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 a Ward of the Court?

What Does it Mean to be a Ward of the State

People become wards of the court, or state, because they are unable to take care of themselves at some level and require certain legal protections.

This legal designation is also commonly called being a “ward of the state” and may apply to minors as well as adults. It’s also important to understand that a ward is not necessarily someone who has no family or support system within the community. Rather, they may require enhanced protections beyond what a legal guardian or family can provide. Other salient issues involve otherwise responsible legal guardians not wanting to bear the sometimes-onerous financial burden associated with minor children or adults who unable to maintain self-care.

To say that the process and issues involving wards of the court are complicated would be something of an understatement. In an effort to provide loved ones with a working understanding of what it means to be a ward of the court, we hope the following overview proves useful.

How Does One Become an Adult Ward of the Court?

As we are acutely aware, not all adults have the ability to care for themselves adequately. Whether that stems from a disability, age, or illness, the courts can provide enhanced protections to ensure ongoing treatment, care, and financial oversight, among other items.

An adult ward of the court may have no remaining family members to step up as a legal guardian. Others may indeed have loved ones that are willing to act as their guardian but are not necessarily in a position to shoulder burdens such as financial support as well as caregiving. Still, other wards have court-appointed guardians connected with government agencies. These professional organizations may include the following.

  • Social Services
  • Human Services
  • Mental Health Agencies
  • Health Departments
  • Departments for Aging Adults

In order to become an adult ward of the court, that person must undergo a review process that may include assessments by medical and psychiatric professionals who support a claim the person is not competent to successfully maintain minimum health, safety, and financial standards. In the vast majority of cases, the courts will hold a hearing and secure written and oral testimony from experts, friends, and family members, among others. If deemed incompetent, the individual may enjoy the legal protections afforded by the court.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the courts do not necessarily impose guardianships. People who recognize they are seeing the signs of diminished capacity to maintain their health, well-being, and estates, can work with an attorney to voluntarily petition the court. In these instances, the potential ward of the court can have substantial input about the parameters of the guardianship and who the court appoints to that station.

In other cases, a friend or family member can petition the court on someone’s behalf, even in cases of involuntary guardianships. These cases can be emotionally taxing for family members, particularly when your loved one does not recognize their failing state. In these involuntary cases, the ward generally has little or no input about issues such as oversight of their well-being or the designated guardian. The court imposes what it believes is in the best interest of the ward.

In other cases, a friend or family member can petition the court on someone’s behalf, even in cases of involuntary guardianships. These cases can be emotionally taxing for family members, particularly when your loved one does not recognize their failing state. In these involuntary cases, the ward generally has little or no input about issues such as oversight of their well-being or the designated guardian. The court imposes what it believes is in the best interest of the ward.

What Does an Adult Guardian Do?

A court-appointed guardian is often tasked with overseeing healthcare and financial planning decisions. It’s not uncommon for the guardian to work closely with the ward through the process and move forward with the person’s full consent. These are common items a guardian works with the ward.  

  • Place of Residency
  • Mental Health Treatments
  • Physical Health Treatments
  • Bill Payments
  • Personal Affairs
  • Estate Planning
  • Last Will & Testament

If the ward has significant financial resources, the court may also appoint a conservator with some expertise to manage their estate. The guardian, on the other hand, advocates on behalf of the ward’s best interest in all other matters and generally submits periodic reports to the court.

How Long Can an Adult Remain a Ward of the Court?

Once a person has been deemed a ward of the court, that legal designation is usually only removed in the event they are no longer hindered. In some instances, the court may dismiss the guardianship because it’s in the person’s best interest. Although the latter tends not to be the norm, people who have recovered from a physical or mental health condition may see the ward designation lifted, and the guardianship discontinued. In the overwhelming majority of cases, wards of the court remain so until they pass away.

When Does A Minor Child Become A Ward of the Court?

When children are deemed wards of the court, the circumstances and prevailing issues can be quite different. For example, when the court appoints a legal guardian, it is more often not the case that they become financially responsible for support. In these cases, guardians are also not generally liable for other expenses associated with the child. However, when children become wards of the court, parental rights are usually terminated.

