Let's Get Cooking!

By: John W. Chang, Attorney

John Chang

If you think I'm referring to getting your estate plan done (or keeping it up to date), that's not exactly what I mean. I'm talking about learning to cook food (including you gentlemen reading this!). It's not difficult to do and can become a joy and passion, as it has for me.

It All Began Out of Necessity

I started cooking in eighth grade. My parents would periodically go back to see relatives in Taiwan and I basically had to fend for myself, as far as food. I stayed with my older sister and brother, but I didn't want to depend on them to eat. So one time, before my Mom left, I asked her how to cook some basic stuff, like scrambled eggs, and then started making, on my own, some grocery store food-in-a-box, like Rice-a-Roni!

Then it Was Boredom and Budget

Cooking didn't really develop into anything significant for me until college. There was lots of down time and us college kids watched a lot of cooking shows late at night when there wasn't anything else interesting. Plus we were all on a budget, so good restaurants were way beyond our reach. We started out doing "potlucks" together. I remember I was sort of famous for my chimichanga burrito. But I did have a few minor disasters along the way, so I learned to usually practice a dish a few times before cooking it for other people!

Fancy Restaurants Then Became The Inspiration

After college and then law school, I could afford to eat at more fancy restaurants. I began to think, "Maybe I can cook this at home and won't have to go out and pay 50 bucks (or more) for it!" I started experimenting and branching out to cooking various meats, gravies and sauces. I got so good at it that I got requests to cook for my family's Thanksgiving dinner every year and even for a big crowd of 30 plus at my wife's baby shower!

Funny Enough, I've Come to Be Known For a Really Basic Dish...

Macaroni ("mac") and cheese! It may sound basic, but my varieties really have a lot of complexity. There's my French onion mac and cheese, where it takes seemingly forever (really about 30 minutes) to sauté a giant mountain of chopped onion into a brown caramelized treat. And then there's my spicy habanero mac and cheese. I cooked it for a potluck lunch at work and blended in the peppers so no one noticed them - - until my boss, Phil Kavesh, took a big old bite (his reaction was pretty priceless!).

Today I Cook Out of Necessity, Again

I've got two young kids now and you know how they hate to eat vegetables! So I figured out a way, by blending them into soups. Some people chop up vegetables and float them in the soup, but that won't work with kids. I blend everything in, making it look and taste nice and creamy, so my kids can't really tell what's in it. I've taken a whole bag of kale and just mixed it in with carrots to give it sweetness and my kids ate it up (without knowing it was kale!).

But The Biggest Reason I Cook is I Love Socializing

The way cooking is done now is a lot different than when dear old Mom did it. Most homes nowadays have the open kitchen concept. It's not like when Mom labored in the kitchen alone for hours while everybody waited in the dining room or living room. Friends and family father around while I cook, hang out, enjoy a glass of wine or other drink, watch me go at it and chat. It's a fun social occasion. Plus, it's more acceptable now to see a man do the cooking (probably because of all those male chefs on TV cooking shows!)

Get Started - - You Can Do It Too!

People used to have to wade through volumes of cook books at the bookstore to figure it all out. But learning to cook is a lot easier now. Recipes for just about everything are on the internet. For example, if you go to the Food Channel's website, there's like 100 different recipes for mac and cheese! There also are so many cooking shows, such as Top Chef on Bravo, Anthony Bourdain on CNN and Kitchen Impossible on Food Network. My Favorite is Knife Fight on Esquire. Check it out. And Bon Appetite!

Chances Are ...

Chances Are

The chances of you dying in your lifetime are ... well, they are about even money or 100%. The chances of you becoming disabled, unfortunately, are also very high. According to a 2011 U.S. Census Bureau Survey, more than 37 million Americans are classified as disabled. That is roughly 12% of the nation's total population. More than 50% of those disabled Americans are still in their working years, ages 18 to 64. It is this "disability" scenario so many people fail to include in their estate planning. After all, most people think of "estate" planning as merely "death" planning. What about you?

According to a 2012 Council for Disability Awareness Claims Review, the leading causes of new disability claims that year were from musculoskeletal/connective tissue disorders (28.5%); cancer (14.6%); injuries and poisoning (10.6%); mental disorders (8.9%); and cardiovascular/circulatory disorders (8.2%). These also were some of the most common causes of existing disability claims in 2012. Furthermore, the CDA noted that about 90% of disabilities are caused by illnesses rather than accidents.

What Can You Do to be Ready?

