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Estate Planning Checklist For The New Year

ID-10043426Now 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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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?
  1. 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.
  1. 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?
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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?
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

An Act of Love: Family Legacy Planning for Metro Atlanta Parents:

Family Legacy Planning for Metro Atlanta ParentsThe Single Most Important Thing You Can Do Now to Feel Better About Yourself As a Parent – and Leave the World a Better Place – No Matter How Much Money You Have in the Bank

If you are like most of the parents I know, you feel guilty. It’s what parents do.

Whether your guilt is about not enough time with the kids, too much time with the kids, hovering incessantly, or being too laid back, you are worried you aren’t doing the right thing by your kids in some way.

Just the fact that you are worried about it tells me, you are an awesome parent.  Bad parents don’t worry that they are being bad parents, they just are bad and don’t care.

And, at the same time, I know you’d appreciate a quick, effective and pain-free way to remove that guilt and start really feeling great about how much you do for your kids.  Plus, make sure they know exactly how much you love them, no matter what.

I know that’s what matters most to me.  I know that kids who feel loved as children grow up to be better people, better parents themselves, more successful, happier and contribute to the world more.

I’ve seen it again and again and been frequently surprised by how much the feeling of being loved can overcome any number of circumstances for a child.

Broken marriages, early death of parents, even being given up for adoption, each of these circumstances could lead to trauma, feelings of abandonment, persistent anxiety and fear.  People who experience these challenges will have a harder time in life, be less able to maintain relationships and tend to do less well in their careers.

And, if a child feels loved through these exact same circumstances, truly and thoroughly loved and accepted, he doesn’t just survive them, he thrives. He takes the hard times and turns them into teachings.  He is a joy to be around because he is so in service to life itself.  He is loved by all because he knows the love of his parents.

It’s what makes life really matter, right?  Knowing you’ve parented your kids well and left them well-prepared for the future — safe, secure and full of self-love.

Is there really anything more important than that?

But what have you done to prepare for the day you can’t be there for them? Will they feel your love then?

It’s not a pleasant topic, I know.  It used to frighten me to paralysis when I used to think about it.  Because I didn’t know what to do to make it okay.  I love my children so much I couldn’t bear to think about them living on after me because I couldn’t envision who would care for them like I do.

And I knew that if I didn’t make decisions, a Judge would make them for me.  I knew it wouldn’t have been what I wanted and my kids would be left wondering – why didn’t mom care enough to take care of the things that really matter?

Day after day the Courts process cases of families who have lost a loved one and now it’s left up to the overworked, underpaid, harried and hurried Judge to make the critical decisions you’ve struggled with yourself, and to do so with limited or no information.

Decisions such as who will be the guardian of the children left behind, who will make financial decisions for the family until all children have become adults and who will take care of ensuring it’s all done well are left up to a stranger who doesn’t know you, love you, or really even care about you.

When you make the decisions about these things (and document the decisions properly), you are doing the right thing by your children, letting them know they can feel secure, confident, and not grow up with the kind of issues that will keep them from having successful relationships, lives and careers.

Engaging in the process of making decisions for your kids care if something happens to you and getting clear on the kind of beliefs you want them to take into the world if you aren’t there to raise them makes you a better parent.

The best part is that even though you are planning for a long-time in the future or an eventuality that may never happen, it makes you a better parent immediately.

When you clarify the way you want your children raised and the beliefs you want them to carry into the world, you naturally begin to be more conscious about your relationship with your children now.

If you’d like to explore this process of Family Legacy Planning with a metro Atlanta family legacy planning attorney, come in for a visit with me and in just 90 minutes or so you’ll know exactly how you want your children raised, what beliefs and values you want them to take into the world and pass on to their kids, and who will be the best people to do that, if you can’t be.

Normally, a Georgia Family Legacy Planning Session is $750.  It’s guaranteed to be a game-changer for you as a parent.  You’ll be closer with your children. More relaxed.  And more able to stay connected to yourself and what really matters through the parenting process.

