As a Cobb County estate planning lawyer, I know one of the most important decisions a parent can make is determining who will care for their kids if something tragic happened to them. I also know it’s very easy for parents to get stuck during this critical decision making process. Do you choose this person for financial reasons? Religion? A certain parenting philosophy? Do you care if the couple you chose stays married or eventually gets a divorce? Then what?
While it’s great to put a lot of thought into who you would want to raise your kids, indecision and ultimately inaction is a very dangerous place to be, especially with young children at home. It’s important to remember that SOMEONE will determine what happens to your kids….so it might as well be you! The alternative is a judge who knows nothing about you, your family or what truly is in the best interest of your children.
So to avoid having a judge make life-changing decisions on your child’s behalf, I would like to share four easy steps that will help you finally take action and choose the right guardians for your kids:
1. Sit down and brainstorm all the people who could possibly raise your kids if you were killed or incapacitated in an accident. Don’t limit your choices to family either. Think outside the box and write down everyone who even remotely fits the bill.
2. Determine who you would NEVER want to raise your kids in your absence. You’ll need to tell the court who you DON’T want raising your kids so they can protect your family should that named individual (s) contest your wishes and seek custody of your kids following your death or incapacity. (This can be kept private and only revealed if the need arises)
3. Weigh your values. Make another column and write down what is important to you and/or your spouse. Do you value education? Religious or spiritual training? The ability to live in a certain community? Being raised in a two-parent family? Whatever your values may be, write them down, prioritize them and eventually rank the top three.
4. Match your top choices to your top values. This will give you a clear picture of who you can trust to raise your children with the values you hold near and dear to your heart.
And of course, the last (and arguably the most important step) is to legally document your choice of guardians so there’s no question as to who you want to raise your kids if something happens to you!
To ensure you legally get the documentation you need for naming guardians for your kids—or if you’d further like to create a comprehensive estate plan that will ensure your children, assets and wishes are protected something the unexpected happen to you, please give me, your friendly neighborhood Cobb County estate planning lawyer a call at 770.425.6060 to schedule a no-charge Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session (normally $600 value) with the mention of this article.
Elder lawyers in Atlanta work not just with our older clients, but also with their caregivers. In many cases, this means adult children who have or will be given power of attorney, not to mention those who just step up to help when something is needed. There are some legal issues which seem to arise caused by people who see the elderly as targets or victims, and often it is the caregiver who is left to pick up the pieces. A good Atlanta elder lawyer may be able to help you prepare for, and hopefully avoid, these pitfalls.
Unfortunately, caregivers may find themselves in the uncomfortable position of confronting a sibling who is taking advantage of the elderly parent. It seems the least responsible child can sometimes find ways to “freeload” off the parent: requesting money, gifts, and special favors which the parent cannot necessarily afford.
While it’s no fun, it may be necessary to step in and put a stop to this behavior. This is much easier if the caregiver has a financial power of attorney in place. Even then, it can be difficult to convince the parent that he or she needs to stop funding the sibling’s bad behavior.
Another concern in this area is a sibling or siblings can falsely accuse the caregiver of misconduct. It could be because the sibling simply doesn’t understand the day-to-day responsibilities of taking care of the parents, or they may be jealous of the caregiver’s relationship with the parent. Greed can also come into play, with the sibling wanting as much money as possible to be left in the parent’s estate for him or her to inherit.
While unscrupulous siblings are certainly disheartening, the prevalence of strangers willing to take advantage of elderly people is absolutely infuriating. From those who want to sell bogus or unnecessary insurance policies to those who will flat-out rob a person of their identity, caregivers need to be vigilant to keep their vulnerable loved ones protected. Your Atlanta elder lawyer can keep you apprised of common scams which are going around the area and will offer useful advice for how to keep these con artists out of your family’s accounts.
A different group of people who are willing to take advantage of elderly folks are those who will insinuate themselves into the parent’s life as a boyfriend or girlfriend. In some cases, these individuals may be considerably younger—what are commonly referred to as “gold diggers.” These people flatter the elderly person, providing him or her with attention and what appears to be love. Instead, the “lover” is really interested in bleeding the elderly person’s bank account. He or she may even be angling to be named in the will.
