Why You Should Get Estate Planning Off Your To-Do List

There are many goals most of us want to accomplish in life, and some of the most important ones center on family and money. Here is what a thoughtful estate plan can help you accomplish that involves both:

Control health care decisions. Most people will die in a hospital or care facility, and many will lack important decision-making capacity for their own care. You can name the people responsible for health care decisions if this should happen to you through an advance medical directive as part of your estate plan.

Control your finances. By assigning a durable power of attorney in your estate plan, you can save your family from the expense and emotional trauma of having to go to court to take control of your finances via a conservatorship in case you become incapacitated.

Plan for your long-term care. Most of us will require long-term care at some time during our lives, and it can be expensive – even financially devastating for many families. An estate plan will help you take the necessary steps to plan for your long-term care so it doesn’t fall to your family.

Keep peace in the family. By determining where your assets will go and having the right beneficiaries named on retirement and bank accounts, you will help ensure family harmony and fend off any potential inheritance fights.

The process of estate planning is ripe for procrastination since so few people understand it or – more commonly – wish to contemplate their own demise. Yet it still remains one of the best things you can do to protect your money, your health and your family.

Here are 3 tips to get estate planning off your “to-do” list:

Consider your children. Estate planning helps you protect your children throughout their lifetimes. When they are young, you need to appoint a guardian if something should happen to you. When they are older, you want to have the financial capacity to send them to college. When you are gone, you want them to enjoy a legacy that includes passing on your values as well as your assets.  Only estate planning can do this for you.

Review beneficiary designations. Life insurance policies, retirement accounts, investment accounts and other financial vehicles all require you to complete a beneficiary form to designate who will receive the assets upon your death. With no form, state law will govern, and your assets may go to those you never intended to receive them, or worse, go to your estate and be depleted by taxation. Be sure you have beneficiary forms on file for your accounts and that they are reviewed at least annually for any necessary updates.

Consider your own health. If you become incapacitated, who will be making your health care decisions for you? Do you want your life to be prolonged via life support no matter what? Whatever your wishes are for your own health, they won’t necessarily be followed unless you have executed a Living Will or assigned powers of attorney to see to these matters.

Make this the year you create your estate plan – or, if you have a plan that hasn’t been reviewed in the last two years, to update your estate plan. It’s a gift that will keep giving to you and your family.

The best way to learn about estate planning for your family is to meet with us for a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you to provide for and protect the financial security of your loved ones. Don’t wait! Give us a call today at 832.408.0505, we love to hear from you.

 

Leaving Without a Plan: Prince Didn’t Leave a Will & Here’s Why You Should

Even after death, celebrities are highly publicized for their mistakes, many of which we make ourselves. April 21, 2016, superstar musician Prince suddenly died, leaving no will, and the management of his substantial estate fraught with legal complications and added costs.

It’s easy to assume that the wealthiest among us have all their ducks in a row, but it’s hard to judge someone—even a celebrity—for neglecting something like the creation of a will. Until you stop to seriously think about what will happen when you die, creating a will can seem like an unnecessary and morbid task, certainly not something you casually check off your to-do list. Nevertheless, the importance of having a will simply cannot be stressed enough. Below are just a few of the reasons why everyone should have a will, no matter their wealth, age or health.

You can name the person you want to manage your estate in your will. You will get to choose someone you trust and make sure they have all the knowledge they need to ensure your wishes for your estate are carried out.

You can decide who your beneficiaries will be. You can also disinherit those who would normally stand to inherit from your estate if you choose. Your wealth and possessions are yours; a will provides a legally enforceable way to ensure they go to the right people.

You can ensure your minor children will be raised by the people you want, for the long-term. If you have minor children, you should name a legal guardian and include provisions for their care in your will. But, don’t rely on a will alone because it won’t address the immediate care of your children if something happens to you, it won’t provide for your children’s care in the event of incapacity and it won’t ensure someone you would never want to raise your kids could not.

You can leave gifts and donations to your favorite charities or people you love beyond your legal family. Without a will, your estate would pass to the people designated to receive it under the law, and that may not be who you would want to receive everything you own. Creating a will ensures you get to choose who gets what.

Important as they are, a will can only do so much. For example, a will does not keep your family out of court.

And, a will does not ensure your kids will never be taken out of your home, if something happens to you.

And, a will does not keep your family out of conflict.

A will is only one part of a comprehensive estate plan that will protect and enforce your wishes when you die.

