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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Planning Pitfalls: The Most Common Estate Planning Mistakes

The Most Common Estate Planning Mistakes to Watch Out For

Most people do not like to think about their eventual demise, and they certainly don’t like asking uneasy questions about estate planning.

In fact, 6 in 10 adults in the United States do not have a will or living trust.

And that is a problem, considering how many people want their assets to pass on to their loved ones after their death.

Here are some of the most common estate planning mistakes to avoid, and how an estate planning attorney can help you figure out the details. 

Not Understanding How Your Assets Will Pass

One of the most common mistakes that people make is not properly understanding how their assets will pass after their death. 

Many people believe that all of their assets can be passed through a last will and testament. But that is not true.

Certain assets cannot pass through your will at all, such as non-probate assets. These include:

  • Jointly-owned assets with rights of survivorship
  • Life insurance policies with a named beneficiary
  • Annuity contracts with a named beneficiary
  • Bank accounts with a payable-on-death beneficiary named
  • IRAs and other investment accounts for retirement
  • Accounts or property titled in the name of a trust

If an asset cannot pass through your will and there is no alternate plan in place, then it will have to go through probate court after your death–and in many cases, the cost of negotiating through probate court is higher than the value of the asset itself.

Blunders with Your Beneficiaries

The next most common mistake in estate planning is errors associated with beneficiaries. 

We could write a whole article about beneficiaries, but we have narrowed it down to two main problem areas: disabled loved ones and the so-called “problem child”.

The Disabled Loved One

If you have a disabled beneficiary, it is generally wise to work directly with an estate planning attorney to make plans for them.

Your goal here is twofold: you want to leave them an inheritance to protect them, but you also want to ensure that they still qualify for public assistance. 

To be clear: if you leave them an inheritance outright, they may be disqualified from receiving public assistance until they spend the inheritance down to the statutory limit. 

The Problem Child

The other side of the equation is the problem child. 

Ask yourself: realistically, how will your beneficiaries manage your assets after your death? Are they smart with money? Or do they waste it foolishly? 

If your beneficiaries tend to burn through money, that will help give you a sense of how the inheritance will be spent after you are gone, and whether there will be anything left to send your grandchildren to college.

Do not cross your fingers and hope for the best. If you want to leave assets to a beneficiary you know has problems, work with an attorney to develop a plan that can protect those assets from bad spending habits, creditors, or even divorcing spouses.

Having No Plan At All

But the biggest mistake of all? Having no estate plan whatsoever. 

You might think that your life and finances are relatively straightforward. And if your assets are minimal and straightforward, then it is fine for you not to have an estate plan.

Unfortunately, “simple and minimal” is not a phrase that applies to most people’s assets and finances.

If you have any kind of outstanding debt, any property, and more than one person left behind when you die, then the fact is that you need an estate plan. 

We get it. You do not like the prospect of dealing with end-of-life issues. But your family will be worse off if you die without any plan in place.

Avoid These Estate Planning Errors

There are a lot of common misconceptions about planning for the future. But you do not need to let them hold you back.

The key is having a plan. That is where we come in–we are experienced family estate planning attorneys that know how to help parents protect their most precious assets.

If you need help developing a plan, do not hesitate to get in touch today. 

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What Legal Documents Do I Need for my Estate Plan?

What Legal Documents Do I Need for my Estate Plan?

When setting up an estate plan, you may find yourself needing to find a lot of different documents. If you are using an estate planning attorney, you might find yourself asking, “What legal documents do I need?”  And more to the point, “what do I need to prepare these documents?”

To help you, we have compiled a list of documents you are going to need for each part of the estate planning process. 

Not everyone will need each part so don’t worry if you see something that you are not doing.  Feel free to contact us if you have any questions. 

