I must warn you: these questions are blunt and to the point: if you are a parent of minor children, protecting your family and being the best parent you can be, means that you MUST have a comprehensive and up-to-date estate plan so they are prepared for a life without you!
One of my greatest passions as a Marietta estate planning lawyer is educating parents about how important it is to prepare for their untimely death; not a fun topic, I realize. But it just takes one sad circumstance of parents passing away and leaving the kids to deal with squabbling relatives to understand how critical this is for their well-being.
The possibility of leaving this world can be difficult to accept, and many people choose to not think about it. Unfortunately, this fear often prevents people from taking the proper precautions they need to take.
I speak at various groups around Marietta and Cobb County and usually deliver this message in an upbeat and cheerful way so people can see that preparing their estate plan for their family is a positive and joyful experience. But, for today’s post, I’m going to give you the truth, the real deal about Marietta estate planning. Blunt, and to the point.
Essentially, it’s critical for everyone to understand the importance of estate planning for those we love – especially our children. As you can imagine, children are incredibly vulnerable if you die while they are still minors due to the simple fact that they are unable to take care of themselves.
Here are a few hard, cold facts about what could happen if you passed away suddenly without a will or trust in place.
- A judge that doesn’t know you or your children will decide who raises them.
If something happens to you, who is going to step up? Is it the person that you want to raise your children? If you don’t have an estate plan in place, will your relatives squabble over who is or isn’t responsible for raising them? Do you really want to put your children through that?
- The person who the judge picks to raise your kids will also be responsible for their financial well-being.
If something happens to you, all of your assets will be handed to the guardian (that you didn’t select) to be managed for them. The obvious fear is that this person could possibly use the funds for something other than the care of your children. However, there are many other things to consider. Does the person that the judge picked have the same financial values that you do? For example, you may feel strongly that you would like your children to attend high-end sports clinics to help develop their athletic skills. But, will the guardian see the value in this? What if they think spending money on what you would have wanted is a total waste? The potential for trouble is endless.
- All of the money left from your estate (assuming there IS any) may go to your child in a lump sum when he or she is 18 years old.
Think about this one. What would you have done if you had been handed a bunch of money at that time in your life? Scary thought, huh? The hard truth is that most 18-year-olds are simply not mature enough to properly handle finances at that level. I have heard story after story of kids who should have been fine financially but weren’t because they decided to buy cars and clothes instead of investing in their future by going to college. So sad!
So, there you have it – some cold, hard questions for you to ponder. My hope for those of you reading this is that you have already taken care of naming guardians for your children and put your estate plan in place and that you are keeping it up-to-date as the circumstances of your life change. But, if you have not or are not, I would be happy to offer you a Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session, at no charge, to start you on the path.
Don’t worry if you aren’t sure who you would pick as guardian. I’ll help you with that.
Don’t worry if you think you can’t afford planning. I’ll work with you on that.
Don’t put this off because you don’t have the time. Think about how your kids will spend their time if something happens to you and you haven’t made these decisions for them.
Call our Marietta Georgia estate planning office today at 770-425-6060 and make an appointment for a Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session, and you’ll experience a peace of mind that you didn’t even realize you were lacking.
As a Marietta wills attorney, I know that choosing a legal guardian who can raise your kids if you are unexpectedly incapacitated or pass away can be a daunting and difficult challenge. There are many things to take into account, such as parenting styles and the potential guardian’s ability to love and take care of your children.
These are just some of the questions we believe every parent should answer before naming a guardian.
- Where will your children live? Many parents desire to keep their children in a familiar environment if something unfortunate happens. It’s not unusual for parents to put instructions in their estate plans regarding the cities or states they want their kids to be raised in if mom or dad passes away. If the geographical location of where your kids will be placed is important to you, be sure to make this known to your Marietta wills attorney when creating your plan.
- Is your child/children familiar with the potential guardian? It is important that your children are comfortable with the guardian you are about to choose for them. If you are selecting a guardian that lives far away, you may want to consider ways to begin cultivating a relationship between your children and the potential guardian before it’s needed. Naming a temporary guardian is also important in such situations. This will ideally be a person that lives close by and can help ease the transition for your kids in relocating to their permanent guardian’s home.
- Is your potential guardian prepared to care for your child/children? There are many factors that could fall under this category, but it is important to make sure that your guardian is emotionally, physically, and financially prepared to care for your child/children. For example, you may want a grandparent to become guardian, but it’s possible that their age and their own financial and/or medical needs may make serving in this role difficult for them. Don’t forget to take their point of view into account when making your selection.
- Do any of your children need special care? If you have a child with a mental or physical handicap, it could take special knowledge and resources to care for your child. It is important to make sure that the named guardian would not be overwhelmed by this responsibility and that they are prepared to care for your child in whatever way that your child may need.
- Have you discussed this choice with your potential guardian? It is very important that you ask your potential guardian if this is a responsibility that they can take on. You will also want to talk about your desired path for raising your child/children to make sure that you are in agreement and that your wishes will be followed.
As parents, we spend a lot of time planning the best future for our children. Make sure that your planning includes naming a legal guardian should you become unexpectedly incapacitated or pass away. You should be the one making that decision – not the courts. Call our Marietta wills attorneys today at 770-425-6060, and schedule a Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session ($600 value but yours at no charge if you mention this article) so you can have the peace of mind knowing your children will be cared for by the person you want, in the way you want, if anything happens to you.
