What Does it Mean to be a Ward of the State

What Does it Mean to be a Ward of the State

When an adult is unable to care for themselves due to disability or disease, someone else has to manage their affairs. This is often accomplished by appointing a guardian. When no family member is available to become the guardian, the adult who needs care may become a ward of the state.

What is a Ward of the State?

A ward of the state is a person under the care of the state through an appointed guardian. The guardian is responsible for major medical, financial, and other decisions with input from the ward according to the ward’s ability. Once a guardian is appointed, they have similar duties and powers to a guardian who is a family member or chosen by the family.

How Does Someone Become a Ward of the State?

A judge decides whether someone should become a ward of the state. In some situations, the potential ward may make the request if they recognize that they are not fully capable of managing their affairs. A family member, medical professional, or almost anyone else with a relationship to the potential ward can also make the petition. The court will hold a hearing to review the reasons for the petition, hear from the ward if possible, hear from anyone else who may have knowledge of the situation, and obtain reports from medical professionals or social workers as applicable.

A person may only become a ward of the state if the judge finds that they are in fact unable to manage their own affairs in whole or in part. The preference is to appoint a family member as guardian, but there may not always be a family member who is both willing and able to take on the role. When no family member is available, the judge appoints a state guardian and the person becomes a ward of the state.

How Long Does a Person Remain a Ward of the State?

In many situations, a person becomes a ward of the state permanently, because there are only limited circumstances where the status is removed. One is if the ward recovers and is again able to manage their own affairs. The other is if a family member or other person becomes able to take on the role of guardian and the change is in the best interests of the ward. Both of these situations are reviewed in a hearing to terminate ward of the state status.

What Does the Guardian Do?

The guardian is responsible for all medical, financial, living arrangement, and other major decisions subject to the court order. For example, the court may appoint a separate conservator to manage the ward’s finances. The ward may also retain control over certain decisions. For other decisions, the guardian should consider the ward’s input but also that it may not be in the ward’s best interests to follow that input depending on the situation. A guardian does not perform daily tasks like an in-home caretaker or nurse would but is responsible for overseeing any required care such as by hiring an appropriate caretaker.

Is the State Financially Responsible for a Ward?

Becoming a ward of the state does not mean receiving financial assistance from the state. In fact, the ward is responsible for not only their own costs but reasonable fees for the guardian’s services as well. If the ward has savings or other assets, the guardian is responsible for using them to the ward’s benefit with oversight from the court. Other financial resources the ward may have include wages from any job the ward is able to perform, Social Security Disability benefits, and other government assistance programs. The guardian is responsible for helping the ward manage and obtain these financial resources. The state is responsible for overseeing the guardian’s actions. Any special assistance the ward may receive due to being a ward of the state or due to their condition is separate from the legal process of becoming a ward of the estate and having a guardian appointed.

What Are the Benefits of Being a Ward of the State?

Being a ward of the state is really a last resort option. When no other options are available, the estate will take the steps needed to make sure that a person’s basic needs are met.

What are the Disadvantages to Being a Ward of the State?

The biggest disadvantage to being a ward of the state is being under the guardianship of an unknown person. Guardians are vetted, but an overworked and underfunded legal system means that things don’t always go as planned. There have been numerous complaints of financial abuse by a guardian. In some cases, this has even involved someone attempting to become someone’s guardian for the purpose of draining their assets. While these types of crimes have also been committed by related guardians, knowing who your guardian will be gives you more control over the situation as well as the family pressure to due the right thing.

Other complaints regarding guardians have included disregarding the ward’s wishes, not providing individualized solutions, not providing information to family members or the court, or inappropriately controlling or restricting relationships with others. The causes for these are varied. In some cases, a well-intended guardian is simply too overworked. In others, the guardian is more interested in collecting a check than providing the service if not trying to hide an outright financial fraud. Depending on the ward’s capacity and level of involvement from their family, if any, it can be difficult for anyone to recognize what is going on and to try to find a solution.

What are the Alternatives to Becoming a Ward of the State?

Becoming a ward of the state is sometimes unavoidable, but can be prevented in some cases with a little planning. The best alternative is to have a family member or friend who can become the guardian. Potential guardians sometimes avoid taking on the responsibility out of fear of a potential financial burden. Remember, though, that the guardian is not financially responsible for the ward. Working with an attorney or a social worker can help identify the financial resources available to the ward so that all of their expenses can be met. The guardian may also be eligible for tax benefits if they do cover some of the ward’s expenses such as allowing the ward to move in.

Preplanning is also a good alternative to becoming a ward of the state or at least to some of the potential negative outcomes. Someone with a family history of dementia or who is concerned about an accident or sudden illness may want to put medical and financial directives in place in case they lose the capacity to make decisions in the future. Any future guardian would have an obligation to follow these directives except where a judge agrees that very compelling circumstances require a change.

Can a Guardian Be Blocked or Replaced?

The court must always agree that a potential guardian would serve the best interests of the ward. A guardian may also be terminated and replaced when the judge finds it is in the best interests of the ward to do so. The ward, if able, or any person with knowledge of abuse or unsuitability may challenge the appointment of a guardian or request that a guardian be replaced. It is not required to prove that the guardian has committed any particular abuse, violated the law, or acted outside the bounds of the original court order. Those factors can influence a judge’s decision, but the fact that someone would be better suited to be the guardian is enough for a replacement. The court will hold a hearing to review the evidence, allow the guardian to respond, and make any adjustments needed.

Work With an Estate Planning Lawyer

To learn more about the process for becoming a ward of the estate, how to navigate it, or how to avoid it, talk to a local estate planning attorney today. The attorneys at Lilac City Law are here to help you do what’s right for yourself and your loved ones. Contact us now to schedule a consultation.

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Understanding Guardianship for Young Adults with Disabilities

Understanding Guardianship for Young Adults with Disabilities

As a parent, friend, or family member of a young adult with a disability, you are intimately aware of your loved one’s capabilities and limitations. This person may require assistance in making important decisions that impact their quality of life, health, education, or financial wellbeing, among others. While acting as an informal advisor provides some level of support, there may come a time when a legally-binding arrangement better serves your loved one’s best interest. 

Securing a legal guardianship to act on a young adult’s behalf involves working through a complicated court process. Common missteps typically cause everyday people to suffer delays, refile cour documents, and even start the process over. Compounding the problems associated with the dense bureaucracy, there are no one-size-fits-all guardianships for young adults. At Lilac City Law, we work with loving families every day to navigate the guardianship process. If you are considering a young adult guardianship, these are things you can anticipate during the process. 

What You Need To Know About Guardianships

Caring people outside the legal professions often believe that securing a legal guardianship is their only option to protect a loved one. This is not necessarily the case. Several alternative options may adequately resolve any concerns or needs. Washington State’s guardianship statutes require other legal pathways to be considered. Moving forward with a young adult guardianship filing could prove a waste of time and resources unless the following items are considered first. 

Education Representative

In Washington State, an automatic Transfer of Rights occurs when a minor turns 18 years old. In instances of minors with disabilities, the school district may notify parents, guardians, and the student before this transfer. It’s not uncommon for loved ones to promptly file for guardianship rights as the age of majority approaches. But retaining rights over a young adult with a disability can have unforeseen negative results. For instance, a guardianship could impact the person’s right to vote, among others. Becoming a legally designated educational representative limits authority and decision-making power. But it also leaves the individual’s other rights intact. 

Payee Representative

Guardianships for young adults tend to deliver broad decision-making powers. But when a loved one only needs assistance in niche areas, becoming a legal representative can have advantages. Representative payees typically field revenue such as Social Security Disability benefits on behalf of the person and oversee their bill-paying obligations. This legal designation limits oversight to financial matters without impacting other rights. 

