Advocacy Summit

I recently had the opportunity to visit Washington D.C. and participate in International Justice Mission’s (IJM) Advocacy Summit.

The purpose of the advocacy summit is to equip average citizens to engage with their elected officials and their wider community to effectively communicate regarding important issues, specifically the issue of human trafficking which is also known as modern day slavery.

We spent the first day learning about the specific issues we would be advocating for and how to advocate effectively. We ended the day by meeting together with our state groups to plan out our strategies for the next day’s meetings.

On the second day, along with three other advocates from California, I had several meetings on Capitol Hill where we urged our Senators and Representatives to support two anti-slavery initiatives. We were joined by more than 300 advocates from 45 states who were also meeting with their Senators and Representatives. An IJM staff member was present at each meeting to provide support and encouragement for the advocates participating. The first priority was a “Dear Colleague” letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. “Dear Colleague” letters are often used to encourage others to cosponsor, or support certain policies or legislation. The letter asked Secretary Kerry to designate the Philippines and Ghana as focus countries for investment and support in their anti-slavery efforts. The second priority was the Human Trafficking Prioritization Act which would elevate the State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons from an office to a full-fledged State Department Bureau.

IJM recently announced that the House of Representatives passed the Human Trafficking Prioritization Act on July 23, so we are celebrating the success of our advocacy efforts and one more important tool that is now in place to fight the horrible abuse of modern day slavery and trafficking.

Working with LOT 318’s Homework Club

As part of our firm’s efforts to make an impact in our community, for the past few months, I have been volunteering with the organization LOT318. LOT318 stands for “Loving Others in Truth” from the verse 1 John 3:18. They exist to minister to at-risk youth and their community by empowering them to see their worth and purpose in this world.  Their primary ongoing ministry is a Homework Club that takes place Monday to Thursday afternoons.

We set up folding tables and chairs on the sidewalk in front of an apartment complex. The kids work on their homework and ask volunteers for help if they need it. They get points for completing their homework, behaving well, and reading to a volunteer or parent for 20 minutes. A few times throughout the year, they get a chance to redeem their points for prizes.

The kids are a delight and I love spending time with them.They’re mostly in elementary school with some middle-schoolers.  Kids start remembering you after you’ve been there a few times, and you really get to know their personalities—some kids sit quietly and get their homework done, and other kids need more attention and prompting.  Some parents come and sit with their kids while they do their homework.  The Homework Club furthers LOT318’s goals of building community with students and their parents, and helping at-risk students to see the value and fun in education. In future posts, I will be sharing some success stories from LOT318’s work in this community.

Changes in Perspective Regarding Planning for Spouses

New estate tax law allowing for the portability of a spouse’s estate tax exclusion has given many married couples the option of avoiding estate taxes without the cost and complexity of an irrevocable trust (typically referred to as an A-B trust) being established at the first spouse’s death.  There are non-tax reasons why an irrevocable trust may still be advisable, which I won’t discuss in this post.  However, there are broader issues to consider when analyzing the appropriateness of relying on portability.

Jeffrey Pennell, a nationally-known law school professor and estate planning expert, has noted that recent decades have seen significant changes in family demographics and structure.  Historically, estate planners have structured revocable trusts to significantly limit the ability of the surviving spouse (usually the wife) to control trust funds, change distribution provisions, and govern the use of trust assets during the surviving spouse’s lifetime.  This type of planning indicates, whether intentionally or not, a lack of trust in a spouse’s ability to manage trust assets, and to make wise decisions regarding the eventual distribution of trust property in light of possible changes in family circumstances.  It also reflects an outdated view of women as being incapable of dealing with matters of wealth and finance.

If a married couple trusts one another, these restrictive trust provisions may not be necessary.  When dividing a revocable trust at the first spouse’s death is not necessary for estate tax purposes, clients should ask whether they trust their spouse to manage their property after their death, to make wise decisions regarding their descendants’ inheritances, and to protect trust assets from potential predators.  This is not to suggest that clients ignore or minimize genuine risks.  However, planning is for specific families, not theoretical circumstances, and plans should be carefully developed based on a reasonable analysis of risk and consequences and each family’s wishes and circumstances.

A Visit to Chittoor, India

Back in 2006, after a trip to India with my oldest daughter to see the work our church was partnering in to build schools, our family became involved in building a school for Dalit children in Chittoor, India. The school, which we supported through OM India, would provide children of India’s poorest community, the Dalits, with an English education from kindergarten through high school.

This past fall my wife and I were able to visit the school for the first time. Our arrival was met with a showering of flowers, a traditional greeting, which was quickly followed by an exciting day of presentations by the students, meeting the principal and teachers, and finally visiting each grade individually in their classrooms. In the multipurpose room students performed traditional songs and dances, as well as more modern Bollywood-style dances,  recited scripture, and shared how the educational opportunity had impacted them.  We also had an opportunity to affirm their efforts and challenge them to continue to take advantage of the opportunity for a more hopeful future.

It is nearly impossible to emphasize the importance of education for India’s Dalit children. Proficiency in English gives them a chance to rise above their unfair social status (which places them lower than animals, excusing all forms of violence and ill-treatment) and gives them the tools to fight thousands of years of oppression.

Dalits are still considered by many as easy targets for abuse, but they are making strides, though education and advocacy, in gaining equality in Indian society. There’s still a long road ahead for the Dalit community, but looking back on that day my wife and I shared with the students and teachers in Chittoor, remembering the kids’ friendliness, intelligence, and confidence, we feel honored to be on the journey with them.

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Fiduciary Selection Guidelines

The selection of the individuals or institutions who will administer your estate plan upon your incapacity or death may be as critical as the design of the plan itself.  Because of this, it is critical that your choices for fiduciaries (i.e. successor trustees, agents, executors, and guardians) are thoroughly discussed with your attorney when planning your estate.  The following information will assist you in considering your options.

For fiduciaries who will be acting in a financial capacity, there are four important criteria to consider.

  1. Do you trust them implicitly?
  2. Do they have the skills and capacity to carry out their duties?
  3. Do they have the time, and will their location allow them to reasonably carry out their duties?
  4. Will their selection create friction or conflicts of interest with your heirs?

In addition to family members, close friends, or trusted advisors, in California you also have the option of naming a state-licensed private professional fiduciary who is also bonded to insure you and your heirs against any loss from inappropriate use of trust assets.  For large estates, a bank or trust company may also be an appropriate option for certain responsibilities.

For those who will make health care decisions in the event of your incapacity, availability and the emotional strength to deal with the responsibilities are key issues to consider.  For guardians who will care for minor children, capacity to take on that role, alignment with your values, and location, especially for older children, are key considerations.