This is an important distinction for minors and parents alike to understand. That’s because there are instances when the court may assume authority over the child even though the minor remains in the custody of a parent. In this scenario, the court has asserted some degree of authority but has not yet gone as far as to remove parental oversight. In such cases, minors are not necessarily a legal ward of the court.

That same reasoning holds true in cases when minors work with an attorney to successfully petition the court to be declared emancipated. Although such minors are no longer under the legal control or protection of a parent or guardian, they are not automatically under the court’s protection either. Therefore, they do not meet the legal standard of a ward of the court.

Another compelling situation is when minors commit crimes and are incarcerated. The mere fact that the state has assumed control and placed the child in a correctional facility does not necessarily make them a ward of the court. As long as a parent or appointed guardian is in place, the minor may not be considered a ward.  

What Triggers A Minor Becoming a Ward of the Court?

Like the adult process, there are a number of ways that a child can go from being the responsibility of a parent to a ward of the court. Sadly, ranked among the more prevalent pathways, the court places children under its protection when they are neglected, abused, or otherwise mistreated. We hear and read about many extreme cases in the media of children being subjected to squalor, malnutrition, and other horrors. The legal protections of the court are often inserted until the children can be treated, and a suitable living environment can be secured.

In other cases, the court may proactively take control over wayward youths. It’s not unusual for a minor with a growing criminal record, history of drug and alcohol abuse, or mental health issues to be removed from a parent’s custody. Wards may be placed in institutional settings that include rehabilitative programs. The court’s goal in cases of wayward youths is to redirect negative behaviors and integrate them as productive members of the community.

There are also cases when parents are physically or mentally unable to provide the stable homelife a child requires. Whether that evolves from diminished physical health or an emerging mental condition, parents have the option to work with an attorney and petition the court to place their child under its protection. Parents are often required to sign over custody in voluntary petitions. In these types of cases, parents can have significant input regarding placement and the future well-being of their child. It’s also not unusual for parents to regain their capacity to care for a child and ask the court to reinstate their rights.

How Long Does a Person Remain a Ward of the Court or 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.

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 state will take the steps needed to make sure that a person’s basic needs are met.

What are the Disadvantages of 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 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.

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.

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.

Terminating Guardianship in Wards of the Court or Wards of the State

It’s essential to keep in mind that adult and minor child guardianships can be vastly different. In large part, that’s due to the underlying reason the court deemed someone a ward of the court in the first place.

In both types of guardianship, the basic premise is that the individual cannot conduct reasonable self-care. This may be true of both minors and adults, but most children have parents in place to act in their best interest. When our valued elders, for example, begin to lose the physical and cognitive skills to make salient health, wellness, and financial decisions, oversight may be necessary. Other adults may temporarily fall ill, and the protections are put in place only until they recover.

When children go astray, become incapacitated, or a parent is unable to provide proper care for them, guardianship tends to be a stop-gap measure. Either the situation corrects itself, or the minor eventually becomes an adult and takes on their own decision-making. In either case, the court will need to be formally petitioned to end a guardianship.

How to Terminate an Adult Guardianship, Including Wards of the Court or State

In order to understand how to navigate the stringent legal process of ending a guardianship, it’s essential to consider how you got here. In all likelihood, either a third party petitioned the court and won a case against you to deem you incompetent, or you came to the process voluntarily. This difference has a substantial impact on termination.

Going to the court and asking to be voluntarily deemed a ward came with certain advantages. You probably had input about who would become your guardian during your recovery. And, your wishes about what areas this person would hold legal sway may have been negotiated. Terminating a voluntary guardianship often entails merely proving you have regained competence.

On the other hand, involuntary tracts could mean that you will face increased resistance from the party or parties that petitioned the court in the first place. That may mean overcoming objections as well as having documentation and testimony from experts that you are prepared to resume control over your affairs. These are common steps that are required to terminate a guardianship.  

