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

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

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

What is a Ward of the Court?

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

When Can a Child Become a Ward of the Court?

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

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

What Happens if Something Happens to the Parents?

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

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

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

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

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

How to Decide Who Takes Care of Your Children

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

Update Your Emergency Contacts

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

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

Nominate a Guardian

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

Create a Power of Attorney

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

Appoint a Conservator

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

How to Provide for Your Children Financially

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

Life Insurance

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

Will

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

Trust

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

Durable Financial Power of Attorney

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

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

What Do You to With Your Plan?

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

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

Get Help from an Attorney

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

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

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

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

What Exactly is a Power of Attorney?

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

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

What Does a Power of Attorney Cover?

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

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

What Form Does a Power of Attorney Need?

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

What is a Durable Power of Attorney?

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

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

What Do You Do With a Power of Attorney?

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

Can You Cancel a Power of Attorney?

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

How Long Does a Power of Attorney Last?

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

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

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

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

What Must a Power of Attorney Do?

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

What Can’t a Power of Attorney Do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if a Power of Attorney Names Two Agents?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the Washington Uniform Power of Attorney Act?

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

When Should You Update Your Power of Attorney?

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

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

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

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

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What to Know During the Guardianship Nomination Process

What to Know During the Guardianship Nomination Process

If something happened to you and you were unable to take care of yourself or your children, who would step in? Ideally, it would be someone you chose. Nominating a guardian before something happens allows you to do just that.

What Is a Guardian?

Think back to school forms asking for a parent or legal guardian. A guardian is a person who takes care of someone else when that person is incompetent to handle their affairs on their own. This could be due to a serious injury or illness. When minor children are involved, they may need a guardian if both of their parents are incapacitated or pass away.

A guardianship will generally cover similar decisions to what a parent could make for a child — even when the person needing a guardian is an adult. This may include medical decisions and, for minors, other life decisions such as where to go to school.

Guardianships can also cover managing the person’s finances, but finances are sometimes broken up into a separate conservatorship. Exactly what a guardian or conservator can do will be spelled out when the court approves the guardianship or conservatorship.

How Is a Guardian Different From Godparents?

When your children were born or shortly after, you may have appointed godparents. Godparents are often expected to step in and take charge of the children if something happens to a parent, but appointing a godparent is largely a religious or ceremonial action. Godparents aren’t directly recognized under the law.

To give a godparent the legal authority to act, and avoid conflicts with other family members who may wish to step in instead, you will need to go through the legal process of appointing the godparents as guardians, trustees, or other legal roles.

How Is a Guardian Different from a Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney might grant all of the powers that a guardian can exercise. The difference is mainly timing. You sign a power of attorney when you have full mental capacity. A guardian is only appointed after you’re incapacitated. Part of the guardianship appointment process can include reviewing the wishes you specified when you still had full mental capacity. However, a power of attorney cannot be executed if you have diminished mental capacity, and it may be voided if a court finds you lacked capacity when you signed it.

Because a power of attorney can be limited in scope based on how you had your lawyer word it, it may not cover all of the actions that need to be taken on your behalf. In those situations, a guardian would be appointed to fill in the gaps.

How Do You Select a Guardian for Yourself?

Like a person dying without a complete will, the law has default rules for how to select a guardian based on relationships and willingness to serve. The court will also consider the ability to do the job of each person who wants to be the guardian. This can lead to serious family conflicts and large legal bills when two family members wish to serve as the guardian and can’t come to an agreement.

To avoid these types of problems, you can nominate a guardian. The judge isn’t bound to follow your nomination but will give it great weight and will only overrule your nomination with a strong cause. The process is called nomination of guardian, and you can select any adult of sound mind. Like a will, the judge will review your selection to ensure you were mentally fit to make the decision and weren’t under duress or tricked into doing so.

How Do You Select a Guardian for Your Children?

The process for nominating a guardian for your children is similar to nominating a guardian for yourself. The only real difference is that it’s even more important to make your decision in advance so that your children can have a sense of stability and not be left hanging during long court battles.

You should, of course, also talk to potential guardians to see if they are willing to take on this responsibility. However, being nominated does not obligate the person to accept the judge’s appointment if the time ever comes. Therefore, you probably want to select at least one alternate.