Power of Attorney

A somewhat broader solution may be gaining a power of attorney. This allows loved ones to make informed decisions on financial, medical, and other essential life issues for the young adult. This designation is typically voluntarily transferred by the young adult.  

Wide-reaching alternatives to a young adult guardianship also include items such as a special needs trust, and vulnerable adult protection orders, among others. In all likelihood, the court will ask to what degree alternatives were considered or pursued before agreeing to a guardianship arrangement. If you have not thoroughly explored these possibilities, your guardianship petition could be rejected. That means the time invested would be wasted as the court sends you back to square one. 

Filing Young Adult Guardianship Paperwork

A young adult guardianship attorney can help decide the most straightforward pathway for protecting your loved one’s best interest. Having an attorney who routinely works through this process, your petition will be strengthened by the fact alternatives have been explored. Articulating the reasons why a guardianship provides the best possible protection and care will help avoid the court denying the petition and forcing you to start all over. 

The time saved by diligently navigating the process can help avoid a gap between when the person turns 18 years old, and the guardianship begins. Although the guardianship tends to be rigorous and requires complicated filings, it can be expedited in a matter of months if no errors or missteps occur. That being said, these are standard documents that are required to be filed with the court, among others. 

  • Petition for Guardianship 
  • Guardian ad Litem Order
  • Notice of Petition 
  • Declaration of Service
  • Order Appointing Guardian
  • Declaration of Proposed Guardian
  • Guardian Oath
  • Mandated Guardianship Training Declaration 
  • Standby Guardian 
  • Guardianship Inventory

Failing to file accurate petitions supported by thorough documentation ranks among the primary reasons why everyday people suffer delays in the young adult guardianship process. Financial concerns often drive the decision to try and negotiate the high legal standards and bureaucracy. Working families are often pleased to discover they may qualify for no-cost court filings and guardian ad litem services. Enlisting the help of an experienced guardianship attorney can save you time, as well as money. 

Common Steps To Secure A Young Adult Guardianship

Although the documentation required to petition the court for a guardianship can be quite stringent, judges understand that a vulnerable community member sometimes needs the support of loved ones. The court proceedings are designed to deliver that support while ensuring the young adult’s best interests are served. 

Commonly acceptable reasons to petition the court include a disabled minor nearing the age of 18, inability to provide self-care, or manage finances. It may also be necessary to intervene when a disabled person suffers from neglect or is being exploited. If you are seeking a young adult guardianship, these are procedural elements you can expect.

  • Guardianship Training: If you are a non-professional or “layperson” in legal jargon, the court will mandate that you undergo guardianship education. Training sessions are generally free of charge and can be conducted online. The coursework typically takes about two hours and outlines a guardian’s duties and responsibilities. The court will require a declaration of completion. You can save time by completing the sessions before petitioning the court. 
  • Petitioning For Guardianship: The paperwork mentioned above will need to be completed and supporting documentation compiled. With the help of your guardianship lawyer, a guardian ad litem candidate may be included. Having a diligently prepared filing can save substantial time and avoid common setbacks.  
  • Court-Appointed Guardian Ad Litem: At the initial court hearing, a guardian ad litem is usually appointed. This certified professional will conduct an independent review and provide the court with a report. You can expect an in-home visit, and additional professionals may be included. It’s not unusual for a social worker to accompany the guardian ad litem. These professionals consider the environment and ask questions to understand whether the proposed guardianship is in the young adult’s best interest. 
  • Guardianship Hearing: During the formal hearing, judges ask specific questions to determine whether a guardianship is in the person’s best interest. It’s not unusual for a judge to bring up alternatives, and your legal representative will need to articulate why the petition before the court is the best option. Parties who are against the guardianship may also speak at the hearing. Your lawyer can cross-examine any opposing parties and making arguments on your behalf. 
  • Letters of Guardianship: Should the court rule in your favor, a formal document will be issued that transfers decision-making powers to the guardian. The letters may also outline certain restrictions.

The young adult guardianship process does not necessarily have a specific timetable assigned to case review and completion. A diligently drafted petition with supporting documentation can save you a significant amount of time. And, having completed to guardianship training in advance helps facilitate the process. Other important time-related issues include being available for the guardian ad litem visit and potential follow-up questions.

Working With An Experienced Guardianship Attorney Saves Time

Although the court system can be challenging to negotiate for everyday people, lawyers who secure vital guardianships for community members have the skills and experience to expedite the process. Along with common pitfalls such as misfiled court papers and inadequate supporting documents, laypeople sometimes don’t indicate the scope of guardianship. Judges may be willing to order a limited guardianship rather than agree to full and unfettered decision-making authority. 

When everyday people try to petition the court on their own, these are the types of issues that get them bogged down. By working with an experienced young adult guardianship law firm, your case can flow through the court system seamlessly. Having a qualified legal professional to answer technical legal questions helps everyday people overcome potential setbacks and keep the process fast-tracked. 

If you have a minor child approaching 18 years old or are considering securing a guardianship for other reasons, Lilac City Law provides determined legal services that support our vulnerable community members. Contact our law office and schedule a young adult guardianship consultation today.

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Do I Need a Durable Power of Attorney If I Get Sick with COVID19?

Do I Need a Durable Power of Attorney If I Get Sick with COVID19?

With the COVID19 pandemic sweeping across the globe, you may be wondering as to whether or not you have everything you need in order, in the event you were to become ill. Unfortunately, it often takes extremes for many people to realize they may not have the proper protocols put in place in the event an illness or accident renders them incapable of handling necessary decisions.

What Is a Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney provides another individual with the ability to handle certain issues on your behalf. You can have a power of attorney that puts someone in charge of your financials only, your health care only, legal issues, or one that incorporated all three.

What Is the Main Difference Between a Regular Power of Attorney and a Durable Power of Attorney?

A general power of attorney can handle any legal, financial, or medical matters for you unless you are deemed medical incompetent. Limited powers of attorney can be applied, which will be used only for specific situations, such as making a major purchase on your behalf when you cannot be there. For example, buying a ca. 

The primary difference between a regular power of attorney and a durable power of attorney is when it expires. A durable POA can extend the ability of the person making decisions on your behalf, allowing them to continue to make decisions even if you are deemed incompetent. These can be better for dealing with possible medical emergencies where you may be unable to make reasonable decisions or if you suffer from a cognitive decline. 

General Durable Power of Attorney v. Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

A general durable power of attorney will grant someone the power to represent your wishes on a wide range of legal and business issues and will remain in effect if you have become incapacitated. You can also set it up to only go into effect in the event that you are incapacitated. The person named can be anyone you designate, and they will have the power to perform many actions on your behalf, such as:

  • Buying and selling a property
  • Managing your bills
  • Handling bank accounts
  • Managing investments
  • Filing tax returns
  • Applying for government benefits

A durable healthcare power of attorney is more often used when you are in some way incapacitated and unable to make decisions regarding your care. When this occurs, the person you have appointed with the healthcare power of attorney will be able to communicate with your doctors and help make medical decisions on your behalf. 

What Happens if You Don’t Have Durable Power of Attorney?

In the event that you become incapacitated and do not have a general power of attorney, your family may be required to go to court and have you declared incompetent before they would be able to take over your medical and financial decisions for you. This makes having one in place extremely beneficial and less stressful for your family. 

How to Name or Remove a Power of Attorney

While there are DIY power of attorney forms out there, it is best to speak with an attorney so that you can ensure that you have the right document filed for your particular situation. They can discuss with you your options and help draft a document that will be in line with what you want to happen in the event you are incapacitated. Once the document is drafted, you will need to provide the person you have designated with certified copies so that they can present them when signing paperwork or making decisions on your behalf. 