  • File Legal Papers: A Petition to Terminate Guardianship, and a Citation or a Notice of Hearing, will need to be crafted and filed on your behalf. Supporting documents may be required to gain a hearing. Materials may include a final accounting reportIf your guardian or conservator oversaw your estate while recovering, a final reckoning of all financial records must accompany your petition. Papers may call for letters from you’re your physicians. Your doctors must provide statements that assert you have regained the ability to conduct your own affairs competently.
  • Serve Guardian & Others with Papers: All relevant parties must be formally notified that you have petitioned to terminate the guardianship via certified mail. If this step is not thoroughly completed, a judge will likely not hear your case.
  • Attend a Hearing: The judge will read the pertinent documents and likely ask questions. If others object to the petition, more comprehensive testimony may be required. Once the judge has been satisfied that you meet the legal standard, an Order Terminating Guardianship will be issued.

If the guardianship pertained to end-of-life considerations, the court generally requires a financial accounting before releasing the guardian. The challenges confronting parents or other loved ones trying to terminate a guardianship and regain custody can be significantly different.

How to Terminate Guardianship Over a Minor

In order to restore your parental rights and regain custody of a child, you may be tasked with petitioning the court to terminate a guardianship. Much like when adults are deemed wards of the court, the reason your child has a guardian in place will likely impact how difficult you can anticipate the process ahead.

For instance, if another family member petitioned the court to have your child made a ward, the underlying claims will likely need to be adequately addressed. If it involved substance abuse, neglect, or a health condition, a proactive filing and subsequent argument at a formal hearing would have to overcome the initial court findings. In other words, you face an uphill battle of basically proving your ability to properly care for yourself and the child. The goal of this rigorous process will involve persuading the court of the following.

  • The adverse situation has been resolved
  • It’s in the child’s best interest to be placed with a parent
  • You can successfully provide for daily health, wellness, and emotional needs of the child
  • You are financially stable or are receiving adequate public assistance
  • You enjoy positive extended family and community relationships

The process of regaining parental rights and terminating a guardianship requires crafting a highly persuasive petition and supplying authoritative supporting documents, as well as possible witness testimony. There are also a variety of legal pathways that can be accessed, depending on how and why you got to this point.

  • When Guardians Object: In cases in which the court-appointed guardian objects to their removal, a full hearing may be required. This brings together the key stakeholders in the process to determine whether to keep court oversight in place or give your child back to you.
  • When Guardians Agree to Termination: In such cases, parents need only demonstrate that they are competent and able to serve the best interest of their child in a stable and healthy fashion.
  • Terminating for Adoption, Marriage, or Service: The act of adoption effectively ends ward of the court status. The same holds true in marriage, and minors who enlist in the military enjoy grounds to terminate the guardianship over them.
  • When a Child Turns 18 Years Old: When a minor reaches the age of majority, they are no longer a ward of the court, and the guardianship times out. The court-appointed person would be wise to file a notice with the court.
  • Guardianships Over Estates at 18 Years Old: Control over assets does not generally end when a minor turns 18 years old. The court will need to be petitioned, and a final accounting of the finances must be filed. The court must issue a directive releasing the assets before the previous ward can access them.
  • Cases of Emancipated Minors: When the court agrees to emancipate a minor, they no longer are deemed a ward of the court. Part of the hearing should include the automatic termination of the guardianship.

In some cases, the court-appointed person finds that they can no longer serve in that capacity. This could be due to illness, relocation, or they believe terminating the guardianship is in the minor’s best interest. The court enjoys great latitude in such cases and may decide to resolve the matter in a number of ways. The court may agree that the minor no longer needs or benefits from oversight. In many instances, the court appoints a new guardian to take over the responsibilities.

Protect Your Loved One’s Rights & Interests

If you or a loved one is facing the possibility of becoming a ward of the court, or you fear for how guardianship will transpire in a known or unknown future scenario, it’s imperative that you engage the best legal counsel possible. The legal hurdles, hearings, and documentation required to negotiate the process tend to be highly complicated. And, missteps can cause unexpected setbacks and a less than desirable result.

How To Prevent My Child From Becoming a Ward of the Court or State

The court system involves complex filings, documentation, and bureaucracies that are difficult for everyday people to navigate. A simple missing document or misstep can upend your efforts to terminate a guardianship. It’s in your best interest to have a determined and compassionate attorney who works in the family courts on a daily basis. Moreover, it’s critical you get your estate plan set up today so that you can avoid these nightmares for your family before they even get a chance to happen.   Contact us today by filling out the contact form below or giving us a call.  We’ll have a very-friendly estate planning attorney connect with you asap.