Do You Need a Guardian If You Left a Trust for Your Children?

You may have set up a trust to provide for your children financially in case something happened to you. The trustee is then able to manage their financial affairs in accordance with the trust.

However, someone still needs to take custody of the children to manage their daily lives and important life decisions. This is where you need to nominate a guardian, and your estate planning documents should lay out the responsibilities of both the trustee and the guardian.

Who Supervises a Guardian?

Once appointed, a guardian must make regular reports to the court. This includes financial information as well as other major decisions. Other family members can also go to court to contest the guardianship if they believe the guardian is doing something improper.

What If There Is a Conflict Between a Guardianship and a Power of Attorney or Trust?

There should be no conflicts with a guardianship and power of attorney or trust because the court should appoint the guardian in consideration of other estate planning documents. The guardian should only carry out duties not already provided for. To avoid confusion, you should attach your other estate planning documents to your nomination of guardianship to ensure that the judge will be aware of their existence. If a power of attorney or trustee believes a guardian was appointed improperly or is going beyond their role, they can contest those actions in court.

Are There Downsides to Being a Guardian?

Whether a guardianship is for an adult or minor children, being appointed as a guardian is a major responsibility. Like a parent, it can mean making tough choices and sometimes needing to put the other person’s wellbeing before the guardian’s own. The nominated guardian will also need to go to court during the nomination process and will need to make ongoing reports to the court as long as they remain guardian. Being a guardian is a lifetime appointment unless the judge appoints someone else.

Does a Guardian Have to be Local?

A guardian can theoretically live anywhere in the world. However, the judge will want to make sure that the guardian will be able to effectively perform their responsibilities without being unduly impacted by long-distance. For minor children, since they will often go to live with the guardian, the judge may also consider how a move would impact their lives and their access to other family members. You can and should include your wishes on these issues in your planning documents so the judge can understand the choices you made and to avoid conflicts between family members.

If you’re relying on a long-distance guardian, you should also consider who will act in a sudden emergency such as you being rushed to a hospital. You may want to have an alternate power of attorney that gives a more nearby family member the power to act until your guardian is able to step in.

Who Pays for Legal Fees During Guardianship Proceedings?

Your appointed guardian should understand that they don’t have to take on legal costs. If you have liquid assets, the court will pay the attorneys reasonable fees from your funds — just like any other of your expenses would be handled. If you don’t have liquid assets, there is a special guardianship fund established by the government. In no cases does the appointed guardian pay for court fees, although you may wish to set aside money to cover other expenses they may face while acting as a guardian.

Please note that this is separate from creating your nomination of guardian documents. Those costs would be arranged between you and your attorney just like any other legal work.

How Quickly Can a Guardian Be Appointed?

Even for a nominated guardian who isn’t contested, the court process is usually measured in weeks if not months. During an emergency situation, your family could petition the court to appoint a temporary guardian pending full court review. This person could potentially be the guardian you nominated.

In more urgent circumstances, such as an emergency room doctor needing an immediate decision, any power of attorney or living will documents that you created and are readily available will be used. Otherwise, the hospital or other entity would attempt to contact your next of kin and follow their authority in accordance with local law.

Talk to an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney

To learn more about how nominating a guardian fits in with your estate planning strategy or to start the nomination process, talk to an experienced estate planning attorney at Lilac City Law today.

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What if I Become Incapacitated? Who Will Take Care of My Family?

What if I Become Incapacitated? Who Will Take Care of My Family?

Not being able to take care of your family or yourself can be a scary thought. 

Who will make all the important decisions about your finances, health, and important decisions about your family?

There are some estate planning documents that will allow you to name someone to take care of you and your family. 

Let’s take a look at what they are.

Advance Health Care Directive

An advance health care directive allows you to name someone to make health decisions for you when you are incapacitated.  This is often used to decide on whether or not to use feeding tubes, ventilators, or other life-sustaining treatments.  It is also used if you are unable to speak for yourself or sign health documents even at a doctor’s appointment.

The Advance Health Care Directive is also known as a living will or durable power of attorney for healthcare.