If you are ready to take the right steps toward making informed, empowered and educated decisions for the legal and financial future of the people you love, start by sitting down with a Personal Family Lawyer®.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we will walk you step-by-step through the creation of an estate plan that will protect what you value most. Our Family Wealth Planning Session™ helps you protect and preserve your wealth for future generations. Before the session, we’ll send you a Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment to complete that will get you thinking about what you own, what matters most to you and what you want to leave behind.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, esq. We don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session.

 

Generational Wisdom in 32 Questions

What can we learn from earlier generations? Quite a bit, says Brendon Burchard, but only if we ask the right questions.

Brendon Burchard, famed personal development trainer and author of The Motivation Manifesto (Carlsbad, Hay House, 2014) says asking your mother, father and/or another loved one these 32 important questions can teach you valuable lessons about love, life, and what matters most. Burchard suggests recording the conversation so the lessons and messages can be passed down easily to your children and grandchildren. Use these questions as a springboard and see what you didn’t know about your elder loved ones:

  1. What comes to mind when you think about growing up in your hometown?
  2. What did you love to do as a kid, before high school?
  3. What did you love to do in high school?
  4. What do remember most about your teenage years?
  5. What do you remember most about your mom (grandma)?
  6. What was most important to her?
  7. What do you remember most about your dad (grandpa)?
  8. What was most important to him?
  9. If Grandma and Grandpa had a message to pass along to the grandchildren, what would it be?
  10. How did you meet your spouse? How did you know (s)he was the one?
  11. How did you choose your career? What was your favorite part about it?
  12. What made you successful?
  13. What did you believe about yourself that helped you become successful and deal with hard times?
  14. What times in your life truly “tested your mettle,” and what did you learn about yourself by dealing (or not dealing) with them?
  15. What three events most shaped your life?
  16. What do you remember about when I was born?
  17. Were you ever scared to be a parent?
  18. What three words would you say represents your approach to parenting and why?
  19. When you think about [sibling] how would you describe him/her?
  20. What message do you have for [sibling] that you want him/her to always keep in mind?

[Do the last two questions above for each sibling in your family]

  1. When you think about [spouse], how would you describe her/him?
  2. What message do you have for [spouse] that you want her/him to always keep in mind?
  3. What three words would you say best describe who you tried to be in life? How would you like to be remembered?
  4. What do you think your children and grandchildren should focus on professionally?
  5. What have you learned about people in life?
  6. What do you think the world needs more of right now?
  7. What do you believe people want the most in life?
  8. What were the three best decisions you ever made?
  9. What are you most proud of?
  10. What were five of the most memorable moments of your life?
  11. What message would you like to share with your family?
  12. What are you most thankful for?

These questions can reveal a wealth of valuable life lessons – family treasures to share with generations to come. But having this conversation is just a start. To preserve and protect your family assets and other things of value, you should create a comprehensive estate plan that will safeguard what you value most. And, we include a recorded Family Wealth Legacy Interview, which becomes a priceless family legacy piece for your loved ones, with every estate plan we create.

If you need guidance in planning for your future, start by coming in to meet with us for a Family Wealth Planning Session. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can guide you in creating a comprehensive estate plan that protects and preserves your most valuable assets. Before the session, we’ll send you a Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment to complete that will get you thinking about what you own, what matters most to you, and what you want to leave behind.

We don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session.

The Future of Finances: How to Teach Your Kids to Be Money Savvy

Part of being an enlightened parent is being thoughtful about how we teach our kids about adult life. Of course, you want to prepare them to make good choices as an adult, especially when it comes to finances. And, you may either feel not equipped, or you may be concerned about passing on your own bad habits.

So, how do you teach kids about smart financial decision-making? What lessons should you teach? Is leading by example enough? Raising a child to be money savvy doesn’t have to be hard, especially if you have valuable lessons to pass down. But it will take a little reflection on your own financial know-how and a commitment to make passing on these aspects of adult life conscious, rather than doing it unconsciously, as happens in most families.

Kids look to us to learn about life and they pick up far more from us about what we do than from what we say. Accordingly, we can best teach our children to be money savvy by modeling the habits we want them to take on for themselves and by involving them in the process. A good place to start is by being transparent about your financial habits when the opportunities arise.

For example, you could have a monthly financial meeting and include your kids, and each month review your household income and expenses, like a business owner, would when reviewing their profit and loss each month.