Living Will

A living will is also known as an advance care directive.  A living will is only valid while you are alive.  It states your wishes for end of life medical care in case you are unable to communicate your decisions.  You can set up the living will to take effect either as soon as it is signed or it can be set up to only begin as soon as you are unable to communicate your wishes.  The requirements for a living will vary from state to state, so your best option is to hire an estate planning attorney to help you.  Legal documents you will need for your living will are:

  • Beneficiary informationLegal names, Contact information, Social Security, and Birth Certificate/adoption papers (for minor children).
  • Asset InformationCopy of the deed for your house or other real estate, titles for all vehicles, bank statements, retirement paperwork, paperwork related to investments, and any paperwork from an appraiser if you have any valuable personal property you want to be left to a specific beneficiary.
  • Debt Informationdocuments relating to your mortgage, car loans, student loans, and consumer debt.
  • Executor and Guardian InformationNames and contact information for anyone you name an executor or guardian.

Durable Power of Attorney for Finances

A Durable Power of Attorney for Finances allows you to name a trusted person to be able to make decisions about your finances should you become incapacitated.  If you do not have a Durable Power of Attorney for finances, then your loved ones will have to go to court and ask for the ability to make financial decisions.  Legal documents you will need for your living will are:

  • Durable Power of Attorney FormMust be filled out, signed, and notarized (for Washington state, requirements vary from state to state).
  • Attorney-in-fact contact informationContact information and legal name(s) for anyone you name to make decisions for you.

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care allows you to name someone to make health care decisions for you should you become incapacitated. It also allows you to voice what you want if you become incapacitated. Legal documents you will need for your living will are:

  • Durable Power of Attorney FormMust be filled out, signed, and notarized (for Washington state, requirements vary from state to state).
  • Attorney-in-fact contact informationContact information and legal name(s) for anyone you name to make decisions for you.

Last Will and Testament

You last will and testament is a legal document that allows you to say how your estate will be distributed after you die.  It will also allow you to name a guardian for your minor children if you have any and also what will happen to your pets. Legal documents you will need for your living will are:

  • Family DocumentsPrenuptial agreements, marriage certificates, divorce decrees, existing will and trust documents if you have them, adoption certificates (if applicable), and findings of your disability or of family members.
  • Business documents Partnership agreements, trade name registrations, and documents files to establish a corporation.
  • Real Estate DocumentsDeeds, real estate trust documents, and deeds of life estates or leases.
  • Account StatementsBank, retirement, and investment accounts.

Living Trust

There are two types of living trusts; Revocable (can be changed) and Irrevocable (cannot be changed).  Unlike a will, a living trust will ensure that property left through the trust will not have to go into probate.  When it goes through probate, it can take months to be settled and sometimes cost as much as 5% of the assets to pay for lawyers.  Not everyone has to be concerned about probate, and some people may not need a trust at all.  You can speak with an estate planning attorney to find out if you need a living trust.  Legal documents you will need for your living will are:

  • Beneficiary informationLegal names, Contact information, Social Security, and Birth Certificate/adoption papers (for minor children).
  • Asset InformationCopy of the deed for your house or other real estate, titles for all vehicles, bank statements, retirement paperwork, paperwork related to investments, and any paperwork from an appraiser if you have any valuable personal property you want to be left to a specific beneficiary. You only need documents for the property you will be putting into the living trust.
Finish Your Plan!  Contact an Estate Planning Attorney Today…

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Break Down Estate Planning By Using These Worksheets

Break Down Estate Planning By Using These Worksheets

Estate planning is not something you are probably thinking about… especially if you are decades out from retirement. 

It is one of those things we all know we should do but don’t think about until we are much older. 

Sometimes, sadly, we do not think about it until it is too late.

However, regardless of where you are in life, you should have an estate plan set up.

So where do you start?  Get yourself educated, informed, and start getting to know your assets and options as soon as possible.  Here are some tools to help you understand and get started with estate planning.

Checklist & Asset Inventory

Motley Fool Green Light has an excellent checklist as well as worksheets to help you gather all of your information into one place.  You will need to print it out in order to fill it out.  You can find that “Estate plan Papers to Gather” checklist here.

You can also find an asset inventory from Charles Schwab that helps you list out all of your assets, personal information, and beneficiaries.  This form you can either print out and fill out as needed.  The Charles Schwab asset inventory can be downloaded here. (Download link not working anymore, contact us for a helpful form!)