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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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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What to Look for in a Great Disability Lawyer

Have you submitted a disability benefits claim and are waiting to hear whether or not it’s been approved? Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against you. Only 23% of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claims are approved at the initial application stage. Sometimes, even less if you did not use a disability lawyer.

Of course, you can always appeal a denial of disability, but even then, you’re facing an uphill battle. The total number of approvals, whether initially or upon appeal, is only about 34% of all claims filed.

Is there a way to improve your chances of receiving disability benefits? Luckily, the answer is yes. You can hire a disability lawyer to help you navigate this complex process.

A Successful Disability Lawyer Has Medical Knowledge

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) cases are particularly tricky because they require an in-depth understanding of medical conditions that can interfere with a person’s ability to perform their job duties. Therefore, the lawyer that you choose must be experienced in the specialty of disability law.

You are most likely not going to get the results you are looking for if you hire your tax lawyer to tackle your disability case. Look for a law firm whose lawyers have experience litigating medical-related cases. Ask them how many disability cases they have handled and if they have dealt with your particular disability before. 

A Successful Disability Lawyer Understands the Law

This statement should go without saying, but the complexity of disability cases means that a lawyer must know the Social Security system’s requirements inside and out.

In all disability situations, your lawyer will be seeking to demonstrate one, or all, of the following:

  • your medical condition meets the criteria of a condition that is among those described by the Social Security Administration (aka a “disability listing“)
  • you cannot perform your previous work in accordance with Social Security’s “grid” system, which classifies exertion associated with job duties
  • you cannot work even a sedentary position
  • you have limitations that aren’t covered by the grid but impact your ability to perform a job

An Experienced Disability Lawyer Will Be Choosy About Cases

Lawyers who specialize in disability claim appeals cannot charge clients an upfront fee or retainer.

Instead, they receive compensation on contingency. Once your appeal has been approved, and you have been awarded a sum of back pay from the Social Security Administration, your lawyer’s fees will be deducted.

Not having to pay any amount upfront is a massive bonus for clients who may already be struggling financially due to their disability. It means you can afford excellent representation – and you can be awarded your disability benefits even within our challenging disability system!

It also means that if a lawyer takes on your case, they are also taking on the risk of not achieving a favorable outcome. It is in everyone’s interest to work hard for you.

A Great Disability Advocate in Lilac City Law

Our disability team has the know-how and expertise to help you fight and win your disability appeal. For a free, no-obligation consultation, contact us today.

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How to Find a Living Trust Attorney Near Me

How to Find a Living Trust Attorney Near Me

You have made the first step and have decided to set up a living trust. 

Now, you need an attorney to help you. 

You may be asking yourself, “where do I find a living trust attorney near me?”

If you are in need of a local living trust attorney near you, here are some suggestions to help…

Simply Search Google for: “Living Trust Attorney Near Me”

If you like to use search engines and find info on the internet, then you will already be ahead of the game on this.  Simply type in, “living trust attorney near me” or “estate planning attorney near me” and see what appears.  This should bring up lawyers in your area and surrounding areas that can help.

There will be a map that shows up and gives the locations of attorneys as well as a list.   You can click on the list to be taken to their website.  Another benefit of this list is that you can see the general quality of the reviews for several attorneys at once.

Specialty Search Sites

There are a few search websites that allow searching, but only show results specific to the type of law you are looking for.  They are also great places to find information as they tend to maintain blogs of their own as well.   An example is http://estate.findlaw.com/trusts/do-i-need-to-hire-a-living-trust-lawyer.html . Notice that at the bottom of the linked article, there is a link that will redirect you to a page where you can fill in a contact form.  If you fill that out, your contact will be “sold” to an attorney that will contact you.

Another example is www.yelp.com . At the top of the screen, it has a place to find in what you find to find.  Here you will type in living trust attorney.  There is also a place to type in “near” where you will type in your city.  This will give a list of attorneys near the zip code you entered.  It tells you the name, their specialty, gives you reviews, shows their contact information, and allows you to click a link to go their law firm website.