The first three families to call us this month at 770.425.6060 and mention this blog post can schedule the Georgia Family Legacy Planning Session and we will waive the session fee.  Be sure to mention the Blog and the code “ParentsLove” so you don’t get charged.

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When Divorced Parents Can’t Agree on Legal Guardians | Marietta Wills Lawyer | Cobb County Divorce Lawyer

parents child and bear

As a Marietta GA wills lawyer and a Cobb County divorce lawyer, I can’t stress enough how important it is for all parents to create a comprehensive plan that will protect their children should the unthinkable occur.

But what happens if you are divorced and can’t come to an agreement with your ex-spouse as to who should raise your kids if something happens to you?  Should you go ahead and document your own guardianship wishes anyway?  And just whose wishes would hold up in court?

In most cases, if your child’s biological parent is still living at the time of your death and you share custody, your children will be raised by the surviving parent, unless there is some clear reason why that should not happen.

There is nothing you can do about this, unless you can prove that the child’s biological parent is unfit to raise your child and make a compelling case as to why your guardianship nominations should be honored under the circumstances.

Examples of this might include a severe drug addiction, criminal past or a history of abuse.

However, if this is unlikely, the next best thing to do is name guardians anyway so that your wishes for the care of your children will be known and taken into consideration should your ex-spouse should also pass away before your kids reach the age of 18.

This is especially important in the event your ex-spouse did not legally document his or her guardianship wishes upon passing, as your wishes would then be given priority over, say, an unwilling step-parent (just think back to the Cinderella story for a chilling example of this).

Finally, if you are a single parent and have concerns not only about guardianship, but also concerning your ex-spouse handling any assets you would leave to your kids if you passed away first, I encourage you to meet with an Marietta Georgia wills lawyer right away so you can protect such funds and ensure they are used for your children’s care only in your absence.

If you need help getting started with this, please feel free to give our office a call at 770-425-6060 and request a Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session.  These sessions are normally $750, but you can come in free of charge with the mention of this article.  Again, call 770-425-6060 to reserve your spot (limited to first 10 callers).

Is Your Family Prepared for An Emergency During School Hours? Atlanta Estate Planning Lawyer Has 3 Easy Ways to Be Sure

All parents should have a plan in place should an emergency strike during should hours, according to Marietta ProtectMyKidsPlan™ attorney, Steve Worrall.   Preparations includes naming short-term guardians, listing the right people on school emergency cards and leaving detailed instructions with babysitters to avoid involvement with social services.

georgia kids protection plan

Marietta, GA –  “Do you think a school emergency card is enough to protect your kids if something happens to you during school hours?” asks attorney Steve Worrall  to a crowd of parents recently attending his popular ProtectMyKidsPlan™ Seminar in Marietta.

The majority of the room raise their hand yes.  A few parents are undecided.  Yet from a legal standpoint, all of them are wrong.

“Contrary to popular belief, a school emergency card will not protect your children from spending time in the hands of social services if something tragic happens to you, “says Worrall.  “The emergency card only gives named contacts permission to pick your kid up if they are sick, not take short-term custody of them if one or both parents are killed or incapacitated in an accident,” he adds.

For this reason, experts such Worrall recommend parents create an emergency plan prior to going to back to school so there is no confusion or legal headaches should tragedy strike.   According to Worrall, this plan can be created in 3 easy steps:

  1. Legally name short-term guardians for your kids– Short-term guardians are the people who have legal permission to care for your child until the surviving parent or long-term guardian can arrive.  This should ultimately be someone who lives close by and one who will comfort your children in an emergency.
  2. Make sure your short-term guardians match those named in the school emergency card–   In addition to listing friends and neighbors who can pick your child up from school if he or she gets sick, it’s equally important to list the full contact information of your short-term guardians for true emergencies.  Without this information, your children would be placed temporarily in the custody of social services until the surviving parent or legal guardian can arrive.
  3. Make sure the babysitter knows what to do if you don’t return home– It’s extremely important that parents give their a.m. or p.m. babysitters detailed instructions on what to do and who to call if they don’t return home.  In most cases, a babysitter will panic and turn to the police for help, again opening the door for social services to temporarily take custody of your kids until a long-term care provider can arrive.