Living Will

A living will is also known as an advance care directive.  A living will is only valid while you are alive.  It states your wishes for end of life medical care in case you are unable to communicate your decisions.  You can set up the living will to take effect either as soon as it is signed or it can be set up to only begin as soon as you are unable to communicate your wishes.  The requirements for a living will vary from state to state so your best option is to hire an estate planning attorney to help you.  Be wary about do it yourself wills, here is why.

You can find informative pamphlets and a living will worksheet and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care worksheet from Providence Washington, here.

Durable Power of Attorney (Finances and Health)

A Durable Power of Attorney for Finances allows you to name a trusted person to be able to make decisions about your finances should you become incapacitated.  If you do not have a Durable Power of Attorney for finances, then your loved ones will have to go to court and ask for the ability to make financial decisions on your behalf.  You can find a durable power of attorney for finances worksheet here.

A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care allows you to name someone to make health care decisions for you should you become incapacitated. It also allows you to voice what you want if you become incapacitated.

Last Will and Testament

You last will and testament is a legal document that allows you to say how your estate will be distributed after you die.  It will also allow you to name a guardian for your minor children if you have any and also what will happen to your pets.

Read this article about DIY last wills and testaments.

Living Trust

There are two types of living trusts; Revocable (can be changed) and Irrevocable (cannot be changed).  Unlike a will, a living trust will ensure that property left through the trust will not have to go into probate.

Here is an article about the differences between Wills and Living Trusts.

When it goes through probate, it can take months to be settled and sometimes cost as much as 5% of the assets to pay for lawyers.  Not everyone has to be concerned about probate, and some people may not need a trust at all.  You can speak with an estate planning attorney to find out if you need a living trust. Sources:

Make Sense of All These Worksheets
Contact An Estate Planning Attorney Today!

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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 Help Your Family Use Your Estate Planning Forms in An Emergency

How to Help Your Family Use Your Estate Planning Forms in An Emergency

In an emergency, everything is chaotic and stressful. Family members are often distraught and unable to clearly (and quickly) think about your wishes.

What will happen to your children if you and your spouse are no longer able to care for them or yourselves? How will your family know your wishes or have access to any legal information?

Using your estate planning forms can help your family and prevent them from having to go to court to receive authority to make decisions if there is an emergency.

Here are six estate planning forms and ideas you can use and how they can help your family in an emergency.

Guardianship Plan

A guardianship plan lays out your wishes for your children if you, or yourself if you become incapacitated. This estate planning form gives medical, financial, and legal decision-making abilities to a trusted person you choose. This person will act on your behalf when making these decisions while ensuring your wishes are considered.

Why is a guardianship plan important to have in an emergency? A guardianship plan can be used to give a trusted person temporary guardianship of you or your family (kids) in case of an emergency. We are talking about if you are unable to care for your children because of a hospitalization or a severe injury.

The person you choose will be able to make educational and medical decisions in your place for the child until you are well enough. If you, unfortunately, die during an emergency, your children will know where they are going and who is going to take care of them; hopefully making the transition a little easier.

If you work with an attorney to set up a guardianship plan, they will have a hard copy available. However, as with all plans, you should go over the details with all those you identify in the plan as potential guardians. Go over who to contact, in what order to contact them, and game plan different scenarios. Your family protection plan attorney will help you figure this all out and ensure you have all necessary guardianship and estate planning forms set up.

Healthcare Power of Attorney / Health Care Directive (Living Will)

A healthcare power of attorney (HPOA) legally allows a person of your choosing to make decisions regarding your healthcare. This HPOA can be as broad as possible, or you can limit to specific types of decisions made for you. Sometimes, healthcare power of attorney will be combined with a health care directive or living will. A healthcare directive specifies what you want if you need life-saving measures. Some of these may include whether you receive artificial hydration (IV) and nutrition (feeding tube), or if you do not wish to be resuscitated in an emergency.

These forms are very beneficial to have in an emergency. If you are admitted to the emergency room, the hospital will do everything in its powers to keep you alive. They will put you on a life support if needed. However, what if that is not you want? Filling out a health care directive will lay out your wishes and enable a person of your choosing to make those wishes happen for you.

