Is Your Family “Too Young” to Need an Estate Plan?

Young families face different estate planning needs and challenges than those who have had a long life behind them. While established families may be concerned about what will happen to their family when they pass on, young, growing families can be more focused on what is happening to their family in the present. And you even may find it hard to justify planning for an “estate” you haven’t yet established!

But here’s the thing … if you have children or anyone else you care about, you may not have an “estate”, but you do need estate planning if you want to ensure your loved ones wouldn’t be stuck in Court and/or conflict, if anything happens to you.

Here are a few estate-planning issues important for young couples to consider as soon as they start a family:

The Care and Custody of Your Children

If you die or become incapacitated before your children reach 18, they will need a legal guardian. To ensure your children are only ever in the care of people you want and choose, you need to name both temporary and long-term guardians for your children.

Identifying friends or family as the “godparent” of your child isn’t enough. You need to legally document your choice. And, naming just one person or a couple won’t cover it either. Name at least 3 options, in case back-ups are needed.

Also, ensure that you have not just named legal guardians in your Will, for the long-term.

If something happens to you and your child is home with a babysitter, or at school, you want to also name local people, friends or family, who would immediately be able to be called upon by authorities. And, those people need to have legal documentation on hand to step in and make immediate, short-term decisions for your littles.

We recommend a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan® to ensure there are no gaps, for even a minute, in the care of the people you love most.

The Management of Your Children’s Inheritance

Remember, when you die, the assets left to your minor children will need to be managed by someone at least until they turn eighteen. If no one is identified for this task, the court steps in and appoints “professionals” to take over the role, which can cost your children their entire inheritance.

And, it’s totally unnecessary. With just a bit of prior planning, you can keep your loved ones out of the Court system entirely and give total control to the people you know, love and trust.

The Authority to Make Decisions for You

Finally, no matter what your age is, or how big or small your assets are, you want to put in place the documentation that appoints the people you would want making decisions for you if you cannot make your own decisions.

Once again, the focus here is on keeping the people you love out of Court during what would be a hugely stressful time for them.

Estate planning is a key part of growing up, and showing up for the people you love. So, yes, you may be a young family, but once you’ve become a family, you’re not too young to plan well to make things as easy as possible for the people you love.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we will help you make the very best financial and legal decisions throughout your life, and for the beyond.  Far from being a morbid task, estate planning can give your young family the peace of mind, confidence, and security you desire when it comes to the future well-being of all members of your family.

We, at GP Schoemakers, PLLC, 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 to find out how to protect your family.

Avoid these 10 Common Estate Planning Mistakes

As a Personal Family Lawyer®, I see many of the same estate planning mistakes made time and again by people who either fail to plan properly or who use “do-it-yourself” estate planning websites or forms in an effort to save money.

Without professional guidance, this can cause more problems for your heirs and end up depleting estate assets by far more than what you could potentially “save” by doing it yourself online.

A qualified estate planning attorney or Personal Family Lawyer® can help you avoid these 10 common estate planning mistakes:

  1. Failure to leave any written documentation of your assets, including a list of your online accounts and passwords
  1. Failure to let family members know where to find important estate planning documents
  1. Failure to name a guardian for minor children or choosing a guardian who lives far away without planning for temporary, local guardianship (solved with a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan®)
  1. Failure to name recipients for your personal possessions
  1. Failure to designate beneficiaries for retirement and other financial accounts
  1. Failure to name secondary beneficiaries
  1. Failure to name alternative trustees or executors
  1. Failure to properly fund or title assets to any trusts you have established
  1. Failure to update your estate plan as life circumstances change
  1. Failure to create an estate plan of any kind and instead leaving it to the court system to decide how your assets will be distributed

If you’d like to learn more about how to avoid common estate planning mistakes that could cost your heirs dearly, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

Estate Planning Essentials for Parents

A comprehensive estate plan can protect the things that matter most. For many, this means their property and their family.

Including provisions for the care of your children in your estate plan is essential for peace of mind. But many parents struggle with including such provisions as naming a legal guardian for their child in their plan. Indeed, even the fictional parents in the popular television sitcom Modern Family struggled with this issue in a recent episode. While Jay and his new and much younger wife Gloria agonized and argued about who they should name as a legal guardian for their children, their children were left at risk that if something happened to Jay and Gloria before they decided and properly named guardians in a legal document, a judge would make the decision for them. Not ideal, under any circumstances.