Working with an Atlanta elder lawyer may afford some options for protection against someone who is obviously using your parent for financial gain. To learn what documents need to be in place to ensure your loved one’s finances stay protected and managed by someone the senior trusts, simply give our Atlanta area law firm a call at 770-425-6060 and ask to schedule a Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session.
2012: End of the World or New Opportunity?
It’s no secret that 2012 marks the end of the Mayan Calendar. What that means, however, is anyone’s guess. Maybe it means that the end of the world is imminent (though that’s not likely). Perhaps the Mayans just got tired of plotting time and decided to continue writing their calendar in a few hundred years. Maybe, just maybe the last day of the Mayan Calendar signifies a new awakening and a higher consciousness that will usher in a new era for humanity.
Or maybe it’s just a day on the calendar, and we can make it whatever we want it to be.
How Will Your World End?
Ayn Rand wrote one of the most widely read novels in history when she penned Atlas Shrugged. In an interview, Rand once said something to effect that the world would end when she died.
Does that statement make Ayn Rand the most self-centered person ever? Probably not, though she did write another book on the virtues of selfishness. That’s beside the point. What Rand meant by her statement is that at death, her world would end. And since we all live in our own worlds . . . since it’s impossible to live in anyone else’s world or to walk in another person’s shoes, death is the end of the world for all of us.
Have you ever thought of it in those terms? If not, maybe 2012 will be the beginning of some new beliefs for you.
The Point to All of This
There is a point to all of this. Specifically, it’s this: Life is important. The importance is defined by the meaning we choose to assign to events, and it is defined by the decisions we make and the impact we have on our loved ones.
We are generally good at making choices. We choose careers and modes of productivity to impact our planet, sometimes even long after we’re gone. We choose spouses, friends, and hobbies. Life is about choice.
In some sense, death is about choice, too.
Choices That Take Effect When Our Worlds End
For far too long, estate planning has been considered something that only the elderly need—for those people who are established and on the downhill side of life. Fortunately, there has been a popular movement aimed at showing young professionals and families that they too need estate planning, especially when young children are involved.
The reason is simple: An estate plan puts you in the driver’s seat. It allows you to choose who will raise your children, who will manage your assets, and who will carry on your legacy if your world happens to end prematurely. These are all choices you can make today that will have the effect of law, whether you pass away next week or in sixty years. And if you fail to make these choices, they will be left to a judge—a total stranger with the discretion to act as he or she chooses without regard to what you “might have wanted.”
Make 2012 Count
You can make 2012 count in a major way by starting the year off with bold action. Don’t wait to create a plan. Waiting will never help when it comes to estate planning, and it could be absolutely catastrophic in some cases. Make your plan now. Set the wheels in motion so that if anything does happen to you, you’ll be remembered as the person who made sure everyone was cared for.
If you decide to create an estate plan this year, call our offices and mention this article by name. If you do that, we’ll provide you with a Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session absolutely free of charge (normally valued at $750). You literally have nothing to gain by waiting . . . so don’t.
It’s “Date Night” Friday…
The one night a week when you and your spouse spend time together…talk about the week…have a nice leisurely dinner…just the two of you.
You’ve lined up a babysitter…
You left money for the pizza delivery guy and a list of contact numbers on the refrigerator door…right under the magnet you bought in Yosemite last summer…
You’ve got everything taken care of…
Except what happens to your children if the unthinkable happens and you never make it back home.
If you have minor children and you’re severely injured or worse in an accident, the police may have no choice but to place your children with Child Protective Services if they don’t have information or documentation indicating who you would want to care for your children.
Once the immediate situation has passed, your children could then be at the mercy of the “system”. There is no way the State can know who would be the best choice as a guardian for your children.
So…what do you need to do?
First, Put Your Guardianship Wishes in Writing
Just telling your chosen guardian that you want them to take care of your children is not enough. What you “said” is not legally sufficient and you could be placing your children at the mercy of the foster care system for a long period of time. You need to have a plan in place, written instructions, and the proper legal documentation in order to ensure that your wishes are followed and that everyone knows what those wishes are.
Another misconception is that if you name a guardian in your Will, that’s all you have to do.
A guardianship provided for in a Will only takes effect after you die. If you become incapacitated but are still alive, it means nothing.
Proper Documentation for Guardianship
A good, solid guardianship plan will allow you to choose guardians either on a permanent or temporary basis and leave instructions for those guardians so they know exactly what you want them to do and under what circumstances.
