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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5 Hacks for Setting Up a Living Will and Trust

Age is a slippery slope. The older you get, the more dependent you are on others. At some point, you cannot depend on yourself at all. 

Around 60-years-old, there is a 7% chance you will suffer from dementia. Two decades later, and it is more likely you will have dementia than you will not. By then, your decision-making is not trustworthy. 

Let your younger-self plan for future-you. Take the time now to decide what will happen to you and your property if the worst happens. 

These are 5 hacks to devising a will and trust.

Distinctions Between A Will and Trust

Legal jargon’s a little confusing. Layman’s terms can cause erroneous interchanging of the two meanings. A living trust and a living will are two, very separate things.

A lawyer can modify these documents when the person is able-bodied and right of mind. The ownership of these agreements transfers to the executor if either condition is not met.

A living trust documents the disbursement of your property after passing. A succeeding trustee will allocate your estate to your named beneficiaries. 

A living will deals with your health if you have been incapacitated. If you would like to be kept on support or not when you are unable to function for yourself. 

List Your Assets

Make a list of everything you own that has value: sentimental or capital. This a catalog of your assets. 

When devising your living trust, it is important to have an estimation of everything you own. Creating a trust will be easy when you can reduce this to a quantifiable number. Think of your house, your car, and everything included as your estate.

Most Americans will have around $300,000 worth of property to disperse. If your number is coming up short or high, try recalculating it. 

Your trustee will disperse your estate evenly (or how you deem fit) to your beneficiaries. 

Picking Your Beneficiaries

This part can be tough. It might be the toughest part for you. 

You have to choose who gets what when you are gone. This step is entirely dependent on your relationship with your loved ones. 

You might not have a family that you can give an estate to. Or you have a family undeserving of your property. It is yours to do what you wish; you can even donate it to charity. 

Pick who you think best deserves what you have earned in life. 

Find A Trustee You Can Trust

It is all in the name, “trustee.” Who do you trust to allocate your estate or make a life-or-death decision? 

Usually family. Most family members have nothing but loving intentions for you. 

If you do not have that, pick a trustee you can depend on. This person will decide your fate when you are gone physically or mentally. 

How to Write It

Writing a trust or a will depends on your wealth. If you are of moderate means, creating a will yourself is acceptable. But those with heavy wallets and lots of assets should hire an estate lawyer. 

Devising a will or a trust can be done through online software. Get the help of a loved one if you are uncomfortable with computers. 

A forewarning: doing either agreement incorrectly can devastate your beneficiaries. For those who err on the side of caution, it is recommended to get a lawyer regardless of your estate’s size. 

Take Care (of Yourself and Family) 

Everybody ages, everybody dies. What you do beforehand is important.

Know the distinction between a living will and a living trust. A will is health-related; a trust is for dispersing property. Make a list of your assets and decide a trustee to disperse them to beneficiaries.

You can create a will and trust yourself, but it is advised to do it with the help of a lawyer. 

Contact us if you have any other legal questions about estate planning or wills.

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Your Questions About Setting Up a Trust, Answered: Who, Why, When & How?

Do you want the wealth and property you have accumulated to really help make a difference in the lives of people and institutions you care about? Have you thought about what would happen to your assets in the event of your death

Wills can be helpful, but setting up a trust may just be an iron-clad way for you to ensure that your money and assets get distributed they way you truly want it to be.

There are a lot of misconceptions about who can benefit from trusts and why people use them, and we are here to clear those misconceptions up.

Once you read this post, you will understand why more people are choosing to set up trusts.

Who Should Think About Setting Up A Trust

Some people falsely believe that trusts are only beneficial to people with a lot of money. In truth, a trust is not designed to benefit only the wealthy; it is designed to make it easier for anyone’s assets and property to be distributed after they die or become incapacitated.

ANYONE with assets, such as: real estate, life insurance policies, money in retirement and brokerage accounts, and valuable personal property can benefit from a trust.

Think of establishing a trust as a way to manage family estate planning. It will ensure that everyone gets what is rightfully their’s, according to your wishes, when you pass away. 

