What is a Plenary Guardian?

What is a Plenary Guardian?

If you have a teenage child or young adult child with an intellectual or developmental disability (IDD), you may have concerns over how they will navigate the world as an adult. You may be wondering whether you need to assume legal guardianship to protect them from potentially costly mistakes. It is only sensible to think about whether or not they may need your help in making important life decisions moving forward. That is why it is important to learn more about different types of guardianship. The more you learn about the legal avenues that are available to you, the better you will be able to decide what is best for your child.

What is Plenary Guardianship?

Plenary guardianship is the official legal term for full guardianship. It is the most complete form of guardianship that can be granted by the court — where you take full decision-making responsibility for your child.

Deciding to seek full guardianship for your child is a major choice that should not be made lightly, as it will remove all of your adult child’s legal rights to make major life decisions. The last thing you want to do is lower their quality of life, so you will want to discuss the possibility of plenary guardianship with multiple key figures in your child’s life to ensure you are completely certain about your decision. These figures may include your special needs lawyer, the child’s other parent, your child’s primary physician and other medical experts. Not only will these experts help you decide what your child really needs, they can also help you present a complete argument to the court if you find you need to seek plenary guardianship.

If you do get plenary guardianship from the court, you will take over responsibility for some or all of your child’s major life decisions, including:

  • Voting
  • Driving
  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Medical decisions
  • Financial decisions
  • Entering into contracts
  • Living arrangements
  • Creating a will

There are definitely individuals with such a severe IDD that they require plenary guardianship. For those individuals, plenary guardianship is a necessity for their safety and those around them. But it is also important to understand that plenary guardianship is often not necessary. Just because someone has an IDD, even a fairly significant IDD, does not mean that they should have all of their rights taken away and put in the hands of someone else — even someone as well-intentioned as their parent.

Why Do Parents Seek Plenary Guardianship?

The primary reason for plenary guardianship is to ensure the safety of the individual under guardianship. An IDD can be so severe that it can make an individual vulnerable to dangerous decisions and/or being taken advantage of by others. You want your child to live a relatively safe, comfortable, secure life. If you are certain that having full rights to get married, divorced, drive, enter into contracts, make medical decisions, make financial decisions, and so on, is likely to put your adult child in significant danger, it may be necessary to take away those rights.

How to Decide if Plenary Guardianship is Necessary

Seeking plenary guardianship for your adult child with an IDD or soon to be adult child is one of the biggest decisions you will ever make. You love your child and want what is best for them — and that may mean taking over some or all of their decision-making through full guardianship. But how do you decide if plenary guardianship is the right choice?

There is no simple, easy answer to this question. But there are some questions you can ask yourself and other experts like your special needs attorney that can help guide your decision, including:

  • Is your child completely incapable of making health care or financial decisions? Decisions like whether to get a life-saving surgery, take birth control and pay rent are extremely important choices that adults must make for their own well-being. If you do not believe your child is capable of making such decisions, you may feel compelled to take over such decisions to ensure their safety. 
  • Can your child make some major decisions with reasonable — or even extreme — assistance or accommodation? Many young adults with an IDD are capable of making some major decisions, particularly if they have some help from others that they can trust. It is far better to err on the side of caution when it comes to taking away your child’s rights to make their own decisions both for their happiness and your own. 
  • Is there a less extreme legal option you can utilize other than plenary guardianship? Plenary guardianship is considered the most drastic choice because it fully removes the rights of your child and puts them in your hands. There may be other options, like limited guardianship or power of attorney, that would allow you to provide adequate protection without the need to take away all your child’s rights. 

Alternatives to Plenary Guardianship: Limited Guardianship

If after careful consideration you determine that your child is unable to make some decisions safely due to their IDD, but not all, you could seek a limited guardianship. As the name implies, a limited guardianship is granted to address specific limitations the individual with an IDD may face. For example, if you know that your child is not capable of making sound financial decisions but is capable of making other major decisions like driving or choosing a life partner, you could seek a limited guardianship for financial matters. 