If you do not have a health care directive, then having a healthcare power of attorney (POA) gives a trusted friend or loved one the opportunity to make your wishes known. Having these forms (and putting them where a loved one can find them) will allow your wishes to be met in an emergency situation.

To use them in an emergency, make sure these forms are available and accessible to your loved ones. Create a phone call list and instructions for your family, spouse, kids, babysitter, etc. to follow in case they need to contact the person you designated to make these literal life or death decisions for you.

Financial Power of Attorney

A financial power of attorney is very similar to the healthcare power of attorney in that you are choosing a person to make decisions on your behalf. The biggest difference is that in this case, you are allowing a trusted person to make financial decisions or acts such as withdrawing money from your bank account our signing papers for you regarding real estate.

Appointing a financial power of attorney (POA), will allow your finances to be kept in order either after you pass or while you are incapacitated. In an emergency situation, the financial POA can supply the guardian of your children funds to be able to care for the children or even pay your medical bills you are accruing if you are hospitalized.

Ensuring you have your financial POA stored in an accessible location with your other estate planning forms is a necessity for the person that you are designating to start taking steps to handle your finances. Keep your forms somewhere they can be accessed and leave instructions for accessing and using them to your next of kin. Your estate planning attorney will also maintain a copy, so keep us on your contact list as well.

Insurance Policy & Other Important Estate Planning Forms and Documents

Having a life insurance policy in place will greatly help your family financially if something happens to you. Life insurance will help replace lost income, cover burial expenses, pay off any of your debt, and pay any estate taxes.

In addition to life insurance there are many other important documents:

  • Final arrangement plans to let your family know the particulars of your final arrangement. This will ease their need to make decisions.
  • Contact sheets giving your loved one contact information for important people such as babysitters, neighbors, who to contact if you do not come home, etc.
  • Trusts which pass on specific assets to a beneficiary bypassing probate.
  • Tax documents
  • Investments
  • Photographic itemizations of assets

Again, having these forms done and put somewhere easily found, will help put your family at ease. It could be the difference between your children being placed immediately in the custody of a close family member or family friend (by your designation) or them ending up in foster care while a court determines who is the most appropriate caretaker, if any, amongst your family and friends.

If you want to know more about how this could all play out, read: WEAR CLEAN UNDERWEAR. We will even provide you a copy!

Password Lists As An Estate Planning Form?

Having a list of passwords almost seems silly. Why set up a password if you are going to document them? Your family may need to access accounts online and will not be able to without your passwords. In today’s technological age, many different things are done online and with passwords including online banking.

In an emergency, your family may need to access your online banking account, your email, etc. To do this, they will need to know what your passwords are. For example, you end up hospitalized and in a coma. The only way for your neighbor to contact your family is to access your contacts on your phone. How are they supposed to that? Keeping a list of passwords somewhere a trusted person knows about will allow them to access password protected things that may be needed in an emergency.

Account Lists As An Estate Planning Form?

A list of all of your accounts will also help your family know where to look for information such as banking. Listing your email account is important as well so your family can get any important information that may be sent by email. There is an application you can install on your smartphone that will allow you to list your accounts and passwords.

Just like a password list, a list of accounts will be helpful to your family in an emergency. If you pass away, your family will need to know where you bank, who you use for phone service, etc. They need to know so they can cancel accounts if need or change the terms of service.

Account lists are an often overlooked part of estate planning, but are something you should include in your estate planning forms if you have not done so already.


If you found this article helpful, take a look at A Young Family’s Guide to a Rock Solid Estate Plan


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

If you are under 40 years old, the chances of you have thought about, or even pursuing estate planning is pretty small. However, something brought you here, and that means you are on your way to changing the way you look at planning your future!

The exploration of life planning that brought you here is the reason we started doing estate planning for families here at Lilac City Law in the first place. We believe that the best time for you to set up an incredible estate plan is when you are young; maybe even before you have children! So, where we begin this exploration in estate and life planning?

What step do you take first to get you from realizing an estate plan makes sense, protects you and your family, and is something you can do regardless of your asset profile?