Telephone book

If you are not comfortable using the internet, you can use a telephone book to look up living trust attorneys in your area. Phone books are limited in that they do not provide much more than a short advertisement for different attorneys.  No blogs, about me, or additional information.  However, they can be good places to grab a bunch of phone numbers real quick.

Recommendations

If you know someone who has used a living trust attorney, you can always ask who they used and if they would recommend them.  Getting a personal opinion from someone who has used a living trust attorney will help you know more about the lawyer.

Even when you are considering a recommendation, you should still do a little research on them and set up a consultation.  Many lawyers will offer an initial no-cost consultation.  These are wonderful ways to get a better feel for the law firm and if they are someone you feel comfortable handling your case.

Note: A good living trust attorney will…

  • Have expertise in living trusts and estate planning
  • Be respectful of your time
  • Explain the process, procedures, and what will happen with the living trust
Set Up a Consultation With a Living Trust Attorney Today

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Who Can Help Create a Durable Power of Attorney in WA State

Who Can Help Create a Durable Power of Attorney in WA State

Most of us do not like to think about it, but what happens if we are unable to make our own decisions regarding our health and finances? Who is going to make those decisions for us? Are the decisions being made what we would decide if we could? Having a durable power of attorney in Washington state is the best way to ensure decisions are being made the way you would want them to be.

What is a Durable Power of Attorney?

A durable power of attorney (DPOA) is a legally binding document naming an individual or individuals (called an agent) to make health care, financial, and end-of-life decisions for another person. All adults should have one of these in the event there is an accident or sudden death.

A durable power of attorney in Washington state authorizes an agent to:

  • Make health care decisions for you or your minor children
    • If you would like to have life-sustaining procedures withheld or withdrawn in the case of a terminal illness, you may also want to create a living will or advance directive to go along with your Power of Attorney.
  • Buy or sell items for you
  • Manage your business
  • Collect Debts
  • Invest money
  • Cash checks
  • Manage financial matters
  • Sue on behalf of the principal

You do not have to include all above items. You can personalize your durable power of attorney to fit what you need or want in the event someone needs to make decisions for you. Limiting it to just being able to sign on your behalf if you become unable is an example of that. Your agent can not, however, act on your behalf after you die. A durable power of attorney is not a substitute for a will and will terminate upon your death or on a specific date if you so choose.

A durable power of attorney in Washington State must be notarized. After it is notarized, you want to give the original to your agent(s) and keep a copy for yourself.

Who Can Help Create a Durable Power of Attorney in WA state?

The fact that a durable power of attorney is a legal document may make some people shy away from creating one because they think that it will be difficult. You can get help to create a durable power of attorney in Washington State.

Estate Planning Attorney

You can use an estate planning attorney but do not have to by law. Using a legal professional can simplify the process and answer any questions you may have. It is very important that you understand all decisions that you are making and what affects they will have before signing a legal document. An attorney can also make your DPOA individualized. There are forms on the internet that can be printed, but they are very broad.

Loved One or Trusted Friend

Having a family member help you create a durable power of attorney is another option. Make sure you discuss with them what you want so that they can help you fill out the required paperwork accordingly. If the person helping you is going to be your agent, make sure they agree to your wishes before asking them.

Yourself

If you feel comfortable enough, you can fill out your own DPOA without help. Make sure you understand the document and what it is asking. Be sure to choose a trusted person to act as your agent. Most importantly, make sure they are willing to act as your agent.

Having durable power of attorney is an important step in your future. It can be hard emotionally and mentally fill out. Remember, if you do not feel comfortable doing it yourself you can contact an attorney to help you.

More Reading

A Young Family's Guide to a Rock Solid Estate Plan

A Young Family’s Guide to a Rock Solid Estate Plan

What is the Value of a Cheap Estate Plan?

What is the Value of a Cheap Estate Plan?

Here are five reasons why shopping for a cheap estate plan is likely to leave you with a plan that won’t work for your family and will leave them with a big mess instead.

Bargain Hunting is Not Always a Good Deal

The least expensive plan is not always even worth the paper it is written on. This point is especially true once you have left the attorney’s office. Once you have an estate plan in place, your life changes, the law changes, and your assets change over time; your plan needs to keep up with those changes. You might get the bargain plan for a great price today, but what good is it if it does not work tomorrow?