Alternatives to Plenary Guardianship: Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is even less restrictive than a limited guardianship. It grants you the power to make specific decisions on behalf of your child, such as health care decisions or financial decisions. You could get a power of attorney to help in the areas where you know you are needed without having to go through the extensive process of getting guardianship. 

Remember — The Court Will Err on the Side of Caution

As you are making your decision about what type of guardianship or legal option you want for your child with an IDD, it is important to keep the priorities of the court in mind. Generally, courts are averse to taking away any more of an individual’s rights than they have to. You are going to have a much harder time convincing a court to give you plenary guardianship than you would limited guardianship. Power of attorney will be easier to get than limited guardianship. 

Of course, if you are absolutely certain that plenary guardianship is necessary and you and your attorney can provide sufficient evidence and a compelling argument, you will likely be granted full guardianship. 

Trust Your Judgment and Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

You know your child better than anyone — which means you are the best-equipped to determine what kind of help they need as they come into adulthood. However, since the question of plenary guardianship is so significant, you should not be afraid to seek help as you make your choice. Your family physician, any specialists your child sees, and your special needs attorney have likely all encountered similar situations with other patients/clients. They can give you some insight that will probably make you feel better about your final decision. They can tell you about examples they have seen of full guardianship, experiences of adults with IDDs, information about the legal hurdles you may face and more. 

In the end, it will be up to you whether you choose to seek plenary guardianship, limited guardianship, power of attorney or some other avenue to protect your adult child with an IDD. But you will likely feel better having consulted with experts before you finalize your decision. 

Getting Help with Guardianship Decisions

For parents of children of with an IDD, the approach of their 18th birthday can bring mixed feelings. On the one hand, you know it is a joyous occasion that your child has reached one of the great milestones of life — as with every new 18-year-old, they gain the right to vote, to marry, to become part of the armed forces and to move out on their own. But the reality of their IDD could give you serious hesitation about leaving them to their own devices. You know better than anyone how capable — or incapable — they may be to make significant life decisions. You want to protect them, and you may need to take legal action to do so.

At Lilac City Law, we understand how difficult it can be to decide questions of guardianship for an adult child with an IDD. We want you to know that you do not have to go through this process alone. We are committed to helping our clients find the best available option for their children and their own wellbeing. We can help you decide if full guardianship is the right choice for your child and we can help you seek guardianship from the court.

If you have questions about plenary guardianship and your other options for protecting your adult child with an IDD, please reach out to us using the contact form below or just give us a call. It is our mission to help you protect your family, and we are ready to assist in whatever way we can. 

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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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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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The Importance of Power of Attorney During Estate Planning

The Importance of Power of Attorney During Estate Planning

Your estate planning has many different parts that all need to move in the same direction in order to be successful. A vital part of this process is how to disseminate the various powers of attorney (POA). The POA will be one of the most important estate documents that you create, so you owe it to yourself to know as much as you can about it. Let’s take a look at just how important the POA is and how it will be used during the estate planning process.

What Is the Power of Attorney?

The power of attorney is the power to organize affairs on your behalf. There are different powers of attorney for different aspects of your life. For the purposes of this text, we will focus most on the financial POA, but there are also medical POAs and others that may apply during the estate process depending on circumstances.

In most cases, a power of attorney becomes effective immediately upon document execution. Contrary to popular belief, powers of attorney are not only for when a person becomes mentally incapable. In many cases, the POA document does not completely remove the power of the principal to manage their or her own affairs. The document simply grants the agent the power to act in place of the principal if needed. If the principal remains mentally competent, he can change the POA by replacing the agent or revoking the power totally.

However, the POA document truly becomes the most important document in the estate planning portfolio if a principal becomes somehow incapacitated or otherwise unable to handle their own affairs.