If you decide that you no longer want a power of attorney, or you wish to designate another person to have that power, you can revoke a power of attorney at any time as long as you have not been deemed mentally incompetent. You will need to revoke the power in writing and should also notify any financial institutions that may have had the POA on file. 

In the event that a family member wishes to override the power of the attorney of another family member, the situation can be more difficult. There are some cases where loved ones may be afraid that someone with power of attorney over their loved one is abusing that position. In this case, it will take legal action for the person’s position to be removed. 

Should the COVID19 Pandemic Be a Reason to Name a Durable Power of Attorney?

With so many uncertainties and how quickly the virus can be devastating for some, having a durable power of attorney in place in the event you come incapacitated with the virus can be a way to ensure that your needs are met, and your personal business is taken care of in the event you contract the virus. In truth, having a durable power of attorney in place in the event of a major accident or medical injury is a wise move, no matter the current situation, but it may be more at the forefront of your mind when a terrible virus is sweeping across the country. 

Reasons to Have a Durable Power of Attorney in Place During the COVID19 Pandemic

There are many reasons to consider obtaining a durable power of attorney in light of the COVID19 pandemic. With a durable power of attorney in place, you will be able to:

Ensure You Have Someone to Communicate With Your Doctors

While many of the coronavirus cases have mild symptoms, when hospitalization is required, it means the patient can become sick very quickly. When this occurs, it can mean that they may quickly become unable to make informed decisions about their healthcare. Having a durable power of attorney will allow you to have someone who can make split decisions on your treatment on your behalf, even over the phone. This can help allow you to receive quicker treatment, that may be delayed by family members arguing about the best course of action. 

They Can Communicate Your Wishes as to Whether or Not You Want Intubation or a Ventilator

Unfortunately, severe virus cases require breathing intervention to allow the patient to get oxygen as quickly as possible The quickest two ways for this to happen is through intubation and the use of a ventilator. While most doctors will advance with these processes unless they believe there is no hope of recovery, traditional directives can be both interpreted and implemented differently during a time of panic. Medical professionals have to make hard and fast decisions when faced with many patients in respiratory distress, and since the virus is novel, they may be unsure of which cases can result in recovery and which will not. 

To ensure that your wishes are heard, you should have an advanced directive as to whether or not you are willing to go through these invasive procedures in an attempt to recover, and have a person with a durable power of attorney to ensure that those wishes are communicated and followed. You can even address what protocols you would like followed in the event you contract the virus, versus other situations. For example, if you wish to have a ventilator tried but don’t’ want to be intubated and put on life support, add that into your document as well. 

Living Wills DO Not Replace POAs

Many people may confuse a living will with a POA. While these can complement each other, the living will not replace the POA. A living will can provide loved ones with your wishes in the event that you have a terminal condition. It does not cover other types of medical treatment, which can occur when you are capacitated, such as dialysis and blood transfusion. To have someone make decisions on your behalf, you will need to have a durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions. 

Choosing Your Attorney-in-Fact

The person who you designate to hold your power of attorney will be referred to as your attorney-in-fact. This person will have access to your financial accounts, legal information, and medical records, and will be able to make decisions for you regarding one or all of these areas, depending on how your POA is set up. Therefore, when choosing your attorney-in-fact, you will need to make sure it is someone you can trust. You will also want to appoint someone who shares your same views and can keep their emotion out of decisions to ensure that your wishes are appropriately followed. If you choose to, you can also appoint more than one person or a person for each facet, such as one for health care, on for finances, and one for legal matters.

Contact Lilac City Law to Set Up Your Durable Power of Attorney

Everyone has different needs and issues, so finding experienced legal counsel to help you draft your durable power of attorney can ensure that you get the type of document you need that aligns with both your wants and needs. Contact Lilac City Law today to schedule a consultation and put your mind at ease during this time of uncertainty. 

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Should I Nominate a Health Care Agent Today?

Should I Nominate a Health Care Agent Today?

Having a disability can be challenging. Not only will you have to face a number of daily challenges, both mental and physical, but you will also have to deal with a number of legal issues, as you may need assistant making decisions in the future. Challenges that you may face include financial management as well as managing your own health care. Medical assistance is a necessity for everyone, and due to the high levels of privacy and various needs for consent, navigating the health care system can be difficult, These difficulties can be compounded if you face challenges that make it difficult for you to understand the paperwork and make decisions regarding it. That is unless there is someone appointed to make these decisions on your behalf. That is where the duties of a health care agent come into play.

What Is a Health Care Agent?

A health care agent is a person designated to make health care decisions for you. This can be for reasons such as your being too sick or debilitated to make these important decisions for yourself. It could also be that you difficulty making decisions when your mental competence is too low to understand the information set before you so that you can come to an informed decision. 

The agent should understand medical jargon and be willing to liaise with you nurses, doctors, and other medical teams to discuss treatment options while taking into consideration your wants and needs. This way, you will have an advocate in your corner, making sure that your wishes are being closely followed for every aspect of your treatment. 

It is important to note that even though you have assigned a health care agent, you will still have control over your medical decisions. You can have your health care agent work with your medical team, or you may choose to work with them yourself unless it has been decided by doctors that you are not in a condition to communicate your medical decisions properly or if the court has deemed you incompetent for making these types of decisions. 

What Authority Will a Health Care Agent Have?

A health care agent will have the power to make decisions on your behalf in terms of health care, but they will not have decision-making ability in work issues, finances, or any other matters that fall outside of the scope of health care. They also will be restricted from making decisions that go against your expressed instructions and wishes. In most situations, your health care agent will also not have the ability to give consent for certain conditions such as commitment to a mental institution or electroconvulsive type of therapy. 

When designating a health care agent, you can also set limits on what their decisions can entail and also what period of time or specific medical treatments you would want their assistance utilized for. 

What You Should Consider When Appointing a Health Care Agent

Sudden illness and disability can happen in an instant, and if you have a cognitive impairment, it may be difficult for you to make good decisions on medical issues even when you are healthy, let alone when they have become injured or have fallen ill. Since time is of the essence, having a health care agent ready and willing to make those decisions on your behalf can make the process go smoother and ensure that you get treated in the manner that is in accordance with your wants. 

But this is not the only reason to have a health care agent in your corner, willing to fight for your needs. Another primary reason why having a health care agent is critical is, if no one is in place, it can fall to family members to make decisions on your behalf. Even the closest families can become divided when it comes to making medical decisions on behalf of a loved one. With infighting going on in the family, it can take longer for treatment decisions to be made and sometimes even lead to possible legal battles. In the end, the decision that is made may not be what you had wished or intended, even though a family member thought it would be best. For those without close family, important decisions will be left in the hands of family members who may know little about your situation and desired medical decisions. 

How to Choose the Right Person as You Health Care Agent

Since your health care agent will be making medical decisions that can affect your life, it is critical that you choose the right person to represent you in these matters. First and foremost, you will need to choose someone that you can trust. You will be discussing with your agent what you want in terms of your medical decisions and will want to make sure that the person you choose will stick to your wants and best interests. Start with a list of people close to you that you can trust and then ask yourself the following questions about each of them to assist you with making your final decision.

  • Are they willing and able to make the decisions you choose, even if they disagree with them?
  • Do your wants and needs align with their morals?
  • Can they keep their emotions out of the decisions, so that they can make the right choice?
  • Are they strong enough to advocate for you and your wants to medical officials and even family members? 
  • Are they comfortable with medical information so that they can ask the necessary questions needed to make an informed decision?
  • Are they confident enough to stand up to medical staff and get answers and clarification to questions, so they fully understand the situation?
  • Will they be able to make quick and informed decisions even if situations change rapidly?

