A leading cause of death in the US?

Alzheimer’s disease is a leading cause of death in the US?

Did you know that Alzheimer’s disease is the third or sixth leading cause of death in the US (depending on the survey)? And that there is nothing you can do, yet, to stop the progression? And that nearly everyone in the US is affected or has a loved one with a form of dementia?

Over the next month, we will update you with a few new facts about dementia and this disease, and give you some ways to help your loved ones. No, we can’t win yet, but we can make the journey more comfortable for those who live with the frustration and issues associated with dementia.

For now, have a look at other resources available (see the emails) and think about how you are affected (or might be!).

How much does it cost?

One of the frequent questions I get from callers is this:  How Much Do You Charge for a Will?

If you came to this page to find out what I’ll charge you for a Will or you are considering calling me (or any other attorney) to ask, “How much does a will cost?” please don’t.

I can’t tell you what it will cost because it’s not the right question. 

The question you want to ask first is “What planning do I need to have in place to ensure my family is cared for and our money is used for them the way I want?”

Too many people make their estate planning decisions based on what it’s going to cost.
Sometimes, that may be the right criteria. Most of the time it’s not.

The problem is you don’t know what you don’t know.

Have you looked on-line for cheap wills?  When you Google ” cheap will ” or fill out canned documents from a book or DIY kit from the office supply store (yup, they still sell those!), you don’t know what you are actually getting, now or in the future… there is no “planning” involved.

When tragedy strikes, it’s your family who is left with the mess.

Failed plans, unnecessary and expensive probate, or even multiple probates in different states, legal fees for guardianships, being at the mercy of the judicial system – these are some of the potential results.

When you hire me, you aren’t paying for documents. 

When you hire me, you aren’t renting my time, but gaining access to my experience, thoughts, and concern for you and your family.  You are hiring an ally … one of your trusted team in planning for your future.

So, when you call me and ask how much for a Will, I can’t give you an answer because I don’t know if that’s what you need.

We use a planning process to understand you, your family, and your needs.

Our process begins with a LifePathways Strategy Session.  In that, I’ll listen to your concerns and help to identify the key issues we need to address, together.  I’ll propose a preliminary plan and tell you what you will gain by having a plan in place.  Then, we schedule a LifePathways Planning Session to look at the full picture.

Before this meeting, you will usually receive a package of information with homework for you to complete so you can benefit from the time with me the most. And then we’ll invest our time together exploring your life, looking at what would happen to you, your children, your money, and the people you love if anything happens to you.

You will feel heard, cared about, informed, educated, and empowered to make the best decisions for the people and things that matter most in your life.


I can’t actually answer “How much does a will cost?”  because I don’t charge for documents.  I charge for advice, guidance, counsel, and support.  The Will?  It’s free.

I can tell you this – most of our foundational plans range between $1,400 and $8,000.  Your package will be customized to the specific needs of your family.  And you will stay in control the whole time.

How do you choose a lawyer, if not based on price?

  • Get referrals from your friends and family. 
  • See who stands out in your area.
  • Search for a local provider.
  • Get connected.
  • Be comfortable with your attorney.

When you find the right lawyer, he or she will be a member of your team for the long term, not for just this one transaction.

So, the question now is, “What do I need to do to make things as easy for my family as possible, if something happens to me?”

Please call me to get started – 919-883-2800.

Can you sell a home after you qualified for Medicaid?

This is an important question for many clients of Elder Law attorneys.  Why?  Because the general principle for institutional Medicaid is that when you are eligible for Medicaid you live in a skilled nursing facility, you have no assets left (except for the exempt ones), and your income is used for pay the nursing home (Medicaid makes up the difference).  Most families plan to keep the home, but if are single, keeping a home you don’t live in can be costly.
So, if you cannot afford to keep the home, can you sell it?
The answer is … yes, but it will create major issues.
And if you don’t sell it, you have to keep it in good shape.  That takes expenses!

So, how do I pay the expenses?