“Creating a back-to-school emergency plan is so easy— and something that will greatly pay off if a parent is injured or killed during school hours,” Worrall says. “The first few hours after an emergency are the most painful for a child, so it’s important for parents to make sure their kids spend that time with people they love and trust, rather than in the arms of the state,” he adds.

For more information on Cobb County family law and family estate planning attorney, Steve Worrall, please visit call 770-425-6060 or fill out our contact form. For more information about or to attend a ProtectMyKidsPlan™ seminar, sign up here.

Marietta Family Law Attorney Urges Parents to Avoid Loopholes in Protecting Their Children This School Year

AS HEARD ON:

~wabe

NPR

I was interviewed this week on Atlanta’s NPR station, WABE 90.1FM, on the subject of making sure that all parents have a plan in place should an emergency strike during school hours. These preparations should include naming short-term guardians, listing the right people on school emergency cards and leaving detailed instructions with babysitters to avoid involvement with social services.

The shorter version that aired today, Wednesday, July 27, 2011, can be heard here:

110727 WABE Interview

The extended version of the interview appears on WABE’s webpage, but I have also included a link to it below:

WABE Interview Full Interview

Add Estate Planning To Your List of Resolutions This Year, Says Marietta Wills Lawyer

Dreamstime_17212044 Resolving to get your legal affairs in order is one of the most important things you can do to make sure your family, wishes and assets are protected if something unexpectedly happens to you this year. 


Marietta, Georgia-   While many people focus on getting out of debt or getting organized for the New Year, estate planning is an equally important personal finance goal that should make every adult’s to-do list.

That’s because according to Marietta estate planning lawyer, Steve Worrall, far too many area residents are without plans to protect their family, wishes and assets should something unexpectedly happen to them.  A recent Lawyers.com survey further reveals that only 35% of adults have a basic will or other estate planning documents in place should death or incapacity occur.

 “Contrary to popular belief, estate planning isn’t just for the rich,” says Worrall.  “At a bare minimum, every adult needs a basic will, power of attorney and health care directives in place to avoid a legal and financial nightmare if something unexpectedly happens to them,” he  adds.

So what are these documents and how do they help you in a time of emergency?  Worrall explains the following:

  • Will- A will is a document that specifies what should happen to your assets if you pass away.  A will may also contain guardian nominations to dictate who will care for your minor children if something unexpectedly happens to you.  
  • Trust- A trust is a legal entity that can hold title to property. With your assets securely placed in a trust, you can minimize your financial exposure to lawsuits, divorce and bankruptcy while alive.  Upon death, a trust will keep your affairs private and out of the probate court.  It also allows a great deal of control for people who do not want their inheritance going outright to their heirs if something unexpectedly happens.
  •  Power of Attorney- A power of attorney or POA gives explicit permission for someone to access your personal accounts, pay your bills and handle all other financial and legal affairs if you are incapacitated in an accident but do not die.   Under the current privacy laws, even a spouse may have a hard time accessing personal information without such documentation in place.
  • Advanced Health Care Directive- Also known as a living will, this document specifies your healthcare wishes if you are incapacitated in an accident and unable to speak for yourself.  Such wishes may range from whether you want certain medications administered to when (if at all) to start life support in critical situations.   This document also allows you to appoint the person best suited to carry out such wishes should incapacity occur.

“Accidents and serious illness happen every day without warning,” says Worrall.  “That’s why it’s so important for any adult who has not tackled their estate planning to add it to their resolutions this year.  It will save their family from years of headaches and thousands of dollars in unexpected costs should the unthinkable happen”.

About Steve Worrall

Stephen M. Worrall is an experienced family law and wills, trusts and estate planning attorney in Marietta and Atlanta, Georgia. He concentrates his practice in all areas of family estate planning, including including wills, trusts, guardians for minor children and incapacitated adults, probate and trust administration, and all areas of family law, including divorce, adoption and prenuptial agreements. He also helps families plan to protect their assets and their children in the event of their death or incapacity, and to transfer their whole wealth – their financial, intellectual, and spiritual assets – to their loved ones.

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