Let’s look at the path to estate planning, step-by-step, and help you get prepared to engage with an estate planning attorney who has already established some basic fluency in this topic.

Estate Plan: The First Step, Get Started

Probably the best thing to know about starting an estate plan is the first step can be free. Set up your Protection Plan. This action alone knocks off several of the items we are going to be discussing later in this article. You can do set up your free protection plan here. Moreover, if something happens to you or your family while you are working on the rest of your plan, you will be set up with at least some security.

Get Started Here – Set Up Your Protection Plan

Estate Plan: The Second Step, Read Wear Clean Underwear

We cannot recommend enough grabbing a copy of Wear Clean Underwear. This book breaks down the reasons why you should be considering an estate plan in incredible detail. From the very beginning, you get to choose your adventure and see how common life scenarios play out depending on what estate planning decisions you make. If there is a list of books you should be giving new families, this book should be high on that list.

Estate Plan: The Third Step, Get Familiar with Estate Planning Items

If you completed step 1 above, awesome! Hopefully, you have step 2 bookmarked, now. And now for the third step, review the following fundamental elements of a comprehensive estate plan.

Estate Plan: Establish Your Last Will & Testament

When most people think about life planning, and how to set up their family after their passing, they think about establishing a will. A will is often more formally titled, a Last Will and Testament. But what is it? And, why do you want one, or need one?

A Last Will and Testament helps you to direct the transition of your assets to family members, friends, or whomever else after you pass away. It is almost always a formal legal document; however, there are cases where a court has upheld a will etched on to the paint of a tractor, and there are indeed other extreme examples of last-minute wills. For the sake of estate planning, we are sticking to a document you draft with your family and your estate planning attorney though! 🙂

The benefits of a Last Will and Testament are that they can cover items that a living trust may not cover. With a Trust, you are trying to transfer assets without having to go through the process of probate. Probate is costly and can be bypassed to a great extent with estate planning. However, you will not be able to continuously transfer all your assets to a Trust, no matter how diligent you are. A Last Will and Testament will help you here by covering things you have left out of your trust either by accident or on purpose.

In addition to unaddressed assets, a Trust cannot declare who will be the final guardian of your children in the event of an untimely passing. This contingency, in particular, is something your Last Will and Testament will spell out explicitly. Moreover, this scenario is also why you would benefit from working with an excellent estate planning attorney to set it up. Read the book we talked about in step two to see why, for your kids’ sake, this is something you want to work through in extensive detail.

Estate Plan: Advanced Health Care Directive

An advanced health care directive is a document in which you can set down your end-of-life preferences. You can also appoint someone in your directive to act on your behalf in making health care decisions for you, assuming you cannot make them for yourself.

Without a health care directive, your end of life care may be decided by doctors who do not know you and are unable to get your direct consent to treat (or not to treat).

An advanced directive is also often called a living will.

Estate Plan: Health & Financial Powers of Attorney

If it comes to pass that you are unable to manage your finances, or direct your self-care, who will take care of those things? If your spouse or partner is your #1 choice, that is a great plan. But, what if they are not able to help you out? Maybe they passed away, you split up, or they are simply out of town when something happens?

Health & Financial Powers of Attorney enable someone you trust to both acts on your behalf financially and in health care decisions for you. These Powers of Attorney (POA) also allow your designee to obtain information on your behalf. We wrote a great article on how this can work well, and how things can go sideways without these documents. It is worth a read, here.

Estate Plan: Kids Protection Plan

A Kids’ Protection Plan is not necessarily one static document. Instead, it is probably best looked at as the state of your estate and family planning. Are your kids set up to be taken care of if you pass before they are grown?

While you are exploring estate planning, this is something you want to get set up as soon as reasonably possible. Meaning, to start, we should not make the perfect the enemy of the good. Get a basic kids protection plan set up, here. The basic plan will give you and your family some level of protection as you work through the more granular aspects of estate planning.

Eventually, you will want to establish custody rights in your Last Will & Testament. Likewise, you will want to set up how your assets will transfer to your children if that is your desire. Also, you will want to set up many other things with other steps we talk about in this article.