When you find a person that you trust and your answer to all the above questions is yes, they are likely a good candidate to be your health care agent.

What Type of Person Can Be Selected as a Health Care Agent?

While most commonly, people will look to their family members to choose a health care agent to make medical decisions on their behalf, you don’t have to choose a family member for this position, and sometimes it is not advisable. You may automatically think of family because they love you and you can trust them, but for some family members making hard decisions regarding your health can be difficult fo them, and they may have a lot harder time keeping their emotions and wants out of the decision, sometimes ending in a result that you did not want or intend.

Sometimes it is better to choose someone who may care about you but have less of an emotional connection. Friends are a good option because they do not have to interact with family members on a regular basis, so they may be less likely to be swayed from the decision they know should be made. Some people may opt to choose more than one agent, so there is a collaboration when it comes to decision-making, but this is not always advisable as it can lead to delays in treatment due to disagreements. Another good option may be choosing someone comfortable with medical terminology so they can better understand and communicate with doctors and other medical staff.

How to Finalize Your Health Care Agent Choice

Once you have determined the best person to assist you with your medical decisions, you will need to have some hard conversations where you communicate with them your wishes and desires when it comes to certain medical treatments and concerns. If they agree to represent your interests in the medical decisions you have requested, now it is time to finalize your decision. You will need to officially name them by filling out a health care proxy document. You will need to have witnesses to the document signing, and it is advisable to have it properly notarized in the event a legal issue arises. 

Get Help with Your Health Care Agent Designation

If you or a loved one is disabled and wants to learn more about what goes into designating a health care agent or would like guidance on what it entails and how to file the proper paperwork, Lilac City Law is here to help. Contact us today to schedule your consultation and enjoy the peace of mind or having a health care advocate in your corner for when you need them most. 

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What is the Difference Between Custody and Guardianship?

What is the Difference Between Custody and Guardianship?

Custody and guardianship both allow someone else to care for a minor child. The main difference is how they’re set up. Keep reading to find out more.

What is Custody?

Custody is a family court order that allows someone to care for a minor child. One of the most common uses of custody is in divorce cases where the court will decide if the parents share joint custody, one will have primary custody, or, in rare cases, only one will have custody. A parent may also lose custody in cases of abuse or neglect.

What is Guardianship?

Guardianship comes from the probate court rather than family court. The guardian has similar powers to a parent or another person with custody. Guardianship may be used when both parents pass away or when both parents don’t have the physical or mental capacity to care for their child any longer.

Guardianship can also be used in the case of an adult who due to illness, injury, or disability is unable to care for himself or herself.

What’s the Difference Between Joint and Physical Custody and Guardianship?

Custody arrangements are often divided into physical and legal custody. Physical custody means a parent has the right to spend time with a child such as during visitation periods. Legal custody means a parent has the authority to make decisions over things like healthcare and education. With the trend towards awarding joint custody, most parents share both physical and legal custody, but this may not always be the same.

A guardianship is a legal arrangement, although the guardian often will also take in the child physically. If the guardianship is temporary, such as while a parent is in the hospital or jail, the guardian may be limited to making day-to-day decisions for the child during that time rather than having the same authority for more permanent decisions as a parent or someone with permanent custody would.

How Long Do Custody and Guardianship Arrangements Last?

Custody arrangements usually last until the age of majority. The parents or another interested party may request a modification of custody if there has been a significant change in circumstances.

Guardianships can also be permanent until the age of majority, but they may also be temporary. For example, a parent who is serving overseas or going in for a surgery may appoint a temporary guardian.

Can There Be Both Custody and Guardianship?

In most situations, guardianship is only used when both parents are unable to care for a child. If there is joint custody and something happens to one parent, the other parent will usually take on full custody at least until the other parent recovers. If something happens to both parents or the other parent is temporarily or permanently too far away to take on a greater role, the court may appoint a guardian. If either parent becomes able to take on full custody, the court would usually end the guardianship.

How Do Custody and Guardianship Start?

Custody often starts as one of the decisions a judge makes in a divorce case. The judge has the final say and decides what’s in the best interests of the child. The parents can ask for a certain arrangement, but even if both parents are in complete agreement, the judge may opt for a different course of action.

Custody can also arise out of an abuse or neglect case. Terminating or reducing parental rights is a serious decision, and the court will give anyone who such allegations have been made against the chance to answer the allegations. However, custody cases are not criminal trials, and the judge’s ultimate role is to further the best interests of the child.

Guardianship is also overseen by the court, but the process is slightly different. If a parent who is currently of sound mind and able to care for his or her child needs to appoint a temporary guardian, the court will almost always approve that choice. Parents can also nominate a potential guardian in case they are ever incapacitated. This choice is not automatic, since the court will want to check that the nominated guardian is able to currently serve in the role when needed, but the judge gives the nomination great weight. In cases where someone becomes incapacitated without a nominated guardian, the court will appoint a guardian after listening to the recommendations of family members and other interested parties.

How is Adoption Different Than Guardianship?

Adoption can be similar to permanent guardianship in many practical daily aspects, but there are important legal differences. First, if the parents are still living, adoption permanently ends their parental rights, while guardianship does not. A living parent who appoints a guardian may still have a legal obligation to provide financial support for their child, while an adopted child is the sole responsibility of the adopting parents. Finally, the child doesn’t have any automatic rights to inherit from a guardian but do from adoptive parents the same as a biological child.

Because of the permanence of adoption, it would generally only be part of your estate plan in case you pass away. For situations where there is a chance of recovery, you would want to use a guardianship.

Can Divorced Parents Nominate a Guardian?

Since the courts will default to another parent with custody before a guardian, nominating a guardian when the parents are divorced is more complicated. If both parents can agree to nominate the same guardian, such as a godparent, the court would honor that nomination if something happened to both parents. If each parent nominated a different guardian in their estate planning documents, it would first depend on which parent last had custody. For example, if something happened to the mother, the father took custody, and then something happened to the father, the court would start with the guardian the father nominated. However, both sides of the family would be able to appear in court and ask for a different guardian, and the court would act in the best interests of the child.

What About Grandparents?

In most situations, grandparents don’t have automatic legal rights to care for their grandchildren. This doesn’t mean the children can’t spend a week with grandma and grandpa, but grandparents don’t have the authority to make important legal decisions. If something happened to the parents, schools, doctors, and others couldn’t automatically treat the grandparents as guardians.

Of course, in many families, having the grandparents step in would be best for everyone. Judges understand this and favor awarding custody or guardianship in the right situations. You just need to make the appropriate legal arrangements rather than assuming the grandparents could automatically step in.

How Do You Terminate Custody or Guardianship?

In most custody cases, the more appropriate course of action is to request a modification of custody due to a significant change in circumstances. However, the other parent or another person may petition for termination of custody in cases of abuse or neglect.

Where guardianship is voluntary, such as a parent appointing a temporary guardian while they are away, the parent can terminate the guardianship at virtually any time for virtually any reason. Where the parent is incapacitated, members of the family may petition the court stating why the current guardian isn’t fulfilling his or her duties or why a new guardian would be better for the child.

What Happens if a Guardian Dies?

If a guardian dies or is otherwise unable to fulfill his or her duties, the court will obviously end the guardianship. However, the guardian is not treated as a parent for the purposes of appointing a new guardian. Instead of the guardian nominating a successor guardian, the court will look back to see if the parent nominated an alternate guardian. Otherwise, the judge will again listen to any recommendations from family members in trying to determine the best interests of the child.

Do You Need an Attorney?