And, when you do your estate planning, involve your kids in the process by having a family meeting once the planning is done to explain the planning and introduce your child to us, as your personal legal advisor who they can turn to in the future when needed.

Modeling sound financial decision-making for your child is an excellent opportunity to take a deeper look at your own financial habits. This is a good time to take an honest look at your finances to make sure you are on track to meet your goals.

Assess your financial health and consider taking steps now to secure your financial future. Practice what you preach and know that your children are watching, so make sure you are modeling habits you’d be proud for them to develop as they enter adulthood.

If you need guidance in assessing your own financial health and habits, start by coming in to meet with us for a Family Wealth Planning Session™. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can guide you in creating a comprehensive financial plan that protects and preserves your wealth while meeting all your financial obligations. Before the session, we’ll send you a Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment to complete that will get you thinking about what you own, what matters most to you, and what you want to leave behind.

At GP Schoemakers, PLLC we don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session.

(Re)Defining Family: Estate Planning for the Post-Nuclear Family

Blended families, unmarried couples, assistive reproductive technology (ART) and same-sex unions and marriages challenge the traditional concept of “family” as it’s been known for legal purposes up until now.

Significant changes in the way we define family culturally means more families are left without the valuable protection they need, in the event of a death or incapacity of a loved one.

As these legal definitions and our personal situations expand, so do the priorities of the modern estate plan.

No longer is estate planning just for the wealthy, who wish to save money on their taxes; it’s for all of us who want to ensure our legal system recognizes the one’s we love.

For example, if you are in a life partnership (or more than one), married in the eyes of your community, but not married in the eyes of the law, your partner would have no legal right to see you or make decisions on your behalf, if you were hospitalized.

Even if you are married, your spouse or partner would not be able to access your financial accounts, without court intervention, without proper legal planning in advance. And, if you are not married, the Court is unlikely to give a non-legal spouse access and would instead appoint a professional fiduciary before allowing your unmarried partner access.

If you are part of a blended family (meaning one or both spouses have children from a prior relationship) or have children who aren’t biologically both yours and your spouse’s (or non-spouse partner), you need to include provisions in your estate plan that clearly define the inheritance rights of all children, biological or not.

It is vitally important that you clearly define any legally established relationships between you, your spouse (or non-spouse partners and loved ones) and your children, biological or otherwise, to ensure your wishes will be carried out in the event of your death or incapacity. If you do not do this, your kids could end up in the care of someone you would never want and taken out of the home of the non-biological parent they are living with.

Whatever your family’s configuration may be, estate planning is your chance to safeguard the people you love and your assets on your own terms and according to your own definitions. With the uncertainty of the current political and social climate, developing a carefully crafted plan tailored to your family’s needs is more important than ever.

If you need help crafting estate-planning instruments that adequately protect your family and your wealth but are flexible enough to be relevant as our legal definitions of family change, start by coming in to meet with us for a Family Wealth Planning Session. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can guide you in creating a comprehensive estate plan that protects and preserves your family’s values, as well as your assets. Before the session, we’ll send you a Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment™ to complete that will get you thinking about what you own, what matters most to you and what you want to leave behind and ensure that none of your assets are lost to the Court or government processes that don’t really serve your desires.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Sessio.

How to Incorporate Family Values in Your Estate Planning

Baby boomers know money isn’t the only important aspect of estate planning.

A 2012 study released by the Allianz Life Insurance, Co. showed baby boomers wanted to leave their family more than just financial assets. Researchers found baby boomers identified family values as some of the most important things to pass down to heirs.

In 2012’s economic climate, it’s no wonder family values imparted through stories, life lessons, and family possessions were at the top of the list. In an economic downturn, financial inheritances are more tenuous, unlike the abiding worth of family values. Thus, family values, tax-free of course, made the top of the list in importance.

But what is interesting is a similar study released by Allianz in 2005 which showed family values were also among the most important legacies boomers wanted to leave behind, even though the economy was more robust.

What these studies demonstrate is the enduring importance of family values, morals and meaningful possessions as part of a carefully crafted estate plan, regardless of the economic climate.

Do you have family values you wish to pass on? Of course you do. And yet you likely haven’t taken action to ensure the legacy you are leaving is the one you really want to leave behind.

Including family values in your estate plan can be easy, when it’s built into the process, though that is not the norm with most estate planning lawyers or with the DIY legal document services. Consider including written memoirs, video or audio recordings of family stories in your estate plan. These are the valuables most likely to be lost after your death. While your finances will be managed according to estate law, intangible values and lessons have no protection and are most often lost when you die.