If you do not have an advance health care directive, doctors will do everything they can to keep you alive even if that is not what you want.  Be sure to discuss with whomever you choose what you would want them to do.

Durable Power of Attorney for Finance

Similar in intent to an advance health care directive, the durable power of attorney for finance allows you to name someone to take care of your finances if you become incapacitated.  This can be the same person or a different person than you named for your healthcare decisions.

If you do not name someone, then a court will appoint someone to manage your finances.  Your spouse may not have access to your finances unless everything has/had already been set into a joint property.

You want to make sure that whoever you name is someone you trust.  They will handle all of your finances!

If you do not have someone you trust, you can contact a professional to help you setup fiduciary support.

Guardianship Plan

A guardianship plan will lay out what is to happen to your children should you be incapacitated. More than likely if you have a spouse, your spouse will take over the full care of your children. However, if you or your spouse is not in town, not readily available, estranged, or any number of other scenarios where you (or they) cannot immediately take custody of your children, things can go sideways, fast!

Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know about Guardianship Plans:

You will need to name a guardian for your children.  You can also include what you want for your children, such as the type of schooling they will receive, if you want them to participate in sports, what values and morals you want them to grow up with, etc.

You want to choose someone you trust to follow your wishes.  They also should be able to financially and emotionally support your children and perhaps even have the same faith or values as you do.

Trust

Setting up a trust for your children will make sure that they will have the financial support they will need.  It can also ensure that your children will not receive their whole inheritance when they turn 18.  Naming someone other than the guardian to be the trustee of the trust can help make sure your children are using their inheritance wisely.  Regardless, you want to make sure that the guardian and the trustee can get along and make decisions together.

There are many factors involved when trying to lay-out how a trust will coordinate with a guardian, powers of attorney, advance directives, wills, and more.  Your best bet is to set up a consultation with a great estate planning attorney.

Talk to an Estate Planning Attorney About Family Protection and Guardianship, 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
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Who Can Help Create a Durable Power of Attorney in WA State

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

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

What is a Durable Power of Attorney?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Estate Planning Attorney

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

Loved One or Trusted Friend

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

Yourself

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

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

More Reading

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

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

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


Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and Wills: What You Need to Know

Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and Wills: What You Need to Know

The estate planning process encompasses a range of important legal and financial matters.

No one likes to think about death or dying, yet it is important to be prepared in case of an emergency.

Especially, for instance, young parents who have minor children…what will happen to your kids if something happens to you?

The “Durable” Power of Attorney vs. (Non-Durable) Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is a written document authorizing another person to act on your behalf. For instance, it may enable you to appoint another person to act on your behalf in certain financial affairs. For example, signing a check, paying your bills, or even buying or selling real estate, would be valid uses of a power of attorney.

However, should you become disabled or incapacitated your power of attorney will end. Well, it will end unless it explicitly states that it is a durable power of attorney. A durable power of attorney stays in effect even if you become incapacitated or disabled. In estate and family protection planning this becomes a vital document for your trusted family to act on your behalf when you are not able to.

You can read more about how a durable power of attorney is a cornerstone of a rock solid estate plan, here.

Health Care Proxy, Another Kind of Durable Power of Attorney

A healthcare proxy is also known by other titles, including a durable power of attorney for health care, a health care power of attorney, medical power of attorney, or an appointment of a health care agent. By whatever name you have come to know it as the role of a health care proxy is to act on your behalf in case medical decisions become necessary and you are unable to provide consent.

We covered this in actual real-life scenarios in this article. However, for the case of this discussion, the risk of not having a health care proxy is that someone who does not know you, has no idea of your care wishes, values, or end of life preferences, could be making those decisions for you – absent this contingency. Wouldn’t you rather a trusted family member or even friend made these decisions?

10 Basics of a Will

A will is a legal document that states what you would like to happen to your property and assets after your death. Though essential to your estate plan, and probably the most often thought of a piece of an estate plan, a Will is not the sole part of a great plan. Here is an article outlining the benefits and blindspots of a Will.