So, step one for kids’ protection, keep them out of the custody of the state, get a guardianship set up here.  Step 2 ~ 100, talk to an estate planning attorney.

Estate Plan: Final Arrangements Plan

The particulars of your final arrangments are likely to be as unique as you are! However, the broad strokes things you might want to cover and leave in a place where your family can find them, include:

Your desire for what will happen to your body. Do you want your remains to be buried or cremated? Are you ok with embalming?

Do you have a preference on who will be handling your remains for burial or cremation? Have you worked with a specific mortuary in the past? Do you already have arrangments with them to take care of you?

Where will you be buried, interred, or placed? Is there a particular cemetery or location you have in mind? Are there actions you wish to be taken at that event?

If you are a Veteran and want to be interred at a National Cemetery, do you have a copy of your DD214 available and the number for the National Cemetery Administration ready for your family or caretakers to quickly make arrangments?

Have you already made provisions for a casket? Do you wish a certain type of casket or container be used? How do you want this to be paid, if you have not already paid for it? Do you want an open or closed casket funeral, if the choice is available?

Who will be your pallbearers? How do you want to be transported to your final resting place? Who will scatter your ashes, and in what way? Do you have funeral preferences?

Is there a marker you wish placed on your final resting place; a gravestone? Alternatively, a particular engraving to go on whatever marker you have set up?

Estate Plan: Business Documents

If you are a business owner, you might have given some thought to what you want to happen to your business if you are not around to operate it anymore. Even if you have not, it is probably a good idea to establish some contingencies. Exactly how the contingencies are setup will be predicated on many factors, including business structure, partners, debt, industry, products, and a million other things.

The best bet here is to talk to an estate planning attorney and work through a planning process. What do you want to happen; a transfer of ownership? A sale of the business (who will the proceeds go to)? We are scratching the surface on this issue, but the important thing to remember is that all your plans for your business can be worked out in advance; you just need to start the process today.

Estate Plan: Insurance Policies

Do you have life insurance setup? We are not writing this article to tell you whether to do so or not; we only want you to be able to help you transfer all your assets and investments where they are supposed to go. To do that, you will need to have a list of your insurance policies ready and the individual procedures and points of contact setup at those policies.

Don’t forget that credit cards and other items that might involve debt often have the option to provide life insurance too! You may have a policy set up that you did not even realize you had!

Regardless, get your plans laid out for your family to work through, get your beneficiaries lined up, and establish a plan for transferring the payout to whomever you wish to designate.

Estate Plan: Tax Materials

Owing taxes after your passing is maybe the ultimate injury to insult! However, if you own property your property will remain after your passing, and the taxes will too, sadly. Your beneficiaries will need to be instructed on how, when, and whom to pay taxes. They may also need a historical account of your taxes, for any number of reasons.

Estate Plan: Investments & Accounts

While you are getting your insurance and tax documents in order, you should be laying out any investments and bank accounts you might have as well. This list will be very helpful for your financial power of attorney, and/or your family when you pass.

It is important to think about this as more than your bank accounts too. Don’t forget 401k, stocks, bonds, bitcoins, IRA’s and other forms of investment.

Estate Plan: Trusts in Addition to Last Wills and Testaments

We covered Trusts, as they relate to Wills, earlier in this article. In many ways, Trusts and wills seek to fulfill the same ends but by very different means. Whereas a Will grants property and assets to a designee, it is often more open-ended. It is also far more restrictive in updating.  Here’s another article that compares the two as well.

If you need to amend a Will, you either have to go through a public court proceeding, or you have to scrap it all and start over. The thing is if you create a Will years or even decades before your passing and you intend it to speak to every aspect of your estate, it will be very open to interpretation. This point is where a probate court will come in, and on top of taking a hefty portion of your estate value in fees, the court will seek to interpret your will. Do you want someone who does not know you to understand the intentions that you put on paper 20 years ago? < This is where a Trust can help and work in tandem with your will.

You can use a trust to pass specific assets on to a beneficiary, bypassing probate entirely. Moreover, if you avoid probate through establishing a trust, you keep the details of your asset profile out of public records. This benefit in itself is self-evident. If you value the potential information on your children’s assets to be kept private from unscrupulous “advisors,” transferring those assets in a trust is one way to go. Can you tell we value privacy?