The truth of the matter is that a lawyer pushing a bargain plan cannot afford to provide much more than the documents alone, that the plan is printed on. You should be working with an attorney that has spent time and effort to lay out a comprehensive plan that works for you the minute you walk out the door and grows with you over time.

If you are hiring an estate planning attorney, hire them for their expertise, and the effort they will put into making a custom estate plan for you.

Cheap Estate Plans are Typically Not Customized

Cheap estate plans are often sold by financial professionals who want to get their hands on your money, not do right by your family.
An attorney who has built a practice focused on actually serving your family will not and cannot, in their best interests, make a living selling $399 plans.

Insurance and financial professionals often get paid commissions to sell your families annuities and life insurance products. Buyer beware!

An Estate Plan That Isn’t Customized is a Poor Plan

Generic forms and documents will not be there for your family when you cannot be — you want to leave your loved one’s a relationship with a trusted advisor. An advisor that you have built a relationship with during your lifetime and who has met the people in your plan and understands your desires and your family’s needs. Ideally, a person, an estate planning attorney, that your family already know and trust.

You will not get this from a generic document template printed at a financial advisor’s office twenty years ago.

Your Family Gets What You Pay For, or What You Don’t…

My colleague’s father in law died after paying for an inadequate estate plan. He wanted to set up his estate plan so that his family would not have to deal with the probate court or his ex-wife after his death. Yet, that is exactly what happened when he died! When he died, his family was in court and dealing with his ex-wife… Why?

His needs were not taken care of because the law firm he hired was a traditional “forms and documents” firm.

They, the firm, had him fill out forms and called that a plan. They did not make sure his assets were owned in the right way, or the plan stayed up to date over time.

You might think that is malpractice, but it is not. It is actually common practice. If you are not careful with your estate plans, they may not hurt you, but they will leave your family at risk if and when something happens to you!

An Estate Plan Is Not a Set-It and Forget It Kind of Thing!

Your estate plan needs to stay up to date with changes in your life, the law, and your assets. Moreover, did you know, there’s currently more than $1,000,000,000.00 (1 billion) in unclaimed property held by our state? It typically gets to become state managed unclaimed property when someone dies or becomes incapacitated, and their family loses track of it.

You can imagine families do not do this on purpose! However, when assets are not tracked very well during someone’s life, they are often never known about after their death by those that would inherit them. And that is just one way your family loses out. If you have shopped around for a cheap estate plan rather than getting in place a plan that works for the people you love, losing track of assets is just the tip of the iceberg of things that could be lost or forgotten.

It is Never Too Late to Get a Great Estate Plan In Place, Act Today!

If you already have an estate plan in place and you are concerned, you may have gotten a cheap estate plan that will not adequately serve your family when they need it most, contact us for a plan review.

You can either have us do it for you, or you save some money by doing it yourself with our guidance and then come in to discuss what you discovered along the way.

Contact us at 509-624-1610 to schedule OR email our client service director to get on our calendar.

Alternatively, you can fill out our Contact Us form below!


Contact Us To Setup Your Custom Estate Plan Today!

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We begin our planning process with a Family Wealth Planning Session, during which you will become more financially organized than you ever have been. You will also finally be in a place to make informed, educated choices about the right plan for your family based on the things that matter, instead of just shopping around by price.

How to Win A Social Security Appeal (Step-by-Step)

How to Win An SSI Appeal Step by Step

If you have applied for SSI or SSDI, you probably know that for many, getting approved on your first shot is a challenge. 

Getting approved is not an impossible challenge, but the odds can be against you if you did not sufficiently prove your disability, or if you did not demonstrate how you rate social security benefits. 

If you now have, or fear that you will have a denial letter in hand, here’s a step-by-step approach to help you in appealing an SSI or SSDI denial.

 

Step 1: Create a Plan to Appeal Your SSI or SSDI Denial

If you do receive the dreaded denial letter the first thing you should do is not panic. Take a few breaths, and accept that this is not the end of the process.  Like most initial applicants, you have been denied.  However, the evidence shows that if you stick with the claim, you have a strong chance of eventually overturning the denial in appeal.