When naming a legal guardian for your minor children, there are many factors to consider, such as whether the guardian has similar values to yours or can provide a welcoming home environment. But the toughest decisions are often the most important. Consider the outcome if you died without having legal protections for your children in place. Your children could be subject to conflict between relatives or they could be raised by someone you would never want, or in a way you wouldn’t want.  They could even temporarily be taken into the care of strangers.

Identifying and naming a legal guardian for your children in your estate plan is a difficult and important task. Don’t put off naming a legal guardian for your child. While thinking about what will happen to your child if you die is difficult even for fictional parents, your kids deserve the protection and you deserve the peace of mind that a legal guardian can provide.

Unfortunately, even if you have made the hard decisions and worked with a lawyer to name legal guardians in a Will, your kids could still be at risk, because that would not take into account what happens if you become incapacitated, or if your named guardians all live far from your home, and it wouldn’t protect against anyone who may challenge your decisions. The only way to ensure your kids are raised by the people you want, in the way you want, never taken into the care of strangers (even temporarily) and that your kids would never be raised by anyone you wouldn’t want, is by creating a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan®, which only a select few lawyers, like us, are trained to prepare.

If you are ready to take that step, start by sitting down with us. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can walk you step by step through creating a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan® that not only names a legal guardian for your child in your Will, but also ensures your kids care is fully provided for, in the short-term and the long-term, and in the event of your incapacity.

Working with a trusted Personal Family Lawyer® will ensure your entire family is protected and cared for no matter what.

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.

If you would like to create or update your estate plan, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

Legal Rights of Grandparents: In Honor of National Grandparents Day

When all is ideal in a family, the bond between grandparent and child is a special one. Maybe you’ve even heard that grandparenting is the grand reward for parenting.

But what happens when the grandparent becomes the parent? Or when parents’ divorce or one parent dies and a grandparents’ visitation rights are taken away?

This is happening more and more often, and it’s an issue you’ll want to be aware of, if your child has a close relationship with your parents, or if you are a grandparent who wants to maintain relationship with your grandkids no matter what, or if you do not have a relationship with your parents and want to ensure that your child doesn’t either, if something happens to you.

Let’s begin with the first scenario: your child has a close relationship with your parents, that you want to maintain, no matter what happens to you. In that case, you must put in writing your nomination of your parents as the legal guardians of your child or children. Otherwise, if something were to happen to you, they could lose custody and even visitation rights.

This is especially a risk if you are a divorced parent. If you were to die, and your child’s other parent or other grandparents were to fight or attempt to deny your parents’ visitation, your known and documented wishes that your parents maintain a relationship with your child could be pivotal.

If you are a grandparent reading this, make sure your child has legally named guardians for your grandchild so that you do not have to suffer through a protracted court battle, created because your child didn’t take a simple action to legally document his or her choices now.

In the event that you know you would never want your parents raising your child, it’s just as critical for you to name legal guardians. Quite often, if both parents have become unable to care for their child, due to death or incapacity, grandparents would be the first option the Court system would look to as caregivers for the child.

But, maybe you would choose someone else, or perhaps you would even want there to be restrictions on the care or visitation of your child by your parents. In that case, you must legally document your choices. You may even want to create a confidential exclusion of guardianship, which we prepare as part of a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan® for your family.

Finally, if you are a grandparent who has already become a primary caretaker for your grandchild, you will want to take the steps of naming legal guardians for the child or children in your care, in case anything happens to you.

This National Grandparent’s Day, make grandparenting a priority in your family. When you call and schedule your Family Wealth Planning Session to get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and provide for the care of your children, if anything happens to you, not only will we waive our Family Wealth Planning Session fee, but we will also create a no-charge health care directive for the grandparent in your family, or you if you are the grandparent.

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.

Legal Strategies to Avoid Guardianship

As senior citizens continue to age, the likelihood increases that they will become physically or mentally incapacitated. Hopefully, people in such a situation have family members who step in and help keep their affairs in order. That is not always the case, however. If no one steps in to help, courts may be petitioned to appoint someone–a guardian–to look after that person’s very existence. This often happens  when a person becomes incapacitated by illness and cannot make decisions.

 What Can I Do?

For medical situations, a medical power of attorney – a document that identifies a person of your choosing (your agent) to make decisions for you in the event of your incapacity – should be executed. Your agent can be family member or friend. The key is to make sure it is someone you trust.

A power of attorney can also be used to appoint someone to deal with non-medical issues. This document can be set up to either take effect immediately or only at such time as you are unable to make your own decisions. The former is known as a “durable” power of attorney, while the latter is a “springing” power of attorney. The durable power of attorney is the more effective of the two in that it requires no consideration of whether a person lacks the capacity to make decisions.