Lastly, a trust is easy to update, especially in comparison to a Last Will and Testament. A phone call to your estate attorney once a quarter and you will have a trust that is ready to be executed once the parameters you have decreed have been established. You can read more about how a trust is implemented in this article from our blog.

Estate Plan: Contact Sheets

Does your sister in law have your babysitter’s contact information? How about your parents, do they know how to get ahold of your spouse’s cousin who lives next door? It is imperative that you have contact sheets created for key points of contact, and that those contact sheets are readily available.

More to this point, you will want to have a procedure set up for what happens if the way someone learns something has happened to you is that you haven’t come home. Do they call the police first? Do they call your neighbor who knows your children’s guardianship plan and has access to it?

Again, read this book – free with this offer, to see why this is so very important. Then contact an estate planning attorney to get the ball rolling on this.

Estate Plan: Passwords & Account Information

How secure is your Facebook account? Does anyone else have your password? Your spouse, your kids? You would probably know because if they did, they would no-doubt be posting practical jokes all the time from your account, right?

Kidding aside, it makes a lot of sense why you wouldn’t share your social media, email, or other account passwords with someone else. Why would you even have a password if you started sharing it? Plus, passwords now have to change often anyway, so keeping a physical and updated copy can be a challenge.

The solution here might depend on your preferences. Whether it is a physical sheet of paper you keep in a safe place, or an Application you install on your smartphone, it is a good idea to have some way for those you care about to be able to access your important accounts in an emergency, or after you pass.

Estate Plan: Emergency Cash

Have you ever thought of storing some cash in your mattress? Ok, well maybe somewhere a bit more secure… The point being, you do not know what will be the emergency that makes your estate plan necessary. In actuality, there may be several emergencies throughout your life that part of your estate plan becomes necessary to address.

Part of what makes a rock solid estate plan so comprehensive is that it addresses as best as possible all those nebulous potentialities. The estate plan is specific where it needs to be, but flexible enough to handle the unknowable unknowns. In regards to flexibility, cash is king.

Cash is immeasurably useful; it is easy to transfer (hand it over). It is accepted universally. It can be easily secured. Also, you do not need anyone’s help to build a small but capable emergency stash, just in case you need it someday. Make sure cash is part of your emergency estate planning, and make sure it is readily available.

Estate Plan: A Photographic Itemizations of Assets

This idea crosses over into good insurance practice too. You can describe your assets in great detail, but as it has been said, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Keep a photo diary or photo catalog of your assets. It may come to pass that your desire to transfer certain assets might not be as descriptive as necessary if there is some contention. If however, you include a picture of that property, as well as a description of it, you leave a whole lot less up for doubt.

Plus, as we said a second ago, keeping photos of your assets is helpful for insurance purposes too. So, it just is a good, and cheap, safety measure to incorporate into your regular estate planning.

Estate Plan: Photos & Recording of Yourself!

While you are thinking about pictures, you may want to put some physical pictures away in a safe too. Or at the least, start uploading them to the cloud via Dropbox. Another option is using several USB sticks.

Why would you want to do this? For your family, your kids in particular. This idea depends on how much you wish to leave behind for your family to know you by. Many families create these digital memories and never need them. They send them with their kids when they leave home or watch them with them at their milestone birthdays; which is also pretty awesome! However, some families will have these become part of their record to their children of who they were when they were alive.

In the end, photos and recordings of yourself are not necessary for your estate plan. But, they are a touching gesture for your family, should you pass.

Estate Plan: Store Your Estate Plan in Different Places

Lastly, in our rundown of estate plan musts, store your plan in several places. Or at the very least, store it in one very secure place. This plan is going to be important to your family at some point. If it is when you have passed, you will not be able to tell them where or how to access it, if you moved it.

In fact, you might have lost a physical copy of your plan due to an accident, a fire, moving, or something else. It happens! Keep the details of your plan safe.