Of course, your chances of success at this point are directly related to the quality of your plan and your ability to execute it.  Or for many, to find someone who can build a plan for you and carry it out as well.  We are talking about a professional advocate or attorney.

Step 2: Retain an Attorney

Also, you can retain an attorney at almost any point during the claim or appeal process.  However, hiring an attorney early on is the more prudent approach. 

There are some reasons, a lot of reasons actually, that you would want to consider this as an option.  First being that this is one form of law that is based entirely on contingency.  If a lawyer does not win your case for you, they will not be getting paid.  Everyone then, you and the law firm, has a financial incentive, and hopefully a personal one too, to get you the benefits you need.

The second reason, and from a coldly logical perspective, a very powerful reason is that you might go through this process only once in your life.  Many of the things that will gum-up the process are avoidable.  And the un-avoidable issues can be addressed quickly and efficiently if you know they are likely to arise.  Only going through this process once, you have to learn all of this the hard way, or be extremely lucky.  Alternatively, a disability attorney goes through these processes a couple of hundred times a year (thousands of times in a career).

You can get pretty good at handling these things throughout several thousand claims. Still, for the die-hard do-it-yourself type, we will go back to the step-by-step.  Remember though; you can retain an attorney at almost any point in the process.

Step 3: File for Reconsideration

You need to know that at the point of denial the clock starts ticking.  60 days.  That’s what you have to act.  Whether that action is retaining a disability attorney or beginning the process of appeal yourself, you need to make sure you do so before 60 days is up.  Otherwise, you’re going to have to start all over again.

You can file for reconsideration a couple of ways.  One way is to file a Form SSA-561 (Request for Reconsideration).  The other is to file online at www.socialsecurity.gov/disability/appeal.  The basic instructions for this process will also likely accompany your disability denial letter.

So what is a reconsideration, you ask?  It’s an independent review of the original claim by someone who has not been a part of the original decision.  Their job is to take a look at the initial evidence submitted (by you or others) and to take into account any new evidence you might have.  This last point is something that you want to start investigating at this point too.

Step 4: Get Your Records Together

To understand the basis for your disability denial, you usually have to investigate what records the Social Security Administration considered in making their determination.  It’s very common for critical pieces of medical evidence to be absent from the disability determination records.  It may be that you, or your doctor, didn’t share specifically what was needed.  Or that there was confusion about the conditions leading to your inability to work.

Whatever the case may be, getting a copy of your records is going to be essential to re-stating, re-phrasing, and correcting your appeal claim.   Write down a list of all the doctors, therapists, support groups, or even friends who’ve helped you during the last five years.  If you can’t remember the last five years, write down what you can remember.


Tip!

Sometimes remembering when a meeting or appointment occurred can be hard. Using holidays or key dates as markers to your memory can be very helpful.

For example, if you remember you had a Dr. appointment a couple of years ago but not when thinking about what else you had to adjust to make it happen.

“I remember I had to schedule that Dr. appointment around Thanksgiving because my sister was visiting..”  <-  The appointment happened sometime before or after Thanksgiving.

It can be hard to remember all this stuff, but if we use something we’re better at remembering to act as a memory anchor, it can help.


Step 5: Start Working on Understanding Why you Were Denied

Good to go, you’re getting your records together.  This simple act is going to give you the tools to understand where your claim went sideways.  At this point, you want to work on figuring out if there was a lack of understanding on the part of the Social Security Administration, or was there a lack of evidence.  Sometimes these go together.

If it was a lack of understanding, you can start approaching the problem from the perspective that Social Security has all the evidence, they didn’t have the understanding to put it together.  Naturally, you’re the one living your life, so in many respects, you’re the only one who knows how your challenges affect your ability to work.  Not even your doctor may understand why you can’t pursue gainful activity.

This brings up a very common situation.  Although we are all the expert on what we experience, we can’t always describe it or convey it very well.  Sometimes, we lack the speaking or writing ability to describe adequately the level of impairment we are facing.  Consider trying to convey the level of your disability in various ways (recorded conversation, writing it down, pictures, etc.).