Also, consider setting up a trust to administer your assets as you age. Unlike a power of attorney, with a trust, the trustee has sole control of your assets. And there are further legal steps you can take, such as establishing a limited liability corporation or a family limited partnership to manage your assets.

All of these processes will prevent the need for a court to appoint a guardian for you if you become incapable of managing your own affairs. Those of us who are in our senior years should

recognize the increasing chance of the need for someone else to make decisions. And those of us who have elderly parents or loved ones should help them think about these issues. The time to plan for potential incapacity is now. Once someone becomes incapacitated, it’s simply too late.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer®.  One of the main objectives of our law practice is to keep families out of court and out of conflict through thoughtful estate planning. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ where we help you be proactive in avoiding guardianship and appointing people you trust to take care of you and your affairs if you later become unable to do so.  Call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and identify the best strategies for you and your family.

What Every Single Parent Needs to Know About Estate Planning

If you are a single parent, life for you right now probably couldn’t get any busier. You are likely being pulled between work, school activities, sports teams and the inevitable emergencies that fill the lives of single parents everywhere.

Being a single parent is a huge responsibility. You may have taken it on willingly or not but your children’s lives are now largely in your hands.  So what would happen to them if something happened to you?  Who would take care of them?  Who would pay for their housing and food?  Who would pay for their education?  These are questions you need to get answered, and the best way to do that is through estate planning.

Having an estate plan that covers the care of your children in case you should die suddenly or even become incapacitated provides welcome peace of mind for the single parent.  Here are the elements that can help you:

Will.  A will lets you name the person responsible for your estate as well as who will inherit your assets. Most importantly is the legal vehicle you use to name a guardian for your children,  without a will, the state will decide their fate.

Revocable Living Trust.  There are so many benefits of a living trust for single parents.  First, a trust enables you to still control your assets while you’re able, but if you die or become incapacitated, it transitions that decision-making authority immediately to the person you have named as your trustee (obviously someone you can trust and count on to do what you would have wanted).  If your children are still minors or even young adults their inheritance can be handled for them until the time comes when they are capable (and you decide that time).  Plus, if you have a trust, your estate doesn’t have to go through probate, which can be costly and time-consuming. Also probates are not the best idea if your children need to continue living in their home and having their expenses paid.

Durable Power of Attorney.  As a single parent, you are likely the only signatory on your mortgage, your bank accounts, and other financial instruments.  What would happen if you became incapacitated and there was no one to pay the mortgage or the bills?  That is why it is important to have a durable power of attorney in place. When choosing your power of attorney, it should be someone you trust managing your financial affairs, while also make legal decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.

Advance Medical Directive.  An advance medical directive gives you the legal power to have someone you select make your health care decisions in case you are not capable of doing so yourself.

Beneficiary Forms.  Your life insurance policy, retirement accounts and brokerage accounts all require beneficiary designations.  Those you designate to receive the assets in these accounts will only receive them if you execute the proper beneficiary forms!  They cannot pass to your heirs via a will or trust. And minor children should never be named as beneficiaries as they are not legally able to own assets. Talk with your Personal Family Lawyer® about strategies to leave these assets to your children without court intervention.

Kids Protection Planning Kit®.  Developed by a nationally recognized attorney who is a single mom herself, the Kids Protection Planning Kit® provides single parents with the legal planning tools they need to make sure there is never a question about who will take care of your kids if you are in an accident. The kit includes legal documents to name short- and long-term guardians, instructions for those guardians, medical powers of attorney for your minor children and more.  There are also audio CDs to guide you through the process.

One of the main goals of our law practice is to help families like yours plan for the protection of yourself and your family through thoughtful estate planning. Call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk through a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family.

 

Before You Take Off for Summer Vacation, Take On These 5 To-Dos

It’s no surprise that Americans spend more time planning their summer vacations than they do planning their estate.  After all, a vacation is a trip you want to go on, while the eternal “trip” is not.

However, wouldn’t you travel with more peace of mind if you knew you had taken the necessary steps to protect your family if something unthinkable should happen to you?  That’s why you need to tackle these five important tasks before you go on that much-deserved summer vacation:

Guardians for minor children — if you have children under the age of 18, you must name a guardian or guardians to ensure that they will never be left in the hands of strangers or people you wouldn’t want raising them.  You can name short-term guardians in case of emergency, and then plan for long-term guardianship.  We recommend a full Kids Protection Plan® to ensure there is no gap in your kids care, ever and no matter what.