It can be a good idea to have an attorney help you to properly establish a guardianship to care for your child should the unthinkable happen to you. To learn more about what you need to do, talk to one of the experienced estate planning attorneys at Lilac City Law. We’re conveniently located in Spokane and serve the surrounding communities.

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What is Permanent Guardianship & Why Does It Matter?

What is Permanent Guardianship & Why Does It Matter?

The importance of selecting a viable guardian early in a child’s life cannot be understated. In the event a parent passes prematurely or becomes unable to deliver the caregiving needs of a minor child, having a responsible and loving family member or trusted friend ready may prove invaluable. Without someone who has the force of law behind them, your child’s future remains uncertain.

A legal guardianship is not an informal agreement between family members and loved ones. While parents can discuss and agree that a sibling or grandparent would do the right thing in the event of a tragedy or setback, the courts hold sway unless you have a binding determined estate plan in place. That’s why it’s imperative to work with an experienced attorney to create legally-binding documents that ensure the health and welfare of your child’s future. That being said, these are elements of permanent guardianship parents would be wise to promptly consider.

Guardians & Parental Rights

People who do not work in the legal system are often surprised to discover that the family court does not necessarily handle guardianships. In most cases, family court judges decide child-rearing issues such as custody, visitation, and support, among others. Generally, probate handles guardianships because they are more closely related to Last Wills and other aspects of estate planning. So, in terms of guardianships coming into conflict with proceedings such as divorce or parental estrangement, cases are often referred to the probate system.

Although the discussion here remains focused on permanent guardianship, there are many instances when parents or the courts designate temporary status. For example, there are times when a child’s parent(s) are unable to provide care, support, or make consistent decisions due to temporary incapacitation. In such instances, they could transfer authority to their designee until they are able to resume parental responsibilities. In such instances, the parent does not necessarily surrender their primary rights.

Opting for a court-approved temporary guardianship should not be taken lightly by parents. When circumstances dictate that a disability, health condition, or addiction crisis renders a parent unsuitable to handle day-to-day caregiving functions, the court may find that it’s in the child’s best interest to terminate parental rights at some juncture. In such instances, guardianships are converted from temporary to permanent even against the parent’s wishes. That’s why it’s crucial to work with an experienced attorney when agreeing to temporary guardianship.

Making A Temporary Guardianship Permanent

Although temporary guardianships are intended to come to a logical end, sometimes circumstances require change. This may be the case when someone takes on the guardianship believing a parent will recovery from their challenge or condition within a reasonable time frame. Tragically, when parents lose their battle with health and wellness matters, permanence and stability tend to be in the child’s best interest. These are common reasons people petition the court for permanent guardianships.

  • The remaining parent passes away due to illness
  • The parent(s) has been incarcerated permanently or beyond the child reaching 18 years old
  • The parent can no longer adequately care for the minor child

When a guardian wishes to change the court-mandated designation to a permanent one, there are procedural steps that must be undertaken. It’s essential to work with an experienced attorney in such matters because the court bureaucracy can be difficult to negotiate, and missteps often prove costly.

Start by scheduling an appointment with an experienced attorney to gain insight about what permanent guardianship entails. Before making this extraordinary commitment, it’s important to understand all the rights and obligations that come with it in order to make an informed decision. If you still wish to proceed, these are legal hurdles that will need to be addressed.

Meet Court Requirements

The court’s responsibility in this process is to always protect the child’s best interests. The desires of well-meaning adults run a distant second. That’s largely why Washington State, and many others, set a stringent standard for permanent guardians. These are items required under Washington State’s Certified Professional Guardianship Program.

  • Must be at least 18 years old
  • Have no felony convictions on your record
  • Have no misdemeanor convictions that involve moral deficiencies
  • Be of sound mind and a person the court deems suitable
  • Demonstrate financial stability and a reasonably good credit rating

Although family members may not be petitioning the court under this specific program, its requirements highlight that you will need to make a persuasive case to a judge.

Gain Parent of Current Caregiver’s Consent

In instances where the parent can no longer raise the child or someone else has a temporary arrangement, a family member or interested third-party can petition to have the temporary order transferred to them and enhanced to a permanent one. One of the ways this pathway can be processed more seamlessly is with the current caregiver’s permission. By securing an affidavit to that effect, the court may be more inclined to grant the petition.

Provide Notice To Interest Parties

Once your attorney has completed your petition and filed with the court, all relevant parties must be notified in a timely fashion. This may include living parents, family members, and pertinent people in the child’s life that may also want to take on the guardian role. Make certain that your attorney has a list of all pertinent family members and potentially interested parties. Failing to complete this procedural step could upend the process or result in civil litigation brought by a family member or person with standing.

Your Day In Court

The fundamental question the judge considers when making someone a permanent or temporary guardian for that matter is whether the legal designation serves the child’s best interest. The judge will weigh a wide range of facts in reaching a conclusion. These may include the following.

  • Emotional bonds between the child and potential caregivers
  • Ability to provide necessities such as a safe, stable home, food, and medical care
  • Financial stability of the guardian candidate
  • Educational background and employment history
  • Issues involving previous alcohol or substance abuse
  • Mental and emotional fitness of the prospective guardian

You can anticipate answering pointed questions asked by the judge or any parties who oppose or have an interest in the petition. Securing permanent status can be something of an uphill battle when competing interests come into play.

What Parents Should Consider When Choosing A Permanent Guardian

In many cases, permanent guardianships are established by parents through estate planning documents. Parents who take such proactive measures understand that they are ensuring their child will be in good hands should they die prematurely or be otherwise unable to provide adequate care.

Ranked among the most significant challenges parents face is making an informed decision about whom to nominate. But by taking time to think through the process and weigh your options, you will be able to select the best possible candidate. These are things to consider.  

  • Consider Your Core Values: Although you may be immersed in a loving family, child-rearing remains deeply personal. Parents, siblings, and other loved ones may or may not share your core values. Take an inventory about issues such as religion, political perspectives, education, integrity, and other things that truly matter. Then, see who best mirrors your core values and would make a suitable guardian if necessary.
  • Multiple Guardian Option: While it may be somewhat uncommon, there are times when the designated guardian becomes unable or unwilling to fulfill the duty. That’s why it’s in the parents’ best interest to include an alternative in your estate planning documents.
  • Financial Stability: We live in a world in which financial security matters. A guardian who manages money well may be more likely to sustain a healthy and secure home life for your child. This person may also be asked to manage any assets to support the minor or work cooperatively with your estate’s trustee.
  • Speak To Your Family: Having an open and honest discussion about your desire to enlist a family member or loved one as a potential guardian must be treated with care and compassion. Take the time to explain your reasoning in a way that does not slight or otherwise make people feel less than adequate. You are basing the decision on what you perceive as an upbringing most closely aligned with your wishes. It may be worthwhile that while you respect others’ values and abilities, there are specific reasons for your choice.

Once you have reached an agreement with a guardian candidate, it’s vital to follow through with an attorney and make the designation legally binding.

Work With An Experienced Permanent Guardian Attorney

One of the most proactive measures to ensure that your child will grow up in a safe and healthy environment if something happens to you is designating a guardian in your estate planning documents. Giving the right person the ability to make essential life decisions allows you to provide care and comfort, even in your absence. If you have not yet designated a legal guardian or would like to update an existing plan, contact Lilac City Law today.  

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What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem represents the best interests of a child in court. A guardian ad litem can also represent an adult who is incapacitated or has diminished mental capacity.

What’s the Difference Between a Guardian ad Litem and an Attorney?

A guardian ad litem does not perform the same tasks as an attorney. They may make recommendations to the judge or investigate certain facts at the request of the judge, but they don’t argue on behalf of the person they’re representing in the same way as an attorney. In some cases, the guardian ad litem may represent someone who isn’t a named party in the case, such as a child in a divorce proceeding.