Could you imagine how valuable it would be to hear your family history directly in the words of your grandparents, great-grandparents or even earlier generations right now?

If you want to pass down a truly holistic legacy, one that manages and preserves both your finances and your family values, start by coming in to meet with us for a Family Wealth Planning Session. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we will guide you in creating a comprehensive estate plan that protects and preserves your family’s heritage. Before the session, we’ll send you a Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment to complete that will get you thinking about what you own, what matters most to you and what you want to leave behind.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session

Does Your Parent Need Help With Finances? Start Here

Caring for an aging parent is a common challenge for Baby Boomers, and now even Gen-X’ers and Millennials. And, stepping in to help manage your parents’ finances, without eroding their sense of independence and privacy, can be tricky.

Many aging parents are reluctant to ask their children for help with their finances. It means a loss of control, a trading of places from them taking care of you to you taking care of them, and can signify a loss of power that feels too frightening for your parents.

Nevertheless, you may be wondering what you can do when your parents start needing help.

A pile of unpaid bills, threatening calls from creditors or repeated instances of credit card fraud or financial scams are good indicators that your parent needs help managing his or her finances.

Financial caregiving is easiest when you already have a plan in place. You may be in a good position to make educated decisions about their finances, but without the proper information and legal authority, your options are limited.

If your parent needs help, the first step is to make sure you know what they have, where it is, and how you can access it, if necessary.

Next, you want to make sure you know what bills are due, when and that their bills are being paid on time.

Unless you have the legal authority to manage your parents’ finances, you will need their help in getting access to their account and setting up auto-bill pay for them.

When you are ready, the first place to start is with a heart to heart conversation about whether your parent is ready for help and what that help could look like.

Then, if your parent is ready to help, you can ask him or her (or them) to legally designate you as either the Trustee of their trust or financial power of attorney holder, if they do not have a trust. And, be sure you are also designed as medical power of attorney, so you can make important care-giving decisions for your parent(s) if he, she or they cannot.

If your parent needs or wants help with finances, he or she may also need help with health care or the management of their estate. You can address these issues by working with one of our Personal Family Lawyer® members who will help you develop an estate plan that considers your parent’s best interests. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we work with your family to ensure you have the authority required to help your parent with his or her finances.

This is also an opportune time for you to consider your own long-term financial planning. If you are ready to take a step toward financial peace of mind, begin by scheduling a Family Wealth Planning Session. Before the session, we’ll send you a Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment that will get you thinking about what you own, what you want to leave behind and how you want your finances to be managed if you need help. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’ll help you establish a plan for your finances to ensure you have a plan in place when you need it down the road.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session.

How to Continue Your Family Values for Generations

Most of us want to make a mark in the world. That’s a big part of what gives our lives meaning. And whether or not we have children, our history and stories can be a unique and irreplaceable gift to our families. With just a little effort, we can preserve our family values for generations to come.

It can be difficult to pass on our traditions and our values, however, especially when we feel no one is listening. Too often, by the time younger generations care about life lessons and stories, the older generations are gone or their memories have faded.

In the “old days,” life’s lessons were passed along orally or by hand. But writing things down takes substantial time and effort, and let’s face it, not all of us have the patience or the penmanship for it.

But today, video technology makes preserving our family values easier than ever. Using a camera, computer webcam, or even your cellular phone, you can preserve your values and stories for your family. All you need to do is list what you’d like to talk about, then get the camera (or microphone) rolling. Here are some things you can talk about:

  • Generations that came before you;
  • Your childhood and immediate family;
  • Funny stories about you and other family members;
  • Family traditions;
  • Family values; and
  • Lessons you have learned about yourself and the world.

We believe that sharing your family values and life’s lessons is even more important than passing along your wealth and material possessions. But of course both are an important part of estate planning and of caring for your family. By being proactive now, you can preserve both your family values and your wealth for your loved ones after you’re gone.

You don’t need a lawyer to help capture your stories, wisdom, and values, but if you want a truly comprehensive estate plan that accounts for your whole family wealth, personal as well as financial, you want the kind of estate plan our firm creates for clients. Every estate plan we create includes a Family Wealth Legacy component. And that is exactly the kind of plan your loved ones will treasure most.

Be one of the first 5 families to book a Family Wealth Planning Session with us this month and we’ll include a Family Wealth Legacy Interview as part of the Planning Session, free of charge.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer,®  who develops trusting relationships with families for life. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ where we can help identify the best strategies for you and your family. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk because this planning is so important.