Beneficiary review — if it’s been awhile since you updated your beneficiary forms for retirement accounts, life insurance or other assets, it’s time for a review — especially if there has been a major change in your life.  Make sure insurance and retirement accounts are never passed on to your minor children, outside of a Trust.

Estate plan review — if you have experienced a birth, death, marriage, divorce or other life-changing event since you last updated your estate plan, you need to be sure those changes are reflected by updating your plan.

Advance healthcare directive — if you become incapacitated and can’t make your own health care decisions, have you named someone who you can depend on to carry out your wishes?  If not, you need to execute an advance health care directive that includes a durable power of attorney and a HIPAA release so your medical information can be shared.

Insurance update — is your life insurance still sufficient to meet the needs of your family?  If not, then you should revise your policy before you go.

If you haven’t done any of these things, it’s time to take care of business.  Call our office to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best ways for you to protect and provide for your family.

How to Care for Children with Special Needs Through Estate Planning

For many people, the basics of estate planning are simple enough, but for those families with loved ones who are disabled or have special needs, the estate planning process is more involved – and definitely more critical.

The latest statistics show that five percent of minor children have some sort of disability, and the burden of caring for these children make estate planning essential.  In addition to specialized health care, these children usually need special schooling and intensive therapy, all of which comes at a cost.

Here are some tips for parents facing the need to plan not only for their own financial future, but for that of a special needs child:

Deal with expectations.  Parents need to think about the kind of life they envision for their child.  Will the child have a shorter life span?  Will he or she be able to work or live independently?  The answers to these questions will form the foundation of your plan.

Determine eligibility for public benefits.  In order to meet eligibility requirements for Medicaid and Social Security Supplemental Income programs, a person with special needs or other disabilities cannot have more than $2,000 in assets.  This makes it imperative that a child who could benefit from these services not have any assets titled in his or her own name – meaning they should not be listed as beneficiaries on life insurance policies, retirement accounts or plans, in trusts, wills or pensions.

Consider a special needs trust.  Assets placed in a third-party special needs trust are not counted as assets toward public benefit program eligibility, but these trusts are governed by strict rules so the counsel of a Personal Family Lawyer in establishing this trust is necessary.  Parents who are unable to fund a special needs trust with cash while they are still alive can do so through life insurance proceeds after they die.

If you would like to have a talk about protecting your family through estate planning, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

Congratulations! It’s an Estate Plan! Protecting Your Newborn From Birth

In the process of becoming new parents, many couples become experts at planning – scheduling the birthing classes, planning the new nursery, even picking out a preschool. There is so much to think about before you welcome your new child.

Unfortunately, one of the most important things you can do to protect your child is often overlooked:  an estate plan.  Here are five important considerations you need to discuss with your Personal Family Lawyer® when setting up an estate plan once your new baby is born:

Guardians and trustees.  Parents who delay choosing a guardian for their children usually do so because they cannot agree on that “perfect” choice.  Get comfortable with the fact that there is no perfect choice – and if you don’t choose, a court will choose for you.  You can always amend your choice if you change your mind.  When choosing a guardian or trustee, you need to think about choosing someone who shares your beliefs and who will naturally be a part of your child’s life.  And you need to make sure whomever you choose is willing to take on the responsibility of raising your child if you are unable to do so.

As your neighborhood Personal Family Lawyer, I offer a unique process for families with young children at home. Contact me to discuss how a Kids Protection Plan® can ensure your children are always cared for by people you know, love and trust if anything at all happens to you.

Education.  The cost of college is already sky-high; can you imagine what it will be like in another 18 years?  You probably want to start saving right away, either through a 529 plan or an educational trust so you can realize some tax benefits while you save.

Passing on your assets.  Assets cannot pass directly to children under the age of 18, so you will need to think about setting up a trust and naming a trustee to manage the assets you would leave your children.  You also need to examine your beneficiary forms for retirement accounts and insurance policies to be sure your new child is included as a beneficiary.  Even if you name them in a will, a beneficiary form for these accounts will determine who inherits.

Avoiding probate.  Talk to your attorney about setting up a living trust so your heirs can avoid probate and assets can pass directly to them.

Asset protection.  If you have an estate of more than $10.5 million, you will want to discuss asset protection strategies that will help you minimize taxes and protect assets for your heirs.

If you’re ready to protect your children through estate planning, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.