When is a Guardian Ad Litem Used?

A guardian ad litem may be used in several different types of cases.

  • Divorce or custody proceedings to represent any children.
  • Child abuse investigations.
  • Foster care or removal cases.
  • Determining whether an adult has full mental capacity.

What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do?

The guardian ad litem works for the interests of a specific person, but their true role is to work for the judge rather than directly for that person. The judge may ask them to find out certain facts, to monitor certain activities, and to present a report in court. Exactly what the judge asks of the guardian ad litem depends on the case.

Does the Guardian Ad Litem Make any Decisions?

The guardian ad litem makes no legally binding decisions. Through their investigation and experience, they may come to a certain conclusion about what they think should happen. However, the judge retains the final authority to overrule them or request additional information in areas the guardian ad litem may not have considered.

What Does Ad Litem Mean?

Ad litem is Latin for “for the purposes of the suit.” The appointed person takes on the role of the guardian but only for the specific purposes being discussed in court and only for as much time as it takes to resolve the court case.

What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do for Your Children in Estate Planning?

If something happens to you, a guardian ad litem can play several roles for your children in executing your estate plan. One duty is to monitor the probate process and ensure that your child receives what you intended in a way that benefits him or her. A guardian ad litem can also help your child through any guardianship proceedings including both making sure your stated wishes are honored and helping the court gain an objective view of what’s best in situations you may not have considered.

What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do for an Incapacitated Adult?

A guardian ad litem speaks on behalf of an incapacitated adult in any court proceedings necessary to execute his or her estate plan. The guardian ad litem can also serve as a go-between between the court and medical professionals to help the court of a neutral understanding of what doctors are recommending without having to call the doctors to testify in court.

How Does a Guardian Ad Litem Receive Compensation?

Guardian ad litems are paid by the parties receiving the benefit of their services. In a family court case, the parents may split the cost. In an estate administration case, the guardian ad litem may be paid out of the estate. In an incapacitation case, the guardian ad litem may be paid out of the incapacitated person’s assets.

Who Picks the Guardian Ad Litem?

The court appoints a guardian ad litem from a list of qualified individuals. It’s possible to nominate a guardian ad litem, but they need to be court-approved.

What Does it Take to Become a Guardian Ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem must complete a training course sponsored by the court. They also need several years of experience in social work, dealing with children or the elderly, dealing with people with disabilities, or in related fields.

Do You Want to Have a Guardian Ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem can be a useful advocate in certain court proceedings. However, you may be worried about the cost or whether the guardian ad litem would really be able to follow your wishes. The key thing to remember is that guardian ad litems do the most in contested court cases. If you can avoid the need to have a judge making decisions, you can avoid the need for a guardian ad litem. This might be by creating a thorough estate plan that covers every potential scenario so that the judge has a clear understanding of what you want without needing to rely on outside input.

What Can You Do if You Disagree with the Guardian Ad Litem?

If you are the person being represented by the guardian ad litem, you can petition the court to find you mentally fit to speak for yourself. Even if the court finds that you don’t have the capacity to do so, the judge can still give weight to your requests in consideration with any feedback from your healthcare providers.

If the guardian ad litem is representing a child or another family member, the first step is to speak to them directly. They generally want to have as full an understanding of your family picture as possible and may not even be aware of your concerns. If this doesn’t work or you believe that they’re abusing their position,  you can make a motion with the judge overseeing the case to take a certain action or, in extreme circumstances, to remove the guardian ad litem.

What Happens When the Guardian Ad Litem Goes to Court?

The guardian ad litem may create a written report to submit to the judge. Any parties in the court action will generally be given a copy along with time to review it before the judge makes any final decisions. The guardian ad litem also usually makes a verbal report during a court session. The judge may ask questions, and the parties will usually be able to ask questions or speak as well. In more contested situations, this may turn into a more formal cross-examination like any other witness.

Remember, that the guardian ad litem is there to represent the best interests of a child or incapacitated person rather than to win a case. The best approach if you disagree with their findings is often to bring out new facts or things they didn’t consider rather than directly arguing against their recommendation.

Do You Still Need an Attorney if You Have a Guardian ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem is not a replacement for an attorney. The guardian ad litem helps to establish facts that an incapacitated person may not be able to bring up on their own. An attorney focuses on how those facts fit within legal rights and principles. An attorney also helps to figure out the best way to legally achieve the desired outcome and to prepare any necessary documents. Further, an attorney can only act for a competent client — either directly or under the guidance of someone else — so an incapacitated person needs more than just an attorney.

Does A Guardian Ad Litem Replace a Guardian or Conservator?

A guardian ad litem also doesn’t replace a guardian, conservator, estate administrator, or other similar roles. The guardian ad litem may monitor daily activities, but their job isn’t to run them. Their job is to observe and report back to the court. You will need to have someone else to manage the daily affairs or yourself or your children. A guardian or conservator are often also expected to report to the court, but the guardian ad litem provides an additional person to do things like monitoring how the guardian or conservator is managing your finances.

Work with an Attorney

The key to properly using a guardian ad litem and not having any surprises is proactive planning. Whether you’d want or not want to have a guardian ad litem overseeing things, you want that decision to be in your control. You do that by having a thorough estate plan for your family. To learn more, talk to one of the estate planning attorneys at Lilac City Law in Spokane, Washington, today.

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How To Prevent My Child from Becoming a Ward of the Court

How To Prevent My Child from Becoming a Ward of the Court

If something happens to you and you’re unable to care for your children, the court system may step in. Making a child a ward of the court is only a last resort. If you’ve already made other arrangements, the court system would prefer to honor those arrangements as long as they account for your children’s best interests.

What is a Ward of the Court?

A ward of the court is a child who is under the care of the court system. The court monitors the child’s education, healthcare, finances, and other needs. The court may appoint a guardian for the child, or the child may be placed into foster care.

When Can a Child Become a Ward of the Court?

A child can become a ward of the court when their parents are unable to care for them. This can happen involuntarily in cases of abuse or neglect. In an estate planning context, it may be due to the death of the parents or an incapacitating illness or injury.

This process isn’t ideal for the children or their families, so it’s only used as a backup plan. If there are other arrangements, such as a nominated guardian who has the financial ability to care for the child, the court would rather entrust the care of the child to that person under the court’s supervision rather than having the state take responsibility for the child.

What Happens if Something Happens to the Parents?

If a child’s parents suffer a sudden accident or injury, a number of legal processes will begin. If the parents never return to pick up their children at school or some other location, the adults there will try to reach the emergency contacts the parents previously provided. If they can’t reach any family members or friends to take temporary care of the child, they may notify police or child protective services.

While the preferred option is to get the children with someone they know as quickly as possible, that is only a temporary solution. Without prior planning by the parents, they won’t have the legal authority to make important decisions for the children or even to maintain custody without a separate court process.

If there is no one willing or able to take care of the children, they may be brought to a shelter or placed into foster care.

Can a Parent Stop a Child from Becoming a Ward of the Court?

If you’re charged with abuse or neglect, you have due process rights to protect your parental rights and can work with an attorney who practices in that area to maintain custody. If you die or become incapacitated, it’s simply impossible to go to court and fight for your children. Since it’s this latter scenario that you’re trying to prevent through estate planning, the only way to prevent your child from becoming a ward of the court is to plan ahead.

How to Decide Who Takes Care of Your Children

If you want to decide who takes care of your children instead of having a court do it, there are a few steps you need to take.