Great  point …  how are you supposed to pay for a car registration, or home taxes or upkeep when all your money has to go to Medicaid or the community in which you are resident?
Short answer is … you can’t.  And, many families then end up selling mom’s home to stop the expenses.
But, that causes a new issue … those proceeds will make mom ineligible for a time period … usually until the proceeds are spent at the community she lives in.  And then, she sometimes has to re-apply for Medicaid!  Ouch!
Isn’t there a better way?
There are two distinct issues at play here – protecting the home for the family, or maximizing eligibility for the applicant.
Oh, and don’t forget about Asset Recovery – that is the process Medicaid uses to find assets in estates that can be used to pay their expenses for care.  It is federal law, and NC, like most states, does file claims when appropriate.  That is a topic for another day…

Gifting is often a bad idea, but there are exceptions

Remember that you can’t “give” assets away.  NC Medicaid laws have a sanction (or, penalty period) for transfer of any assets with compensation at less than fair market value (FMV).  For example, selling a home for $1 to someone, or giving a car to a child.   Gifting includes moving a home into an irrevocable planning trust too, so don’t do anything with a home until you consult an attorney.
However, there are some exceptions, including gifting the home (it must be the principal residence) owned by the Medicaid applicant and in which a “caretaker child” resided for the past two years or longer.   There are some others too, and we can go over those, but this is the most common one I find in my practice.  If you gift the house to yourself under the caretaker child exception, that gets you the entire home.
Another common exception that works is that assets can be given to the spouse of an applicant.  So, Mom could transfer all titles to all assets to Dad prior to application, and those transfers would not be penalized.  Of course, if Dad needs Medicaid eventually, those assets have to be discussed at that point!

Irrevocable Planning Trusts can help

For families who can plan five years in advance of need, irrevocable trusts can be a great help.  Funding a trust is a gift, so it creates a penalty if you need Medicaid before five years, but, even then, there are strategies for protecting some assets.  Trusts are a huge topic .. call us at 919-883-2800 if you want to know more.
If you don’t have one of those caretaker exceptions, and you are single, you didn’t form a Trust, and you have an exempt home looming, what can you do?

Deeds work in some cases

An interesting approach is to use a deed to transfer just a small percentage of the home to another person. This works for residences as well as land or vacation homes.  In NC, we can transfer unequal amounts, such as 1% of ownership.  So, if you were going to add your name to a deed, we use a small percentage so that the transfer sanction is very small  (on a $100,000 home, a 1% penalty is just $1,000, or about 3 days wait for eligibility).   Recently, we have started to use a two-part strategy.   We use a 1% deed given to one or more people to protect the non-exempt asset from being counted, and then, we use a lady-bird life estate deed given to the same people for the remaining 99%.  The first protects the non-exempt asset now, and the second protects the exempt home or non-exempt assets after the applicant’s death.

Can I sell after approval?

What about selling the home after a single applicant is qualified for Medicaid?
It can be a big problem.
Selling it (whether before you transfer to a new owner or not) it is a problem because the proceeds belong to the applicant and will probably stop Medicaid until the proceeds are spent.
If there is no caretaker child, if the applicant is single, and the home is not in an irrevocable trust already, your options for selling it without impacting Medicaid are limited.  Essentially, selling the home always creates a new asset that has to be dealt with, usually by spend-down.
We have some alternatives for saving about half the home value, but the use of the deeds is to protect the home for the family, not to open it for sale.  Bottom line, selling the home after Medicaid approval is not helpful, but if the home creates expenses (such as taxes, utilities, upkeep) and no one is living there, you obviously will need to sell it.  Then, we use a strategy of protection of some of the proceeds using a trust or annuity and “gifting”.  It isn’t as good as planning five years in advance, but none of us has a crystal ball, so knowing when to plan is hard.  We alsways suggest sooner rather than later!
The question is, what are your goals?
  • Keeping the home for the family? (then use the 1% deeds)
  • Or, preserving as much cash as possible? (then sell the home and use the annuity+gifting strategies because the 1% deeds are intended to keep the home in the family)

Call us today to get help understanding your options and getting your planning started!



New Office Address?

From time to time, events require changes. No, I don’t like change very much, and I’ll bet that you don’t either.  But, today, let me tell you about a good change … we are moving and changing our office address!

Here is the new office address:

Law Offices of Douglas Koenig
2530 Meridian Parkway
Suite 2113 – Third Floor
Durham, NC 27713

Why move? Lease changes, distance to commute, ease of access … the usual reasons.

In the new space, we will have better access to witnesses for legal documents, more handicap parking spaces, flexibility as the practice grows, and full-time reception.  More good news — You won’t find any difference in the care and attention we focus on our clients!

When you come to the new building, enter from the parking lot side, and come to the third floor lobby.  There, a receptionist will greet you and give me a call.  Of course, if I’m on schedule, as usual, I’ll probably greet you first!

I am sure you will enjoy the new facility as much as I do!

Oh, as for the commute to the new office address?  Now, I can walk to work, which will give me some much-needed exercise and help reduce the load on the environment from the daily drive.  Plus, I expect to enjoy more people with dogs, local wildlife, and time with God’s creation.

Give me a call to see about stopping in for a visit!

Here is the location in Google Maps.

Doug Koenig is going to Congo! Why?

