Veterans should be aware of two little known non-service related programs, the Improved Pension and Aid and Attendance Programs. They can provide additional income for vets below certain income levels, or home care for vets who are over 65 and totally disabled.

Social Security is 78 years old this year. When Social Security was passed in 1935 more than half of the elderly lived below the federal poverty line. Today, that number is less than 10%. (Reported by, 8-14-13). The increase in Social Security benefits will be 1.5% this year.

Your first $5.25 million is exempt from estate taxes. This amount doubles for married couples. So most of you can continue to breathe easy – this is one tax you probably won’t have to pay!

If you have an internet account, make sure that you have either written the password(s) and codes in your estate planning documents or given them to someone you trust. As
more and more activity is done online, this is increasingly important.

Books: Two great books I’ve read this year are Bull by the Horns by Sheila Bair (former head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation), and Liar’s Poker, the story of one man’s adventure into investment banking, by Michael Lewis.

The Los Angeles Daily Journal reports that “all legally married gay couples will be able to file joint federal tax returns even if they reside in states that do not recognize same-sex marriages.

Beware of non-attorneys who draft legal documents for you cheaply so you can “save money by avoiding attorneys”. Over the years I have come across several cases where such services did anything but save my clients’ money.

I remind you that if I have done a trust for you, you should contact me every five years or when there is a major life event. Also, if you take your house out of the trust to refinance your mortgage, be sure the house is put back into the trust when the refinance is completed. And, ALWAYS be on the lookout for identity theft. Guard your personal information zealously.

As usual, this year I planted 13 more trees to offset the carbon footprint of my office and family, for a total of 91 trees to date. This office also donates to KPCC public radio KCET, the Natural Resources Defense Counsel, the Sierra Club, the American Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Doctors Without Borders, Viet Nam Veterans and FINCA (which makes micro loans). I do this with a broader interpretation of “estate” to include not just the money I leave behind but trying to leave the world and environment a little bit better, too.

This year I took an over 55 driving class. I was the youngest one there. Mainly it was a good reminder of good habits to follow. If you are over 55 you should consider such a course.

Some general suggestions to prevent financial abuse: 1) know the people at your bank; 2) sign your own checks; 3) don’t lend anyone money in exchange for a promissory note; 4) don’t sign over money or property to anyone in exchange for care unless the agreement is reviewed by an attorney; 5) make friends of all ages and maintain your network; 6) never give out credit card numbers, account numbers or your social security number over the phone to anyone who calls you; and 7) don’t make donations to charities you don’t know about. (Courtesy of East West Bank.)

If you do not have a HIPAA release form attached to your Advance Health Care Directive or Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, contact me to get a HIPAA release form.

Online learning is becoming more widely available and often free. You can check out coursera, edex and other sites. Many colleges are also developing online courses.

My wife, Yvonne, continues to help me with Spanish speaking clients. Yvonne is also available to provide caregiver services by separate arrangement (telephone: 818-613-9251).

If you have a legal problem outside of my areas of practice, please feel free to call for a referral to another attorney who can possibly assist you.

Lastly, a shameless request for “recommendations” (not only “endorsements”), from those of you who are on LinkedIn. “Thank you!” to those who have already done so. In addition to the money it’s the satisfaction of what I do that keeps me in this practice. If those of you on LinkedIn have the time and inclination to write me a recommendation I will sincerely appreciate it. For those of you not on LinkedIn, I would also appreciate a reference at

And finally, I wish each of you a healthy and happy holiday season!

Brian Sheppard

Quotables: “Confidence is what you have before you understand the problem”. ~ Woody Allen.