Update Your Emergency Contacts

Schools, daycares, and anyone else who takes care of your children for the day will usually ask for a list of people who are authorized to pick up your children. This should include who should pick them up in an emergency when you can’t be reached. Your children should also know the name and phone number of a relative or close friend to call in an emergency.

Keep in mind this is just a temporary arrangement. Even if your selected person is willing to care for your children indefinitely, they won’t have legal authority to make decisions for them at the doctor, school, bank, or other important places.

Nominate a Guardian

A more permanent solution is to nominate a guardian. A guardian takes full care of your children with the same authority of a parent. While the court technically selects the guardian, it will honor a parent’s wishes as long as the nominated guardian is suitable. If your chosen guardian lives out of state, you may wish to also nominate a local temporary or backup guardian until the permanent guardian can arrive or your family can arrange for the children to move to the permanent guardian.

Create a Power of Attorney

You can also create a power of attorney for your children. This is similar to a guardianship in that you can grant your selected agent full authority to do anything you could, but it’s more temporary. A power of attorney can help in cases of temporary illness or if something happens to one parent while the other is traveling away from home.

Appoint a Conservator

A conservator is similar to a guardian but only handles financial affairs while another guardian handles everything else. Some parents worry about a guardian misusing assets the parents left for their children’s benefit. While courts do monitor guardians, some financial abuses can go unnoticed by the court if another family member isn’t aware to bring it to the court’s attention. Appointing a separate conservator provides a more direct form of oversight.

How to Provide for Your Children Financially

When courts are reviewing who will care for children, they consider financial means. A family member who you would like to be the guardian may not have the income or assets needed to raise your children. While the guardian generally doesn’t legally have personal liability for childcare expenses, your children do need some source of money in order to not become wards of the court. You have several options to achieve this.

Life Insurance

Life insurance is one of the easiest ways to provide for your children. You can buy a policy that covers your future earnings or what you would have spent to raise them including college costs. You can name your children as beneficiaries, or have the money go into a trust on their behalf.

Will

You can also use your will to leave money to your children. Creating a will is a simple step, but it isn’t without pitfalls. A will has to go through probate, and if you have debts, your creditors may be entitled to repayment before your heirs receive anything. A will also provides the lowest degree of control over how the money you leave is spent.

Trust

A trust with your children as the beneficiary holds assets to your benefit during your life and then automatically transfers them to your children upon your death. Some of the major benefits of using a trust are that you can set it up to hold money until your children reach a certain age or to be used for a specific purpose.

Durable Financial Power of Attorney

You should also prepare for a long-term illness or other incapacitation. Life insurance, wills, and trusts only work after death. If you are still alive, your family will need the legal authority to access your funds to use for your children.

A durable power of attorney kicks in on a triggering event you specify such as your hospitalization. You can give your power of attorney access to your checking account, or you can maintain a separate savings account with funds for your children in case of an emergency. To the extent you have funds available, this guarantees money will be available for your children regardless of your family’s willingness or ability to cover their expenses.

What Do You to With Your Plan?

Once you have a plan in place, make sure the right people know about it. Keep copies of everything with your other important documents, and tell your family where to find them. Anyone you select to care for your children should have their own copies to present to legal authorities if needed.

In addition, give age-appropriate information to your children. This can be as simple as telling a toddler to call grandma if you don’t answer or telling an older child their uncle will take care of them if anything ever happens to you. After a certain age, this can actually be comforting to children who may have seen movies about orphans and have their own worries about becoming wards of the court.

Get Help from an Attorney

Preventing your child from becoming a ward of the court requires proactive planning. To make sure you don’t miss anything and everything will work as you expect, talk to an estate planning attorney at Lilac City Law. Contact us now to schedule a consultation.

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12 Months of Estate Planning: A Plan to Get Your Estate Plan Set up in 2020

12 Months of Estate Planning: A Plan to Get Your Estate Plan Set up in 2020

Estate planning can be one of the most important things you do for your family’s future, but it can also be overwhelming. Between heavy subjects you don’t want to think about, the need to do a lot of paperwork, and everything else going on in your life, it can be too easy to keep putting off your estate plan until later. The problem is you never know when you will need it. Get started before it’s too late by doing just a little bit at a time.

January: Determine Your Goals

Who do you need to take care of? Do you have a spouse that relies on your income? Children that still need an education? Grandchildren that you want to give a head start in life? Charities or other important causes that you wish to support?

Your estate plan isn’t a chore you have to check off to be a responsible adult. It’s something you want to do to achieve your goals. There are many types of estate planning tools available that work best in different situations. To pick the right tools, you need to begin with a plan for what you want to do — just like drawing up the blueprints for a house.

February: Take Inventory

After you know who you want to support, you need to know how you can. What assets do you have? Your home? Cash savings? Investments? A business? Family heirlooms?

When you divide your estate, you may wish to provide some loved ones with financial support and others emotional support in the form of specific items that will mean more to them. It’s also important to understand that if you have any debts, your creditors will take precedence over your heirs, so you need to account for those as well.

March: Create a Will

Wills are the most common estate planning tool because they are the simplest way to ensure that each of your loved ones is cared for in the way that you’ve chosen. You can create a will on your own, but there are some legal technicalities that could leave your will open to challenges or having some of your wishes not honored. An estate planning attorney can help you avoid those complexities. Even if you plan to use other estate planning tools, having a will is still a good catchall for things that may not otherwise be covered.

April: Name Beneficiaries

When you name beneficiaries on your bank accounts and investment accounts, those accounts automatically go to your chosen beneficiaries upon your death. This allows those beneficiaries to receive financial support without having to wait for your will to go through probate.

The main benefit to taking this step is so that any family members who need immediate financial support can receive it. For example, if they relied on your income to cover their living expenses, they may not have enough money to buy groceries or to make rent or mortgage payments on your home that they continue to live in.

May: Consider a Trust

A trust is another way to keep assets out of probate and transfer them directly to family members. Again, the goal is to skip the weeks or months of delays it takes to execute your will in probate.

A trust can also be used to ensure that the funds you leave go towards your intended purpose. You may leave a trust for your spouse’s living expenses or your children’s schooling. You may also restrict your children’s or grandchildren’s access to their inheritance until they are older and wiser and will hopefully put it to good use.

June: Plan for Your Healthcare

In addition to planning for what happens after you’re gone, you also need to have plans for what happens if you can’t make decisions for yourself while you’re hospitalized for a serious accident or illness. Even in close families, family members may disagree about what you want, and doctors may not be able to legally follow their instructions.

To ensure your wishes are honored, consider a living will, advanced healthcare directive, or medical power of attorney. These documents allow you to designate a trusted loved one to make decisions on your behalf with full authority. You can also include any specific treatments or end-of-life options that you want your agent to request on your behalf.

July: Designate a Financial Power of Attorney

Like the person you select to make your healthcare decisions, your financial power of attorney will step in if you’re unable to manage your finances. A full durable financial power of attorney gives your agent the ability to manage your bills and assets if you’re ever temporarily or permanently incapacitated.

You can also use a financial power of attorney when you’re still able to care for yourself to some degree but need extra help with certain tasks. For example, you might sign a limited scope power of attorney allowing a loved one to manage your checking account and pay your bills.

August: Look Into Life Insurance

Life insurance is another tool you can use to provide for your family financially when you’re unable to. Many working people opt to buy a policy large enough to replace their expected future income to protect their spouse’s and children’s lifestyles that were planned around that income. You can also use life insurance to guard against things like medical debts from reducing what you can leave to your family.

As with your other assets, you will need to name one or more beneficiaries in your life insurance policy or provide for the cash value of the policy when you write your will.