You need to have at least these documents in place at all times if you have minor children:
1. Legal documentation naming a short term or temporary guardian in case you become incapacitated for a short period of time, or in the interim between your death and the time your permanent guardian can arrive. The best option for this guardianship is someone close by that can take immediate custody of your children and keep them out of the court system. Make sure that you talk to these individuals about your plans and that they are willing to serve as temporary guardians. Have their names at the top of a contact list that is available immediately in the event you are not able to communicate. And always make sure they have a copy of the documents naming them as temporary guardians.
2. Legal documents naming permanent guardians. The same information applies for this document as for temporary guardianship papers. Make sure you talk to the people you select and that they have copies of these documents to provide to the court.
3. Make sure you have written instructions for anyone taking care of your children so they know exactly what needs to be done if something happens to you. Make sure they know who to call. Even if you’re leaving your kids with the 16 year old kid next door to babysit on Friday night, make sure she or he knows what needs to be done if the worst happens. And always have written instructions in place for the person or persons you choose as a guardian to tell them how you want your children to be raised.
4. Always have a Medical Authorization and Power of Attorney for your children, especially if you’re sending them to Grandma’s on their own. These documents will allow the person taking care of your children in your absence to make medical decisions that could be a matter of life and death.
Really makes you think, doesn’t it?
He said/She said will not hold up in court, so if that is the only plan you’ve made for your children if the unthinkable happens, you could be placing them at the mercy of the foster care system without even realizing it.
If all this has made you realize you would like to get your documents in order to make sure that your children and your property are taken care of, call us to schedule your Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session today. We can identify what you need to do to plan for your family’s future and answer any questions you have about an effective estate plan. Our Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session is normally $750, but mention this article and you’ll have a complete planning session with me at no charge. Call 770-425-6060 today and mention this article.
For Atlanta wills lawyers like me, estate planning means so much more than just avoiding taxes and planning for death. Instead, it’s about preserving your “whole family legacy,” which includes family values, traditions and memories should something unexpectedly happen to you.
To that end, your memories are priceless treasures that you’ve spent a lifetime trying to preserve. Years ago it was the shoe box of pictures under the bed or the trunk in the attic, but in today’s tech-savvy world social media has taken their place.
More and more people are using social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to record important memories such as the birth of a baby, a child’s graduation, a wedding and so much more. And what makes this option so special is that it allows the owner of the social media account, along with friends and family to post comments and other valuable insights on each post.
Social media accounts serve as a cache for photos and videos – all of which are incredibly valuable to your family. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that you include a plan to preserve the memories hosted on your social media accounts along with the rest of your family’s legacy? Even though we are still at the dawn of what social media will become, the major social media platforms are already beginning to address the issue of how to handle social media accounts when the owner passes away. Here are a few examples:
Twitter recently adopted a policy to handle ownership of a deceased user’s account. Twitter requires the following information:
1. Your full name, contact information (including e-mail address), and your relationship to the deceased user.
2. The username of the Twitter account, or a link to the profile page of the Twitter account.
3. A link to a public obituary or news article.
Once you provide Twitter with these three things, you can either request that the deceased user’s account be deleted or receive an archive of all of the deceased user’s tweets offline.
Facebook has a unique feature where they will memorialize the profile of a deceased account holder. When a profile is memorialized, only current “friends” will be able to see it. It is however, still active so that friends can leave messages on the wall in remembrance.
To have someone’s profile memorialized, just click this link and you’ll be able to submit a request. You can also request that the decedent’s account be deleted using this form.
LinkedIn has a simple Verification of Death form, which is easy to complete. You can find this form and the information required to close the account on the LinkedIn Customer Support Center. You can opt to submit the form either online or via fax. You will need to know the account holder’s email address used on the account. This is what is used to verify the person’s identity.
As with all other aspects of estate planning, it is important to discuss what you want to happen to your online profiles with your Marietta, Georgia, wills and estates lawyer and document your wishes in writing. If you would like to discuss this with an Atlanta, Georgia, wills and estates lawyer who understands the importance of preserving a real legacy for your family, call us today at 770-425-6060 to schedule your own Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session (these usually cost $600 but you can get in at no charge if you’ll mention this blog post on social media). However, these appointments are limited each month, so call today!