 

Writing Your Life Story: Why

How often do you wish you knew more about your family? When we’re young, we don’t necessarily pay attention to the stories our elders tell us. Later in life, we often become interested in knowing who and where we come from.

We want to learn more about what makes us who we are, and we may even become interested in genealogy. Unfortunately, for many people, the resources that were there when we were younger have become faded memories and the people who could fill us in have already passed on.

A new idea by the website FamilySearch makes recording memories easier than ever for younger generations.

A common life lesson is to take large tasks and break them into smaller parts to make them achievable. FamilySearch has taken the task of writing your life story and broken it into 52 discrete parts that you can do once a week for one year. When you’re finished, you’ll have captured the memories your loved ones will value and created a true legacy for your family.

The questions posed on this website will allow you to catalog many things about yourself, such as the following:

  • The basics about you, such as your full name, how you got your name, where you were born, and where you grew up;
  • Information about your immediate and extended family, including memories of your parents and the work they did;
  • Important genetic information that could be helpful to your descendants, such as unusual genetic traits and medical conditions that run in your family;
  • Information about family traditions and how you spend your holidays;
  • Your memories about your schools and your friends;
  • Information that you have learned about yourself and the world, such as your greatest strengths and challenges, as well as your life philosophies; and
  • Funny stories you remember, such as fads while you were growing up and tales about pets.

You can even add pictures. FamilySearch makes it easy to store your life story online, so your family can access it easily.

We believe capturing your values, insights, stories and experiences is so important, in fact, that we incorporate Family Wealth Passages into our estate planning process through a “Family Wealth Legacy Interview” with every plan.

This way, we ensure you are passing on not just your financial assets, but your whole family wealth, and what’s most often lost when you are gone. If you are an existing client and would love to update your Family Wealth Legacy Interview, contact us. If you are not yet a client, now is the time to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.

Our gift to you this month when you book your Family Wealth Planning Session is a Family Wealth Legacy Interview, whether you create a full estate plan for your kids and money, or not.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer,®  who develops trusting relationships with families for life. If you’re ready to begin assessing the security you want to provide for your family, schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session™ today by calling our office because this planning is so important.

Life Is Multifaceted: Teach a Child to Be Open and Embrace Complexities

When you picture a “normal” family, what do you see? Is it the traditional notion of one male parent and one female parent, two kids, and a family pet? Or do you see something different? Or perhaps you reject the notion of a “normal” family altogether?

Recent court and legislative activity have opened the institution of marriage to same-gender couples. Regardless of your political position or whether you think this is a wise move, it is happening. Today 1 in 4 children under the age of 18 are being raised by single mothers without a father in the picture at all. And nearly 30% of all families today are single parent families. 5% of children aren’t living with a “traditional” parent at all, but with grandparents or other family members.

Simply put, mainstream society is changing in our country.

Sometimes, with affluence comes reinforcement of our personal norms. We often attend institutions – like churches and schools, for example—where most everyone else looks and thinks like we do.

While we may feel most comfortable in these arenas, we need to push the boundaries with our kids for their sake. Regardless of our politics, visible American culture is changing. We cannot expect voluntary segregation of our society—by race, socioeconomic status, or any other factor—to continue.

So how can we help our kids be open to cultural and familial differences and to embrace the complexities therein?

Children are best prepared through modeling and practice. This is the true inheritance we leave behind.

Be cognizant of the cultural norms you promote without saying a word, through your choice of neighborhoods, entertainment, institutions, and even the company you keep. It is critical that American children remain open to differences and complexities, to enable them to work and play with those who may be different from them as our society moves forward to keep in step with the ever evolving nature of our world.

Ultimately, estate planning isn’t just about passing on your money. We call it Family Wealth Planning because it’s about passing on your whole family wealth, which includes your values, insights, stories and experience, most of which is passed on without awareness. When you can bring awareness to this planning, beyond just the financial pieces, you are giving your children a true gift that doesn’t just last a lifetime, but many generations.

Parents experiencing our Family Wealth Planning process repeatedly tell us that the process itself guides you to see many of the parts of true inheritance that you are likely overlooking, and the process itself has them feel better about themselves as parents as well as adult children of their own parents.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer,®  who develops trusting relationships with families for life.  That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ where we can help identify the best strategies for you and your family for now and in the future. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk because this planning is so important.