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

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

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

What is a Ward of the Court?

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

When Can a Child Become a Ward of the Court?

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

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

What Happens if Something Happens to the Parents?

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

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

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

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

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

How to Decide Who Takes Care of Your Children

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

Update Your Emergency Contacts

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

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

Nominate a Guardian

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

Create a Power of Attorney

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

Appoint a Conservator

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

How to Provide for Your Children Financially

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

Life Insurance

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

Will

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

Trust

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

Durable Financial Power of Attorney

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

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

What Do You to With Your Plan?

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

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

Get Help from an Attorney

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

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

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

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

January: Determine Your Goals

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

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

February: Take Inventory

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

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

March: Create a Will

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

April: Name Beneficiaries

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

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

May: Consider a Trust

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

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

June: Plan for Your Healthcare

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

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

July: Designate a Financial Power of Attorney

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

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

August: Look Into Life Insurance

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

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

September: Plan for Estate Taxes

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

October: Protect Your Business

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

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

November: Organize Everything

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

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

December: Review Everything Each Year

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

Estate Planning with Lilac City Law

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

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The Importance of Insurance In Estate Planning

About 84% of Americans believe that it is important to have life insurance. But only 41% have any. That’s quite a disparity!

Where do you fall in this equation? Do you have the life insurance that you need?

We’re assuming here that you have already taken a big first step and are working on your estate planning. If so, you need to understand the role of life insurance.

Life Insurance Helps Care For Your Kids

Perhaps one of the most important roles of life insurance is ensuring that your kids or other dependents will be taken care of if something happens to you or your spouse. Depending on where you are at in life, your death could spell financial disaster for your dependents.

A life insurance policy helps address these potential disasters by providing necessary and timely funds for various reasons and uses. For instance, your dependents might use life insurance benefits in place of your lost wages, to pay for college, or to pay off debts.

Life insurance is also especially useful if you have a special needs child. This child may need financial support for many, many years after your death. We all wonder what will happen to our children, but with special needs children, you mainly want to make sure they are set up to be taken care of as they age.  

Usually, these insurance benefits are paid out in a lump sum. But you may have concerns about the fiscal responsibility of the person receiving them. In this case, you can set it up so that the benefits purchase an annuity that would pay out in installments over time.

Life Insurance Can Help Keep Your Estate Intact

As the old saying goes, nothing is certain but death and taxes. And death comes with its hearty share of taxes.

A small estate is defined as those valuing less than $2 million per person. In these cases, death taxes are not too much of a concern as they will not be very high; however, if your estate is more substantial, life insurance plays a valuable role in ensuring there is money to cover any death taxes that may be levied against your estate.

Taxes and debts can erode the value of your estate drastically. Life insurance helps ensure that there is money to cover these unexpected expenses while keeping your estate intact for your heirs to enjoy.

Life Insurance Could Help Cover Probate Fees and Other Costs

Depending on the size of your estate and how complex it is, there can be other costs associated with passing it on after your death. One of the most common costs is probate fees. Probate is the legal process of validating your will and executing it according to your wishes.

There also may be estate administration costs. Plus, the inevitable costs associated with your burial and funeral. Again, life insurance benefits could conceivably cover all of these.

Do You Need Estate Planning Life Insurance? 

If you’re wondering whether you need life insurance as part of your estate plan, contact us.  We will walk you through all your options today and get you set up for financial happiness tomorrow. 

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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.

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