I have a few reasons for going … let me share them with you …

First, The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the world’s richest and poorest countries at the same time.  It is a land of amazing opportunity, and of unfulfilled potential.   But, they need help.

Why help?  In the Bible, Jesus tells us to give to the poor (Matt 19:21), and that when we do, it is as if we are doing it for him (Matt 25:40).   A godly woman is described as one who gives to the poor. (Prov. 31:20)  We are joyful when we can help others. (2 Cor. 9:7)

We all generally want to help other people – especially those in extreme need.

But, what if we don’t see them?  What if they are kept from our sight?  What if the poor and suffering people of God’s lands are forgotten?

Why worry about Congo?

A Short History …

Congo has gone through major political upheavals in the past two hundred years.  It was settled by tribal and aboriginal peoples long ago, but during the 1800’s suffered from the global slave trade like much of Africa.  Many people died.  The land was acquired by King Leopold II of Belgium for the rubber and mineral wealth, and after millions of Congolese were brutally exploited (as much as half the population died), the Belgian Parliament took over the “Congo Free State” in 1908.  Indigenous courts were a dual-system mess, strangled by Belgian rules and hundreds of local administrators.

In 1960, the country gained independence and was called the Republic of Congo.  This ended in 1965 after several changes of leaders and governments and political intrigue when Joseph Mobutu led a military coup.  People died in the war.  The “Democratic Republic of Congo” name lasted until 1971 when the name was changed to Zaire.  Political stability was the trade-off for human rights violations and corruption.  In the 1990’s civil war raged.  More people died.

The country was renamed Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1997 and a constitution was approved with a democratic election held in 2006.  Today, the DRC is stable for the moment awaiting the next constitutional election in 2018.

Human rights has been a problem for a long time.  Today there is still a culture of violence against women.  The UN regularly issues alerts.  Documentaries describe brutal violence.  Politically active women pay a heavy price.  Corruption exists.  For many people, life is a never-ceasing struggle.  Faith comes hard in those situations.  Help is hard to find.

When people have come to Congo to “help” to often the result has been more oppression and more injustice.  Today, the country needs real help that doesn’t oppress or bring death, but brings hope and justice.

What will change?  When will it change?  Who will make it change?

The past has been horrific.  But, today, over 80% of Congolese children attend school, and 75% of people are literate.  The land itself is rich in natural resources and the country could support itself given the right conditions.  The DRC is the world’s second largest producer of diamonds and is a major producer of cobalt and copper.  God gave the DRC an amazing natural bounty.

At the same time, God gave His people hope and imagination.  The people are working to regain their dignity, rebuild their culture, and restore their lives.  Progress is coming.  Potential is being realized.  Justice is working and there has been a major change in the attitude toward violence against women.  Today, prosecutions are happening and change is occurring.

Through it all, what has persisted?     Faith.  The people.  God’s love.  Potential. 

But, it isn’t easy and they have a long way to go.  And, the land and its troubles are so far away that we don’t easily see it.  So, then, because we don’t see them in our midst, we forget to help.

Oh, yes, this is going to be a “churchy” letter, because that is who I am.

And, this is the masterplan of darkness …

Keep Congo and all its troubles “out of sight, out of mind”.

Is it working?     Is Congo “out” of your mind?

The darkness wants you to forget, but today, I want to answer the one question I posed above … “Why worry about Congo?” with this:

  • Because our brothers and sisters struggle every day. 
  •  Because oppression should be relieved. 
  •  Because we are all called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord (Micah 6:8). 
  •  Because God has a really big plan, and for all of us, even here in the USA, Congo is part of His plan.

You might be asking … “Can I really help?”

The short answer is yes, and let me invite you to become “super-marginal” with me.  Let me explain.

I learned long ago that we do not need to invent anything new…. God has seen it all and He is in control.  He is already active in the world.  The best thing I can do?  Come alongside of God in what he is already doing.

For many years, churches all over the world, over 60 denominations in all, have worked together to bring light to the “Heart of Darkness” in Congo.  The name of that project is Congo Initiative (CI).  I’m not going to tell you more about CI … instead, let me tell you how I am involved.

You know that I am a second career attorney and that I practice Elder Law, which means that I help clients face aging with their dignity intact and with them in control of their future.  Many of my clients are in their 80s, give or take a few years, although I do support all ages, including some in college.  More about my practice near the end of the letter.

Recently, I was invited to participate in a Justice Conference in Congo.  The goal is to help Congolese attorneys and judges develop a response to the history of injustice and to build a new pattern of human rights, justice, and mercy.  I’m not talking about conversions and evangelism … this is much simpler and yet deeper than that.  It is standing alongside people who struggle as they work for their nation and their neighbors.