What Happens Without a Power of Attorney in Place

If a principal becomes incapable of handling their own affairs and has no power of attorney document in place, the family of the principal faces a potentially contentious situation. The POA document is the document on record of the wishes of the principal. Without it, there is no direct claim to the finances that the principal was in control of. Family members may begin to fight over the right to control things, especially if the estate is especially large or there are many valuable assets to consider.

In place of a designated person with the powers of attorney, the affected parties may agree to file for guardianship of the assets and property of the principal that has been disabled. Instead of simply following the wishes of the principal as mapped out in the POA, the family must now go through an often long and drawn-out court procedure.

The Process of Guardianship

During the court process of selecting a guardian, there will usually be a lawyer who is representing the Petitioner. The Petitioner is the individual who is looking to be named as the guardian. The Petitioner and their attorney will need to face, at the very least, an attorney who is in court to represent the rights of the person who has been disabled. No matter how close the family is, this process will likely generate thousands of dollars in legal fees in order to legally appoint the guardian.

Keep in mind also that a power of attorney document that is not clear may trigger this contentious process as well. You need to have the right attorney with the right experience in order to avoid these problems — just having a POA document that is not appropriate for your situation is not enough. A properly drafted power of attorney directly from the principal, while he is competent, is always preferable to a guardianship court proceeding.

Even when a legal guardianship is in place, the court maintains a Big Brother stance over the guardian to supervise the administration of the estate. Guardians are much less free to manage an estate than someone who is appointed through a power of attorney document. Guardians must always get the permission of the court to legally undertake many important assets that involve the estate, including paying the attorney’s fees for the procedure itself.

The court will also require that a guardian file an accounting of the estate on an annual basis. On top of this, a guardian must also file an inventory of the estate so that the court knows every activity that is taking place within the family estate. Having to report everything to the court undermines the very nature of a private estate, and it is much more expensive than a power of attorney transfer of responsibility. In most cases, the oversight of the court means that a family must employ more legal services in order to stay in compliance with regulations.

If you are in this sensitive situation, we can help you through it no matter who you may be up against. Do not hesitate to call us if you believe you have a legal claim to the estate of a family member who has been recently incapacitated.

Having an Effective POA

As mentioned before, the power of attorney that is set up by the principal must be well-drafted and relevant to the current situation. Otherwise, the court may trigger the guardianship process and all of the expenses and legal hassle that comes with it.

What makes a POA document effective during estate planning? Let’s take a look at the characteristics of an effective power of attorney.

  • Listing specific powers and limitations. A good power of attorney will list out the specific actions that an agent can take on behalf of a principal. Among these actions may be paying bills from the principal’s assets; managing those assets; selling all or part of the estate; and setting up various structures to avoid estate taxes. A principal may wish their estate to be used in a very specific way, and this is what the power of attorney should spell out in clear terms.
  • Language in the POA to persuade financial institutions to accept an agent. The financial institutions that did business with a principal are under no requirement to accept an agent, even from a properly worded POA. Many of these institutions now require language that is very specific in the POA to reaffirm that there is no funny business going on. Agents should also be prepared to reaffirm their responsibility, possibly on the financial institution’s proprietary forms.
  • Listing consolidated accounts. As a principal, if all of your accounts are kept spread out, your agent will have a tough time jumping through all of the hoops of the financial institutions want. Every bank is different. Consolidating accounts as you age not only helps to organize your family finances in the estate, but it also makes it easier to manage while you maintain control over them. You may want to list all of these accounts by name in the POA so that each financial institution can be more assured of your agent’s viability.
  • Decide on the type of POA. There are two major types of POAs that you can consider: the springing POA or the durable POA. The durable POA gives the power of attorney as soon as the principal signs it. The springing POA only takes effect in the event of a certain condition, such as the death, disability or incapacity of the principal. The timing of agent powers is a vital part of a POA. Without it, an agent may try to take over a principal’s estate too early and cause contention. Keep in mind that not all states allow springing POAs.
  • Define the conditions of incapacity. The last thing that you want is for someone else to determine when you are incapable of managing your own affairs. In your POA, you can name a medical professional to certify that you are incapacitated before your agent can take any action on your estate. This puts an added layer of protection in your POA, and it also gives your agent a good check against absolute power while you are still capable.
  • Establish oversight. Although your agent may have power of attorney, you can limit this right with certain oversights. The key is to make sure these oversights are written down specifically and fully clear to your attorney, to your agent, to the overseer and to anyone else who is involved in your estate.