While you ponder that – here are ten things you SHOULD place in your will:

1. Name an executor
2. Nominate someone to be the guardian of your minor children.
3. Name the beneficiaries and which specific property or assets they should receive
4. Specify alternate beneficiaries in case one of the primary beneficiaries is no longer living
5. Name a person or organization to take whatever is leftover in the estate
6. Specify how personal assets should be divided and whether they should go directly to the beneficiary or be sold for cash value
7. Allocate how business assets are to be divided and if they are to be kept separate from personal assets
8. Outline how your debts, expenses and tax liabilities should be paid
9. Name a caretaker for your pets because the law considers them to be property
10. Declare/discuss funeral plans

Finding the Best Advocate to Bring All This Together

There is a lot of information online about estate planning. In fact, there are even programs you can buy. However, there is no replacement for a plan built custom to your needs & wishes. A plan constructed in consultation with you by an attorney who specializes in estate planning and family protection law! We think we fit that bill and do a pretty good job too, but you don’t have to take our word for it.

What You Need to Know About a Healthcare Power of Attorney (HPOA)

What You Need to Know about a Healthcare Power of Attorney

One of the things that often confuse people setting up estate plans is the difference between the various powers of attorney.  Often, people looking into estate planning ask questions like: 


Can we just wrap this all up into one? 
Why do I need all these when all I want to do is make sure my family can take care of my estate when I’m gone?

As simple as it would be to have one document that rules them all, it’s sadly not the case in today’s world.  We’ve covered a basic Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) in another article.  So, we’re going to use this article to cover a Healthcare Power of Attorney.  Describing what it is, how it compares to other powers of attorney, and why you really do need an HPOA in the first place.  

 

 

What is a Healthcare Power of Attorney, and What Does it Do?

A Healthcare Power of Attorney (HPOA) designates someone you select for making healthcare decisions on yours and/or your families behalf, should you become unable to do so.

You might imagine from this description that this is a potentially huge responsibility.  The person designated to act on your behalf in healthcare matters could be tasked with anything from carrying out discussions with your family doctor and other healthcare providers, to making life-altering healthcare decisions for you or your family, should they be necessary.  Needless to say, you should draft your HPOA wisely and designate someone you trust implicitly a to potentially make wise and informed decisions if they ever need to be made for you and in your best benefit.

 

What is the Difference Between a Healthcare Power of Attorney and a Healthcare Surrogate?

You may ask yourself at this point,

“Wouldn’t any healthcare provider would make the best decision that is most suited for you so why go through the process of having to assign a durable healthcare power of attorney in the first place?”

They’d probably be an adequate surrogate on my behalf, right?  Well, possibly.  But you’re taking risks at that point that need not be taken.  For starters, a healthcare surrogate is someone who you do not appoint for yourself. He or she is someone who the doctors or other healthcare providers appoint for you when you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to make medical decisions on your own behalf.

The healthcare surrogate could be family, spouse, children, etc.  But there is no way for you to determine that ahead of time unless you get it down on paper in the form of a plan.  Without a plan, a healthcare Power of Attorney, you truly have no idea who will be making decisions for you, and if they have a fully informed opinion to make the best decisions on your behalf.

 

Why Do I Need a Separate Power of Attorney for Healthcare if I Already Have One for Financial Issues?

When we start to talk about estate planning, we quickly start to go into details about different types of power of attorney.  And yes, there are many powers of attorney.

Often, the first aspect considered in an estate plan is wealth planning.  When you pass, expected or otherwise, how will your assets be managed, transferred, protected from Uncle Sam, etc?  A financial power of attorney grants someone you designate as the responsibility and authority to manage your financial assets and estate in your absence or in your incapacity.

On the other hand, a healthcare power of attorney (HPOA) takes care of your health by making your healthcare decisions for you.  This is not a financial or estate management directive. Responsibilities of your HPOA may include directing how your treatment plan should be administered if you require one, the need and duration of ventilation in case of brain damage or coma, or even which medications you might be taking (at the recommendation of your treating physician, of course).

 


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Health & Wealth

Note: The goal of your estate plan is to manage and plan for things that will eventually impact your health and your wealth.  Health and wealth are very big topics, but with good planning, they can be managed throughout your life, in sickness, and in health, and even when you pass.

 

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