How can I do that?” I have no skills that pertain to the Congolese.  I don’t speak French.  I’ve never been to Africa.  Truthfully, I’m even a little afraid of Africa.  I struggle with putting faith into action in my job.  What do I bring to this event?

Prayerfully, I sought an answer.  I asked people I respect as I struggled over the desire to be involved over the fear of being involved.

I learned this… I just bring a little marginal change.

What I bring is a message of hope and love for the people.  A visible statement that I care about them … that American churches pray for and support them.  It is a simple a message of hope and encouragement from a brother standing with them in their own efforts to follow Micah 6:8.

But, visiting them isn’t marginal in cost … it is expensive.  It takes time.  Determination.  Endurance and courage.    And shots … lots of shots!

This is where YOU come in … you can be involved in at least two ways.

First, I do need your thoughts and prayers … since I decided to follow where God was leading in this effort, many things have apparently “conspired” to make it harder to go.

Not everyone prays, and not all of us understand God in the same ways.  That is ok!  I welcome your participation in any way that is meaningful to you.

But, pray-er or not, secondly, you can help financially.  I know that isn’t a surprise, and I’ll have some creative ways that you can benefit from this too, but let me say that the trips cost about $3,500 to $5,000.  It is a lot to afford, and my church, Blacknall Presbyterian in Durham, is incredibly generous because members have been so generous in the past.  But, each traveler needs to raise these funds so that the next person whom God calls to see what He is doing can also afford to go.  For now, I have access to some funds in various places, but not enough.  Yet.

Think about how you can help.  And read on to see how I can respond to your help!
While you consider that, let me tell you another fact about Congo …

The second thing to know is that the church is already involved in working with the Congolese.

Over 60 denominations are active in Congo, including Blacknall Presbyterian in Durham (my church).  Congo Initiative is a joint effort for global entry into Congo, and our way to support missions from the USA.

Other denominations are involved too, of course, setting up schools, supporting education, and helping people.  Children and women as especially vulnerable and do receive targeted help.  God’s people are active and supportive, heeding the voices crying out so that we can in the wilderness prepare a way for the Lord (Isaiah 40:3).

The primary religion of Congo is Catholic, and today, the Catholic church is a major influence in culture and politics playing an important role in peace-keeping and education. Between 85% and 90% of the population is Christian, with about 10% Muslim.  But, merely being affiliated with a denomination is not enough.  We must actively help bring justice to a troubled people.

There is good news…

Churches come to Congo from a position of historical involvement … and success.

As believers, we work from a position of victory, knowing that God always leads us in triumph in Christ (see 2 Cor. 2:14). We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (see Rom. 8:37). And if God is for us, then who can be against us? (see Rom. 8:31)

You see, I believe that the real battle is already won … for all history.  The darkness does not win.

But, that does not stop hunger, and injustice, and horrors from being forced upon the weaker and poorer among us.  It is especially true in poorer countries, including Congo (as I explained earlier).  That is why Jesus told us to give, and why He healed while He walked this earth.

Whomever you follow (for me, it is Jesus), most religions agree that justice is good and should be sought after.

But, for now, people suffer, and we must do what we can to help all of God’s children.

Wait, what about local work, Durham, for example?

Ok, I know some of you are asking, what about Durham?  What about spending that money right here?  Why spend it so far away in Congo?  Great questions!

For me, I think of the marginal dollar.  I think relief works in amazing ways, locally, nationally, and internationally.  Here, in the US, we have systems and people and ways to assist.  Here, most people are not homeless (although some are) and most people do not have to worry about food (although some do).

A dollar given here, and an hour of time there … it is great, and necessary, and it does help.  And, I do participate locally various ways.

But, over in Congo, a dollar … or an hour … can make a national difference.

It is what I am calling the “super-marginal” dollar.

If I spend a week with the Justice Conference …

  • Judges may be able resist corruption
  • Attorneys could make real change
  • People could receive real justice

Their actions could affect hundreds or thousands of women and children, and could liberate a nation!

The marginal effect is astonishing.

The heat of darkness seems to have a plan … a plan around the world to oppress the people so that they don’t have time, or energy, or hope to look up to see God or to find hope.  Too often it works with war, oppression, corruption.  Lately right here in the US it seems like he has also found ways to use prosperity to make us complacent about ourselves and the world.

Don’t be complacent.  Be a part of the “super-marginal” majority …


Will you help?

Will you be Super-Marginal?


Doug Koenig


Ratings and Reviews

Top Attorney​, 2015-2016​