The whole point of understanding, in this step, is to put yourself in the place where you can see why your claim was denied.  If it was as we just described a lack of understanding on the part of Social Security, you can focus on making it more clear to everyone the challenges you face.  If however, your problem was a lack of evidence, you can attack that problem in a relatively straightforward approach.  Get the evidence, everywhere you can.

 

Step 6: Request an SSI Appeal Hearing (If Your Reconsideration is Denied)

No one is going to be surprised that reconsiderations often result in the same outcome as the initial claim.  You have very little time to file for reconsideration and you’re probably still trying to get a grasp on why the initial application was denied – all while the reconsideration is processing.

Let’s assume for the sake of this step-by-step approach that your reconsideration failed to overturn the initial disability denial.  At this point, you can (should) request a hearing.

A hearing is your chance to present to an administrative law judge (ALJ) your claim.  You can provide witnesses and there may also be professional witnesses present (medical or vocational experts) as well.

After the hearing, you’ll receive a determination from the judge, usually received via US Mail.

 

Step 7: Study!  Find Info to Help You Through This Process

During this whole process, you should be looking to find resources to help you out. You don’t want to be figuring this out on your own.  If you do, you’re hurting your chances, and potentially costing yourself further financial burden and stress.


Here are some resources to help you with the process:

The Appeals Process: This is a PDF from Social Security that helps you understand the process of appealing.

Disability Answers WA State: This is a Facebook page built for the community and to facilitate sharing information for those experiencing disabilities.

Lilac City Law Blog: Shameless plug here, but we’re genuinely trying to provide as much information as possible for those working through the disability claims process.  And for those that need the help, we ensure that too.

Social Security Disability Resource Center: An incredible, free resource, compiled by a former disability claims examiner.  The goal is to inform applicants about the Social Security Disability and SSI claims & appeals process.

Our Lilac City Law Ultimate Disability Guide: A free resource that breaks down the basics in an easy to read & portable format.  

4 Biggest Myths About Social Security E-Book: Get to know how & why this process is confusing.  And best of all, what you can do to find success in your claim!

Step 8: Work on Centering Yourself

This step is about self-care.  In truth, this process is slow, it is stressful, and it doesn’t always result in the correct decision.  Sometimes you need to go through it more than once, and sometimes you need to appeal to a higher authority.  Regardless of where you fall in this whole mess, having a sense of urgency is going to result in you potentially harming your mental health.  The system won’t go faster, unfortunately.

Consider, joining a support group on Facebook (you can even join our Facebook page and share your questions & frustrations there).    Other things to consider is making sure your close family or friends know what that you’re pursuing this.  While this might be something you want to keep to yourself, you very easily could end up needing some moral support during the appeal process.  It’s not usually easy.

And, the last point on this, don’t discount the value of a good therapist — someone who can help you to stay confident and centered during the appeal.

 

Step 9: After the SSI Appeal Hearing

Well, one way or another, you’re going to get a decision.  It may be great – “your claim has been approved, and here’s the expected back-pay amount.”  Or it may feel like Groundhog’s day, yet another denial.  If you’re denied at the hearing level, is it the end?  No.

You can keep going; you have the option of asking for a review by the Social Security Appeals Council.  At this point, though, some requests are denied.  Meaning, you may not be given a review by the Appeals Council.  If the Appeals Council denies the review, you’ll receive a letter as to why you remain denied. You can either re-file for disability at this point (yes back to the beginning, sorry) or you can file

If the Appeals Council grants a review, they may review themselves or send it to back to an ALJ (judge) for review.

At this point, if you disagree with an Appeals Council decision, or if they decided not to review the claim, you can file a lawsuit in a federal district court.

This will all be laid out in the decision letters you receive at each stage of the process.

 

Step 10: Keep At It! Never Give Up on Your SSI or SSDI Appeal

The best thing you can do to eventually get the decision you’re looking for is to stick with your claim!  Keep at it.  Don’t miss deadlines, and reach out for help when you need it.  Or even before you need it.  Do your best to be pro-active.  And try as best you can to stay patient and stay centered.

We are here to help you with your disability appeal. Contact us by filling out the form below and we’ll get back to you asap!