Get Help with Powers of Attorney Today

The points above are just a few of the important aspects of the power of attorney document during estate planning. Every plan is different based on the individual needs of the estate. Make sure that you have the right attorney by your side when it is time to draft this essential document. Give us a call or an email with any questions that you may have about the process, or to get things started with your own POA. Time is of the essence, and there is no better time than now to get your affairs in order.

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Five Estate Planning Tips to Make It Easy to Discuss with Your Spouse

Chores, commitment, social media use — these are among some of the most difficult conversations couples can have.

Another big sore spot on the list? Finances.

We know that talking about money issues is not easy. But it is better than not talking about it now and having a bigger problem in the future.

While there are everyday expenses like car payments and rent to hash out on an ongoing basis, one of the most important things to talk about is estate planning.

For example, six out of ten people do not have an up-to-date will, which is crucial to mapping out your future.

Sure, the conversations you have to have might be difficult, but we have got five great estate planning tips that will help you and your spouse navigate any difficult questions.

When to Talk to Your Loved One

Timing is essential. You do not want to bring up these sensitive subjects in the middle of a crisis.

There are a few ways to approach this. You can approach the subject during a moment of calm.

Do your homework and bring some research to the table so that you have done part of the heavy lifting beforehand.

You can also plan to address the issue at a certain time. Do not put it off, though — make it a priority.

Review Your Assets

If both of you are gone or incapacitated, what happens to your assets? Your home, your money, even your business could be dissolved if you do not plan for the future.

First, take stock of everything that you own. This includes cash, bank accounts, investments, real estate, and retirement accounts.

Decide where to allocate these assets and follow through with a will. This is a difficult step but be brave and face it head on to ensure you get what you want.

Assign Beneficiaries

Beneficiaries are people that receive your assets after you are gone. While many times a child is the direct beneficiary, there are other estate planning ideas to consider.

You can allocate your assets to go to a family member’s education or health care, or you can even put it towards your child’s retirement.

Your assets do not have to just go to relatives — consider donating to charity as well.

Another option is to deposit your assets into a trust and create the trust to distribute the funds in the way you would want them to be spent.

Power of Attorney and Living Wills

Tips on estate planning are not just for when you pass away. You have to consider what will happen if you are incapacitated or extremely sick and unable to make decisions.

A living will assigns someone to make health care decisions on your behalf when you are too ill to do so yourself. Power of attorney gives someone the ability to make legal decisions.

In both cases, it is important that your language is clear and easily understood.

Final Disposition

If you have specific instructions for what to do with your remains, drawing up your authorization for final disposition plans will help ensure your loved ones understand your desires.

Be clear and thorough with your wording to reduce stress at a difficult time.

More Estate Planning Tips

Using these estate planning tips will help ensure you have the future you want. Plus, it helps your loved ones make sure you are taken care of no matter what happens.

Ready to have this conversation with your spouse? Contact us today, and we can help you navigate these tips together!

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5 Essential Estate Planning Forms You Need to Know About

Death. It is inevitable. No one likes considering their mortality but, the smartest among us prepare for it. Preparation helps the suffering of those you are leaving behind.

Filing the proper estate planning forms, consolidating assets into a trust, and making sure your affairs are in order is the greatest gift you can give your surviving loved ones.

By planning for the unexpected, you can avoid being taken advantage of and throw a safety net around your family and finances. Here, you will find the five most crucial estate planning forms you need.