Well, besides a healthy diet, exercise and regular visits to your physician to tilt the odds of avoiding disability in your favor, there are certain legal steps every adult American should take sooner rather than later. In short, you need to plan ahead and let your intentions be known in the event you do become disabled. Here are some of the fundamental legal documents you should have:

Generally speaking, a Living Will tells your loved ones and health care providers what your end-of-life wishes are. Also referred to as a Health Care Directive, Advance Directive, Health Care Proxy, or some other name depending on where you live, at its core this legal document provides your instructions regarding the type and extent of medical and personal care you would want (or would not want) were you unable to communicate your own decisions. For example, do you want to be kept alive by artificial medical means? Under what circumstances would you want such means withheld or withdrawn?

Power of Attorney is a legal document through which you grant another individual ("the attorney-in-fact") the legal power to make decisions on your behalf regarding financial issues detailed in the document. Alternatively, a guardianship or conservatorship may be required if you become disabled. In that case, a judge, not you, would decide who takes care of your personal financial decisions. Only you know the family members or friends you would trust with these financial matters, especially when you are most vulnerable. Besides, this court process can be costly, time consuming and will disclose your personal situation to the public record.

Another important legal document, known as a HIPAA Authorization or (typically the same person named to act under your Advanced Health Care Directive). Permission to Access Personal Medical Information (PMI) is just that. It is your authorization to allow a designated individual to view your medical records and discuss your care with medical providers. Given the HIPAA regulations governing such access, without this document chances are good that a doctor may not be able to speak to the person you have designated as your health care agent. This is despite the fact they may have your living will or advance directive. Make sure everything is in place to make things easier on the agents you want to make those already tough decisions about your care if you are in an unresponsive state.

Follow Through

While the subject of your own morbidity and mortality may not be near the top of your favorite things to ponder ... that is only human nature. On the other hand, following through on this is a matter of personal responsibility. Only you can sign these important legal documents.

Help yourself and those you love by taking time to plan ahead and take the burden off of your family by making the tough decisions now. The documents are important even for someone who may be young or may not have many assets and doesn't yet need a Living Trust. Speak with your estate planning attorney and get these documents in place without delay.

Do You Feel Lucky? Well, Do You?

Get Your Act Together

If you live a charmed life - full of rainbows, four-leaf clovers and horseshoes ... stop reading now and buy some lottery tickets. No wait, if you are truly that lucky, one ticket should be all you need. Or maybe you are so unbelievably lucky you can win the lottery without buying a ticket!

For the rest of us, we need to be responsible grown-ups and plan ahead. For instance, many people rightfully see life insurance as a solid investment and a wise idea. This commitment provides your loved ones with some financial security in the event you die in sudden and unforeseen circumstances. While people seem to get that concept, fewer still seem to understand how valuable disability insurance can be if you are seriously injured or are stricken with a disease that prevents you from going to work and earning your salary. Research shows that 69% of private-sector employees do not have a long-term disability insurance policy. Do they all think they are that lucky?

Disability - Insure the Risk!

This scenario is not a one-in-a-million chance: about one in four 20-year-olds is at risk of becoming disabled before hitting age 67. A 25% chance is pretty decent ­­- okay, there is a three-to-one chance you will luck out and never experience such a catastrophe - but you are not "Mr." or "Ms. Lucky Lottery Ticket (without buying one)," are you?

In addition to asking yourself if you feel lucky, ask yourself if the small expense of a long-term disability policy is worth it. If you have family relying on you and your income, you will easily find that disability insurance is definitely worth the cost. Plus, the sooner you sign up the better: younger and healthier individuals typically enjoy lower premiums than older men and women.

Do Not Bet on Social Security

There are some folks who forego disability insurance and are under the impression that Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits will be available. What they may not know, however, is that the eligibility rules can be strict - like you must show that you are not able to work for at least a year or be terminally ill. Also, the SSDI checks do not show up in your mailbox the day you come home from the hospital. No, the application process can take several months and initial claims are frequently denied. Plus, the average monthly benefit is only a little over $1,100.

Your LTD Insurance Source

Some employers also provide long-term disability (LTD) insurance that replaces a percentage of pay for an extended period of time. But employer-provided LTD plans usually replace only about 60% of pay, plus the money you receive is deemed taxable income. Consequently, a portion of that insurance payment goes to Uncle Sam. Your LTD pay will be somewhat less than you may have thought - and need, to make ends meet.

It May Be Cheaper Than You Think

Many of our clients are surprised to find that they may obtain long-term nursing care insurance by merely upgrading existing life insurance or annuity policies, often without even paying any additional premiums.

A serious illness or a tragic injury could keep you from working permanently and could be the start of financial disaster for you and your family. Play the odds and do not try to get lucky with the long-shot possibility that you will never have a serious medical problem. Look into personally-owned disability insurance through our affiliated professionals and play it safe!