Here at Georgia Estate Plan: Worrall Law LLC, our entire legal team is passionate about helping parents name legal guardians for their children. Guardianship lawyers know that It’s a critical step that allows parents to document the people they want and trust to raise their kids if they are incapacitated or unexpectedly pass away.
But, there is another area of planning for children that many parents overlook—and that deals with the issue of money and property. Who will be in charge of managing an inheritance, or keeping the child’s money safe from being lost or squandered if the parent(s) pass away?
In a lot of cases, estate planning for married couples is easy. You leave everything to your spouse. Then the surviving parent will take care of the children. But, what happens if something happens to both parents? Or if the parent is single? In many cases, the parents’ answer is that an inheritance simply “goes to the children” when they are gone.
Unfortunately, this answer is neither simple, or entirely possible, really. What vulnerable beneficiaries (minors or young adults) usually require is for someone else to be named to manage whatever they inherit because they are either too young (as in the case of a minor) or too immature to manage it themselves.
In some cases, parents will ask the people named as guardians to also be responsible for their children’s money and property – but not always. It is quite common for the responsibility for their welfare to be managed by a different person.
If this is the case and you don’t specifically name someone to manage finances for your children, the Cobb County Probate Court will do it for you by appointing someone to serve as the children’s property guardian. In this case, the property guardian selected by the court has to report frequently and has limited authority to make decisions. And, the judge may choose someone that is a complete stranger to the family, or someone you would never choose. That is what’s at risk if a parent does not properly document their wishes in the event they unexpectedly pass away.
In the case of children who are 18 or older, it’s important to differentiate that they will have complete control of the property and money that you leave them. This may sound reassuring and less complicated than leaving property to minor children… but take a moment and think back. Were you in a position to make sound financial decisions when you were 18? Probably not. So, you should consider raising the age at which your child gains financial responsibility if you do not want to take the risk that your child’s inheritance will be mismanaged, lost or squandered on things like fast cars, clothes and lavish trips.
Utilizing a living trust is the best way to put “speed bumps” and “checks and balances” around your children’s inheritance so that they do not receive a lump sum of money outright before they are mature enough to handle it. Again, you will be able raise the age or lay out key milestones in which the children receive their money and specify a trustee who will again oversee the distribution of funds for your children according to your wishes for their future and how their inheritance is to be spent (i.e. on a college education, first house, wedding).
Luckily, all of this is easy to do if you work with a qualified guardianship attorney here in Marietta. In our office, we have a unique system that walks parents step-by-step through the decision-making process so that they are able to choose the best people to serve as their child’s property manager and/or legal guardian.
Our guardianship lawyers in Marietta are here to serve you. Call us at 770.425.6060 and make an appointment right away so you can legally document who will serve in these two very important roles in your children’s life if the unthinkable happens.
Now that the champagne has been consumed and the party horns have been put away, it’s time to really begin the New Year. You may or may not be sticking to those resolutions you made on January 1st, but even if they are a vague memory at this point, I challenge you to add one more resolution to your list — review your estate plan.
Here’s a checklist to get you started:
- Look for your estate planning documents and see if they are still in the place where you left them. Check your fireproof safe, safety deposit box, or other location where you store the actual documents. In addition, make sure your electronic copies are where you last left them. You may have chosen to keep them on a CD or on your home computer, in any case, make sure they are still accessible. Additionally, make sure your heirs, executor, or trust administrator know where they are.
- Review your children’s long-term and short-term guardian nominations. Has anything happened either in your children’s lives or your guardian’s lives that may make you rethink things? Has the person (people) you’ve named as guardians moved, had a child, divorced, or remarried? If so, does this impact your decision? Have any changes happened that might make you rethink the people you named as short-term guardians?
- Did any of your children turn 18? If so, you need to make sure that they have the proper legal documents in place. They may not have many assets so they may not need a full-blown estate plan, but they will need a signed healthcare power of attorney and living trust in case something happens to them. Without these legal documents in place, you may not be able to speak for them.
- Update, review, or consider a pet trust. If you currently have a pet trust, has anything happened that would make you rethink it? Did something happen to your pet that may mean there are more medical expenses than you thought? Did you get a new pet this year that you want to be sure will be cared for if something happens to you?
- Think through 2014 and list any substantial assets you may have acquired. If you have new assets, make sure they are transferred into your trust. If they aren’t, those assets could end up in probate even though you thoughtfully created a trust to avoid this.
- Review and think about your asset distribution. Does your trust still reflect your wishes for how you would like to distribute your assets? Again, life events such as births, deaths, marriage and divorce may impact the decisions you made about this.
- Check your insurance policies. Does your life insurance still reflect an amount that would support your family if something happens to you? Has something happened in the past year that would require you raise that amount?
- Are you still happy with your decision regarding who should administer your estate? Is he or she still willing to accept this duty? Has anything happened in the last year that would make you wonder whether this person is still able to perform this function? If you are in doubt, you may consider discussing the person you chose and make changes if necessary.
- Update your family’s legacy. Each year you should update your written legacy whether it is in writing or recorded. Be sure to note family member milestones and accomplishments. This will most likely be the most valuable part of your estate plan so be sure to spend time on this.
As I tell my clients, your estate plan is a document that changes just as your life changes. While every change in your life doesn’t mean that you need to update your estate plan, it is important to think through the past year’s events and experiences to make sure that your estate plan will still take care of your family just has you planned.