Why You Should Set Up A Trust

Most assets and property will pass to your next of kin if you do not have a plan in place when you die. Some people may not want that.  In fact, you may not even realize who your next of kin is!  

Here are a few reasons why leaving your wealth or assets to your immediate next of kin does not reflect your actual desires:

  • You might want to ensure grandchildren or nieces and nephews have money set aside for education that their parents cannot touch.
  • You may have a spouse who has children from a previouse marriage. You want your spouse to inherit some of your assests but not his or her children.
  • You may have one or two children you wish to leave assets for but other children that would not it would not be appropriate for or might not be responsible. 
  • You have a special needs family member that will need to have the assets taken care of for them.  

While you consider who to leave your assets to, it is also important to remember that trusts do not have to benefit people, they can also help institutions and charities you care about.

Moreover, there are a variety of other benefits that come from trusts.  For instance, a trust can allow for someone to continue to manage your assets if you become incapacitated. It can also set rules about how your assets are distributed upon your death and can avoid things going into probate.

When You Should Set Up A Trust

Ideally, people would set up a trust as soon as they know they want one. Today, for example!

But the right time to set up a trust will depend on how you want the trust to operate.

Many choose to make a revocable trust that lets you change the stipulations of the trust at any time. If you want to make a decision that will stick, you can choose to establish an irrevocable trust that cannot be changed once it is established. 

It is not unusual for some people to make revocable living trusts to hold assets while they are alive, then make them irrevocable (permanent) upon their death. 

If you want to set up your trust at the right time, think about why you want to have the trust in the first place. 

Are you leaving a trust so that your children can provide for your grandchildren, or are you more concerned about your children being able to provide for themselves now?

You may want to set distribution dates to ensure that beneficiaries get funds when they are established with careers and have kids in their 40’s, or you may want to get them the funds ASAP so they can care for themselves. 

How You Can Set Up A Trust

Since we have talked, briefly, about the variety of ways a trust can benefit you, it is time to start working on setting up a trust of your own.

If you want to set up a trust, you will need the help of a skilled trust attorney. A trust attorney can walk you through the process from start to finish and can help determine the best way for you to establish your trust.

Be sure to contact us today so we can help you start planning for your family’s future.

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Why You Should Never Buy Your Will From Living Social or Groupon

Why You Should Never Buy Your Will From Living Social or Groupon

 

Of the handful of major life events that require your serious consideration, few are as emotionally charged as how to leave your assets for loved ones at the time of your death.

This process is accomplished via testamentary documents such as wills and trusts, which have recently become available for purchase online as standard forms.

 

Your Will Needs to Protect Your Assets When You Pass

The assets you have acquired during your life and the ways that you own them are often far more complex than a standard legal document or online service can anticipate.  When you make that all important decision to create a will or put your assets into a trust, you need an experienced estate planning attorney to guide you so that your wishes for life and death can be carried out without risk of your family getting stuck in court or conflict, when it’s too late.

Your incapacity or death will be an emotional time for your family. During this time, they need guidance, not a set of documents, which may not have even been kept up to date or adequately cover after-acquired assets.

In certain cases such as being married multiple times, having minor children, or owning a small business, legal assistance is especially necessary.

 

An Estate Lawyer Can Provide the Level of Service that You Can’t Get From Other Services

There may also be a variety of different tax or asset protection implications for your inheritors. The right lawyer can advise you on the best way to handle the different assets you own such as real estate, investments, a small business, or personal property.

Is a trust right for your situation? Is there a way to transfer an asset before you pass, so that it will be protected from claims, creditors or taxation? Groupon can’t help you with that.

You may save money initially if you have a simple, small estate with few assets by just using a form that you find online. However, if you become incapacitated before death, your family could get stuck with a long drawn out court process, as they attempt to get control of your financial assets. And, if your document is unclear, contestable, or wholly or partially invalid, it’s your family who will be paying the price down the road.

 

Speak With A Personal Family Lawyer® to Create an Estate Plan that Protects You and Your Loved Ones

We don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

 

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