Filling Out A Living Will

A living will gives your family, and any medical team attending you, instructions on how to take care of you if you are unable to make those decisions on your own.

Learn more about this and other advanced medical directives in our blog about creating an incapacitation plan here.

Establish A Durable Power of Attorney

One of the essential documents needed for estate planning is a durable power of attorney. This document assigns someone to act on your behalf if you should be incapacitated.

Unexpected things happen every day no matter your age. A durable power of attorney goes a long way towards making sure your wishes and finances are respected in a “worst case” scenario.

Choosing someone you trust to pay your bills, handle your finances and investments, and keep up the paperwork of your everyday life will help to make sure no one takes advantage of you or your estate.

Write A Legal Will

Writing a last will & testament is the first thing people consider when thinking about preparing for death. It is the legal form designating how you would like your estate to be divided up among any heirs you have.

A will assigns an executor who will manage your estate after your passing. If you have children, there will be a section on who should be appointed as their legal guardians if they are still minors when you pass.

Letter of Instruction

This letter goes along with the will as a non-legal, simple breakdown of the contents of the will. It is also the best place to put what your wishes are regarding the education, beliefs, and other significant decisions about your children.

A letter of instruction will allow you to say anything you don’t want to be made public knowledge since this is private and a will is public.

Form A Living Trust

A living trust avoids a legal process after death known as probate. Probate is the legal process your estate enters into after you die.

Any assets in a living trust are exempt from probate and will immediately be distributed, per your instructions, to any heirs. Setting up a living will can save your loved ones from stress and expenses related to probate.

Precise Preparation Before Death Avoids Confusion and Unnecessary Costs

Improving your familiarity with the forms and concepts necessary for a fully developed estate plan will help things go more smoothly for you and your family as you age and pass on. In fact, in the absolute worst case scenario, having these items prepared and maintained by a great estate lawyer, will be a godsend to those you leave behind.

If you are ready to take the next steps in estate planning we are here to help. You can read more about our family estate services here.

Contact us today by using the form below!

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Estate Planning: A Key Baby Boomer Family Value!

Estate Planning: A Key Baby Boomer Family Value!

If you were born between 1946 and 1955, you are considered to be a “Baby Boomer.”

If you are a Baby Boomer do not already have an estate plan established, you need one for your own sake and for your family’s.

So, what is an estate plan and why is it important?

In this article, we are going to discuss the basic components of a good estate plan, and why it is important for you and your family to have one.

Estate Plan Fundamentals

Estate planning is the process (and paperwork) of preparing your estate (no matter how big or small) for when you die or otherwise become incapacitated.  There are several different aspects of comprehensive estate planning and what you put in yours will be dependent on your needs, assets, and vision.

The ultimate goal of estate planning is to keep courts out of your assets and personal planning and to ensure that your family knows your wishes in any eventuality. If you do not set up an estate plan, it is very likely that a court will be the one who chooses how your assets are divided and who will take care of your health and financial decisions should you become incapacitated.

Let’s look at each part of a comprehensive estate plan more closely.

Last Will & Testament

A will is a legal document that says how your property will be distributed at the time of your death.  It is revocable and can be amended at any point while you are still alive.  If you have minor children, you will name their guardian in your will.  Here is more information on the components of a last will and testament

Trust

A trust is used for both while you are alive (if you become incapacitated) and/or after death.  The effect of a trust is keeping a court out of intervening to manage or distribute your estate.  There are also significant tax planning purposes for establishing a trust for your assets.  If you become incapacitated, whomever you name in your living trust will become your trustee and manage your estate.  The only parts of your estate covered in your living trust are the ones you put into the living trust. To learn more about a trust, you can see our article “6 Reasons to Establish a Trust as Part of Your Estate”.