Estate Plan: The Most Important Last Piece

One option for this is to work with an estate planning attorney. Once they find out that your plan is necessary, they will immediately become part of the team to triage your needs and the needs of your family. Do you have a guardianship plan, so your kids do not end up wards of the state? If so, your estate planning attorney will know where it is, how it works, the limits and rights it grants, and how to execute it immediately.

On top of everything else we discussed in this article, having a trusted advisor in the form of an estate planning attorney is the most important “must have” in this entire article.

You can contact Lilac City Law, here.  Or fill out the form below.   Find out why we are rated 5/5 stars on Google!

4 Must-Have Estate Planning Documents for Every Young Adult

4 Must-Have Estate Planning Documents for Every Young Adult

 

You are young and you are ready to change the world!  But as you charge into the world, there’s something you maybe were never taught…

The importance of taking steps to secure your current and future assets and estate through an appropriate estate plan.   


 

Last Will and Testament

A fully fleshed out estate plan consists of guardianship plans, and beneficiary documentation, and tons of other things.  But the first thing people usually think about is drafting a last Will and Testament.

In brief, a Will describes your wishes in regards to assets and estate after you pass. This includes decisions such as who gets to inherit what (in regards to your estate), who will manage your wealth if it’s necessary,   and even who should be named as the guardian of your children (if required).  There are a number of other documents and ways to do this, but as we said before, the last Will and Testament is often the first thing people think about and set up during their exploration of estate planning.

One of the biggest drawbacks to simply relying on a Will is that to enforce the details in the Will requires a court process known as probate.  Wherein a judge will determine how to interpret the desires of the will, in regards to metering out your estate.  Plus, probate is costly and time-consuming.  However, going through probate to disburse your estate according to your wishes is infinitely better than having a judge make an educated guess (their own opinion) on how to distribute your estate and assets.  Which is what they’ll do, without an up to date Will.

Hopefully, you have a long time to think about how your will needs to be worded and updated.  However, choosing not to establish one in the first place, is risky, and could ultimately be very costly for your family and heirs.  You can get ahead on this, by talking to an estate planning attorney today.

 

Living Will

Health and wealth are two very important aspects of estate planning.  And in planning for your future and potential catastrophic personal events, safeguarding them should never be overlooked.

A living will defines your intent and desires for potential end-of-life care.  Do you want to be on life support?  If so, how long?  How much of your estate and assets should go to support your end of life care?

You might utilize your living will to state advanced directives too.  For instance, you might state that in certain cases, pain killers should be used, but CPR or other extreme measures should not be attempted to sustain your life.

Living wills often work in conjunction with Healthcare Power of Attorney (Medical Power of Attorney), or Durable Power of Attorney.  You should familiarize yourself with these documents if you’re going to set up a Living Will.  Still, if you’re getting the bases covered, you should work with an Estate Planning attorney to set up your Living Will.

 

Financial Power of Attorney

A financial power of attorney designates someone to take charge of your financial assets and affairs in your absence or in case you’re incapacitated.  This may be part of a larger set of Powers of Attorney or may be specifically designated to only cover financial issues of your choosing.  The responsibilities of your financial POA might include taking care of and protecting your assets, distributing your assets,  or even something as straight forward as dealing with your bills.

In addition to working with a great Estate Planning attorney to set up your Financial Power of Attorney, you may also want to engage the services of a financial planner.  Working with a financial planner that understands estate planning will enable you to have a better understanding of the types of financial issues you FPOA designee would have to deal with.

Lilac City Law recommends a financial planner from our preferred partners list

 

Living Trust

Trusts play a pivotal role in planning for the future of your estate and how it will be taken care of when you pass or become unable to manage it. One of the greatest advantages of a living trust is avoiding probate which is the court process and associated fees that we described in the section above (Last Will & Testament).  One huge bonus of a living trust is that unlike a Will, it is a whole lot easier for you to update it throughout your lifetime. So, easier to update, protects your wealth from disappearing into taxes and probate, and you can set it up relatively easily with the help of a great Estate Planning Attorney.  It’s a win-win-win, for someone new to estate planning.  Here’s more information on living trusts.

 


Schedule an estate plan consultation today!


 

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