capable of taking over. If you’re a solo entrepreneur, find someone to start grooming to take your place.

If you own your business with other people, think about how you would want your families to be bought out by your business partners and put it in your agreement.

(2) Document Your Plan

Though there are many places you can go to make these documents yourself, you will want and need the help of professionals.  This is not a place to cut corners. Sitting down with an actual person and talking through your plan will help you determine what documents and plan are best for you.

But, at minimum, you will need a will and/or trust, durable powers of attorney, healthcare directives, and proper beneficiary designations on your stocks, bonds, and other assets that allow such designations.

If you are in business with other people, I highly recommend a business agreement. This contract will discuss how/when owners can buy/sell their portions of the company and will discuss what happens when an owner is disabled or dies.  Without these documents, if owners disagree, courts will make these decisions for you.

(3) Talk About It

I understand that talking about death isn’t fun, but it is inevitable.  Talk to your family about your plan.  Tell them where they can find it if something happens to you.  Keep a list of passwords, accounts, assets, and debts in a safe place where they can access it when they need it.

Planning and thinking about the future without you in it can be difficult, but it is the best thing you can do for your family and business.


7 Tips to Plan for a Spouse’s Death

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

There are more than 20 million widowers currently living in the U.S.  That number grows each year by about 1.4 million, with women being 3 times more likely to lose their husbands than husbands are to lose their wives.

More than 75% of married retirees interviewed in a Merrill Lynch study admitted that they would not be financially prepared for retirement if they lost their spouse.  And more than 50% of people interviewed who lost their spouse said they did not have a plan in place for their spouse’s death.

Losing a spouse is not only emotionally difficult, there are financial burdens as well.  Most couples are two-earner families.  The death of a spouse immediately turns your family into a single-income family. Planning for the probability that one spouse will outlive the other is crucial to providing your family with security and comfort during an already heart-wrenching time.

How to Plan

(1) Know What Your Spouse Owns

Keep a list of all the assets you own jointly and individually.  For anything not owned jointly, explore the possibility of naming a beneficiary or “payable on death”  on the asset or placing the asset into a Trust that allows ownership to pass directly to your spouse after your death without needing to go to court for a probate.

(2) Have Cash Available

You need to have a plan in place that allows your partner to access money quickly to help keep the family afloat if something happens to you. Build up a savings account for emergencies, put life insurance policies and other accounts into place, and name your spouse jointly or as a beneficiary.

(3) Own Separate Credit Cards

This may help you deduct some debt when a spouse dies.  It will also help you more easily attribute debt to the right spouse.


When you are nearing retirement age, there are additional steps you can take:

(4) Social Security

Claim your benefits.  They have the potential to increase a surviving spouse’s own benefit.

(5) Joint and Survivor Annuities

If you choose to have an annuity, or have a pension, in your plan, consider a joint and survivor annuity. These kinds of annuities will provide income to a surviving spouse when the other spouse dies.

(6) Long-term Care

Consider purchasing long-term care insurance and making other plans for long-term care.  With the average costs of assisted living in the U.S. running about $4,000 per month and the average costs of nursing care running about $7,000 per month, long-term care needs can quickly drain your retirement savings. Without proper planning, a spouse can be left broke while struggling with their grief.

(7) Relationships

Stay in contact with family and friends.  When something happens to one of you, you or your spouse will need and want their emotional support.

The best way to show your love for your partner is to make a solid plan for your death.  Planning allows the partner to move forward with their emotional healing without the stress and complication of financial burdens.

Reach out to your team of trusted advisors today to start your financial and estate plan for your family!

7 Considerations for 529 Accounts for Multiple Children

By Sarah Stewart Legal Group, PLLC

A 529 Plan is a savings plan for families’ future educational expenses. There are limitations to the plan, as the money can only go to qualified educational expenses.

The plan allows parents who contribute to the plan to have tax benefits for their contributions.  The extent of the tax benefit depends on the state in which the family resides. Any funds contributed to the account can be taken out, tax-free, for qualified educational expenses for the child named as the beneficiary of the account.

Though historically, the disbursements were used for post K – 12 education, recently, tax laws were changed to allow states to permit use of the funds for K – 12 education.

The earlier families begin to contribute to their 529 plans, the greater the growth over their child’s childhood. If you haven’t established a plan for your children, and want your children to attend college, or fund other qualified educational experiences, start your plan today to take advantage of compounding interest.

But what if you have two children? Should you have a plan for each child? Here are some considerations to help you make that decision.

(1)  529 Plans Only Have One Beneficiary

The 529 plan is structured in such a way that you can only use the account for one person’s educational experiences at a time.  If you have children far enough apart in age that they won’t be using the fund at the same time, one fund may work.  However, if you have two or more children who would need to access funds during the same time period, you will want to have more than one account.

(2) Investment Options Based on Age

Many plans offer investment options that change as the child ages (generally becoming more conservative).  If you have more than one child you hope to use your plan for, you may need to reconsider this type of investment approach as it may not allow you the flexibility you need for two or more children of differing ages.

(3) Gift Contributions

529 plans allow friends and family members to contribute to the fund as a holiday or birthday gift for the child.  Having one account for more than one child can make gifting difficult.

(4) Children’s Contributions

As children age, they may decide to work to add to their fund.  If there is more than one child on the account, tracking contributions will be difficult.

(5) Gift Tax

Any contributions to a 529 plan are subject to the gift tax exemption.  Each year every individual has up to $15,000 they can gift to others without having to deduct that amount from their overall estate tax exemption. If there are two 529 accounts, with two beneficiaries, family and friends can count $30,000 in the exclusion instead of only $15,000 for one account. If you have wealthy family or friends who would like to contribute, consider how their contributions could fit into their estate plans.

(6) State Taxes

Many states allow a deduction for their 529 plans.  Some states even allow that deduction per each account.  Check your state’s laws to see if you can receive a tax break for having more than one 529 account.

(7) Life Changes

Life happens.  If you become divorced or die, the successor may not know the account was intended for more than one beneficiary. Additionally, when you go through a divorce, the Orders may state that the account can only be used for a named beneficiary.

If you started one account and want to break it up, don’t fret.  Open another account for the other beneficiary and rollover the funds. Rollovers for the same beneficiary or a qualified family member are not taxable.

Shop around to look for the state benefits that fit your situation best.  If you are looking to use the funds for K – 12 education, find a plan in a state that best suits your needs and consider having another account for education after 12th grade.

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