Health Care Directives

Health care directives will typically include a health care declaration (living will) and a power of attorney for health care (POA).  These documents allow you to choose someone to make your health care decisions for you if you are unable to.  You can state when you want them to start and end and the conditions that should be met before granting someone else authority to make decisions on your behalf.  

Financial Power of Attorney

A financial power of attorney is similar to the health care power of attorney.  You can choose someone to make your financial decisions, instead of or in addition to healthcare decisions, on your behalf if you are unable to.  You may also choose the same or an altogether different person than you did for your health care power of attorney to act on your behalf.   

Beneficiaries for Your Bank and Other Accounts

Naming beneficiaries for bank accounts and retirement plans ensure your account are automatically “payable on death” to your beneficiary and allows the funds to skip the probate process. Likewise, in almost all states, you can register your stocks, bonds, or brokerage accounts to transfer to your beneficiary upon your death.

Plan for End of Life and End of Life Events (Funeral)

Make sure your family and loved ones know what your end of life wishes are regarding organ and body donation.  Also, make it clear whether you would like to be buried or cremated.

Instead of doing a funeral prepayment plan, consider setting up a payable on death account at your bank and deposit funds into it.  The account will pay for your funeral and any other related costs.

Why Estate Planning is Important

An estate plan is important for anyone at any stage of their life.  Estate planning will help your family members and loved ones before and after you pass.  If set up well, your estate plan will also ensure more of your wealth gets to people that you love, and less is taken away in probate, and other needlessly expensive and challenging court/tax processes.

Remember, even if you are not a Baby Boomer, it is important to think about estate planning too!

Begin Your Estate Plan Today

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Setting up a Durable Power of Attorney in Washington State

Setting up a Durable Power of Attorney in Washington State

Setting up a Durable Power of Attorney in Washington State is pretty straightforward.

In this article is a brief description of what a Durable Power of Attorney actually is, as well as some specific rules that you must follow to set up a durable power of attorney in Washington State.

Durable Power of Attorney (POA) Explained

A durable power of attorney allows you to choose someone to handle your medical and financial needs.  It remains valid and in effect, if you become incapacitated and ends when you die or otherwise end the POA.  There are two types of durable power of attorneys.

Durable Power of Attorney for healthcare: The durable power of attorney for health care gives your designated agent the authority to make healthcare decisions on your behalf.

Durable Power of Attorney for finances: The durable power of attorney for finances gives your designated person the authority to make financial decisions on your behalf.

You can choose a person (known as your agent) to handle both the durable power of attorney for healthcare and the durable power of attorney for finances.  You may also choose different agents for each as long as they can work together (separate adult children for example).

For both powers of attorney, you also plan on an alternate agent.  This alternate agent would step in if the original person is unable to make decisions.

Powers of a Durable Power of Attorney in Washington State

A durable power of attorney in Washington state authorizes an agent to do the following on your behalf:

  • Make health care decisions for you
    • 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

Regulations for Washington State

There is no specific form you need to use for your POA for Washington State.  The only regulation is that the form or statement you use is notarized by a certified notary republic.  Most banks have a notary republic and are sometimes free if you are a customer.

After you and your agent(s) sign the documents in front of a notary, you want to make two copies.  The original will go to your agent, one copy will go to your alternate agent, and you will keep a copy for yourself.

Who Can Set up A Durable Power of Attorney in Washington State?

The following people can set up a durable power of attorney:

Estate planning attorney: You can use an estate planning attorney but do not have to by law. An attorney, like Lilac City Law, will customize your POA as part of your estate plan.

Loved one or trusted friend: Make sure you discuss with them what you want so that they can help you fill out the required paperwork accordingly.

Yourself: It is very important that you understand all decisions that you are making and what affects they will have before signing a legal document.  Be sure to choose a trusted person to act as your agent.  Most importantly, make sure they are willing to act as your agent.

We strongly suggest the first option above!   If you need assistance with your durable power of attorney, call our office today!

Contact Us, We’ll Help You Set Up Your Power of Attorney

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