September: Plan for Estate Taxes

Estate taxes generally only affect families with multi-million dollar net worths, but you still need to be aware of them. Estate taxes can be particularly devastating when your net worth is mostly in real estate, a business, or other non-liquid assets. This type of situation often forces a family to sell a treasured home or multi-generational business to pay the tax bill. By planning how you structure your estate ahead of time, you can avoid taxes or at least make sure your family will have the ability to pay them.

October: Protect Your Business

In one sense, a business is like any other asset. You can leave it in your will to a loved one, or it can be part of your general estate to be divided up between your heirs.

However, businesses also have to be maintained if they are to continue to provide for your family. The death of an owner or key employee can be highly disruptive to the business and possibly even put it out of business. You should create a succession plan that provides for continuity of operations no matter what happens and that also gradually prepares your loved ones to follow in your footsteps if that’s your goal.

November: Organize Everything

Your estate plan is no good if no one knows about it to put it into action. Keep all of your important documents together in a fireproof safe that your family knows the location of. You may also wish to leave copies with your attorney or in a bank safe deposit box. Again, tell your family.

When you have a medical power of attorney or financial power of attorney, give copies to your doctors or banks in advance. Don’t forget to give them updated documents if you change or cancel your existing plans.

December: Review Everything Each Year

When you stop to reflect on another year gone by, think about how the changes during the year will affect your family’s future. New children may be born, others may grow up and no longer need as much help, and you may have new wealth to consider. While you don’t need to redo your estate plan every year, you should update the relevant portions of it after major life changes so that it continues to meet your goals for your family.

Estate Planning with Lilac City Law

Lilac City provides a full range of estate planning services and can help you develop a comprehensive plan for you and your family. We can help you put it together over the next year or help you get it done even faster. To learn more, contact us now to schedule a consultation.

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What Do I Need to Know about a Power of Attorney in WA State?

What Do I Need to Know about a Power of Attorney in WA State?

A power of attorney gives a loved one the legal authority to handle your healthcare, financial, or other important decisions for you if you’re unable to. This can help you both during major life events when you need extra help or if you’re physically or mentally unable to make decisions on your own.

What Exactly is a Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney is a legal document that grants the named person the power to take the actions you list in the document. Doctors, financial institutions, schools, and others honor instructions from the power of attorney as if they were coming from you. Without this document, they would usually be legally bound to ignore the power of attorney’s instructions even if they believe that’s what you would want.

A power of attorney is not actually an attorney and doesn’t have to be a lawyer. It can be anyone you trust. The name just means they have similar powers to what you might grant to an attorney.

What Does a Power of Attorney Cover?

A power of attorney can cover virtually all decisions, or it can cover one specific action. What you include is up to you. Power of attorney powers might include the following.

  • Healthcare decisions
  • Care of your children
  • Paying your bills
  • Managing your finances, including selling assets or investments to cover expenses
  • Operating your business
  • Making decisions in litigation on your behalf (similar to how you would instruct an attorney rather than the actual legal work)

What Form Does a Power of Attorney Need?

You can find many templates and examples, but there is no specific form to use. The power of attorney just needs to be clear that it’s a power of attorney, name who you’re choosing as your agent, and list the powers you’re granting that person. It’s preferable to have it notarized so that there’s no question about its validity. You can sign in front of two witnesses rather than a notary if you need to.

What is a Durable Power of Attorney?

A durable power of attorney is a power of attorney that lasts even if you’re incapacitated due to illness or accident. Not all powers of attorney are durable. For example, someone working abroad may designate someone to manage their affairs back home without making the power of attorney durable.

A power of attorney that isn’t durable terminates on your incapacitation. To be durable, the form must include your intent that it be durable.

What Do You Do With a Power of Attorney?

Your agent will need to present the power of attorney form to prove that they’re authorized to act on your behalf. You should keep at least one copy for yourself with additional copies located wherever you have copies of your other important documents. This allows your family to be aware of the power of attorney if something happens to you.

Can You Cancel a Power of Attorney?

You can cancel a power of attorney at any time for any reason. You just need to notify your agent. You may also wish to notify anyone that your agent was working with if you wish to make sure they no longer honor your agent’s instructions.

How Long Does a Power of Attorney Last?

A power of attorney might be indefinite, last for a specific amount of time, last until something happens, or only cover a specific action or event. You decide this when you create your power of attorney. No matter which option you choose, you still retain the right to cancel it early.

In the case of a durable power of attorney, it will be in effect from the time a physician or court declares you are incapacitated and last until death. You can cancel it if you recover and are competent to do so.

What Happens to a Power of Attorney When the Principal Dies?

If you die, your agent’s powers cease when they learn of your death. A power of attorney cannot be used to handle your estate even if you try to include that in your power of attorney. You would need to rely on a will or other planning documents.

What Must a Power of Attorney Do?

A power of attorney must act in your best interests. They cannot use your funds for their own benefit. When authorized to make medical decisions, they must follow your wishes as they understand them even if they would choose a different course of action.

What Can’t a Power of Attorney Do?

There are several things that you can’t include in a power of attorney under Washington law. These include several very important medical and legal decisions.

  • Medical: Amputation, shock therapy, life support decisions, or institutionalization. You’d need an advanced healthcare directive instead.
  • Financial: Changing life insurance beneficiaries, modifying a community property agreement, or making monetary gifts unless these actions are specifically included in the power of attorney. Modifying a will or voting in elections can never be included.

What if there is a Disagreement Over a Power of Attorney?

Your agent must follow your instructions, and you can remove your agent at any time. In case of a durable power of attorney where you’re incapacitated, your family can petition a court to invalidate the power of attorney or to force the agent to act in accordance with the instructions in the document.

Is an Out-of-State Power of Attorney Valid?

Most states will honor a power of attorney from another state at least on a temporary basis. If you become a resident of a new state, you should make sure your power of attorney meets the requirements for that state.

What if a Power of Attorney Names Two Agents?

A power of attorney may name one or more agents. If you name multiple agents, they must act jointly and agree on all decisions. You can also allow them to act independently, meaning each can act without input by the other(s), if you specifically state this in your power of attorney.

What is the Difference Between a Power of Attorney and a Living Will?

A living will or advanced healthcare directive spells out what major medical decisions you’d want made on your behalf. These documents are used by your doctors and others to understand your wishes.

A power of attorney’s main job is to designate a specific person you want making decisions for you rather than the specific decisions to be made. While you can limit those decisions in the power of attorney, keep in mind the medical decisions that a power of attorney can never make by law.

What is the Difference Between a Power of Attorney and a Guardianship?

A guardianship has a higher level of responsibility and decision-making than a power of attorney. A guardianship must be approved by a judge, and the guardian must provide periodic updates to the court. A power of attorney only needs the proper forms.

What is the Washington Uniform Power of Attorney Act?

The Washington Uniform Power of Attorney Act was a 2017 law that added safeguards to prevent abuses of powers of attorney. Many of the restrictions and requirements described above were added as part of this act. While you may see references to the Washington Uniform Power of Attorney Act, this is just a formal way of describing the laws that routinely govern powers of attorney.

When Should You Update Your Power of Attorney?

There are several situations where you may need to update your power of attorney.

  • You or your agent have moved, and the distance makes the arrangement impracticable.
  • The agent is no longer willing or able to assume the duties, or you no longer want them to.
  • Your life circumstances have changed and you need to agent to assume different responsibilities.

Do You Need an Attorney to Draft a Power of Attorney?

There is no legal requirement to have an attorney draft your power of attorney. However, a power of attorney confers important legal responsibilities, and you may want to have an attorney confirm that your power of attorney will do everything you want it to with no unintended consequences. Your attorney can also help you avoid technical mistakes that might result in a challenge to your power of attorney. To get help, talk to Lilac City Law today.

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