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The world is a dangerous place, and not just the places highlighted on the news every night. The truth is that even the sidewalk outside our door can be a place of peril.

Consider the case of a couple recently killed in a California highway accident by a driver who inexplicably ran into a pole ­leaving the couple’s infant behind with major injuries. Or perhaps, the family in Canada who were backed into by a car outside Costco ­killing the six­-year-­old girl and injuring her sister and pregnant mother.

How about lightning striking a 20­year­-old man in the middle of summer at Venice Beach in Southern California. That never happens but this time it did.  These tragedies, which happen every day all around the United States, are bad enough but they are compounded for the families of those injured or killed by a lack of preparedness.

 

Take the case of the highway tragedy. What we know is that two parents are dead and they have a grievously injured child in the hospital. We don’t know if the parents had a will.

 

A will would be the only document that would have allowed the parents to designate a ‘guardian’ for their child, assuming the child recovers. The couple may have designated one set of their parents or another relative or friend to raise their child.

 

Proper planning would ensure their child is immediately cared for by people of their choosing. Without that clear direction, there could be an ugly fight about who will take the child in the immediate term as well as potential conflict about who will be in charge of any money left in the estate of the parents. The estate, in fact, might have to be probated.

 

Probate is an unnecessary court process that can take control away from the family. It's also totally public and can be more costly for the family than planning in advance to stay out of Court.

 

Another issue, of course, is who pays the hospital bill for the child and who pays the debts of the deceased parents.

 

That will all be handled by the person appointed by the Court or named in a Trust to handle the assets and debt left behind. If you want that handled by someone of your choosing, you need a Will and if you want that handled without the necessity of aCourt process, you need a Trust.

 

But most of all, what you need is a relationship with a trusted lawyer, so that if a tragedy strikes your family, you have somewhere to turn for clarity and re-assurance during the most difficult time.

 

Normally, if the couple had estate documents such as a Will and Trust, their debts, including hospital  bills  for  the  child,  would  come  out  of  their  estate.  The parents may have had insurance so there would be a money source there.  If there was no money or assets, or insurance in the estate, the debts, most likely, would not get paid.

 

The people who benefit from your pre-planning are the people you love the most. Be responsible and ensure your family always feels well led and well-loved.

 

What folks can do now is prepare for these kinds of tragedies and here is how:

  1. Create a Will and keep it up-to-date. If you have minors, create a plan for them as well as identify a guardian of any money/property the child(ren) stands to inherit.

  2. Maintain adequate health and life insurance in case disaster strikes and create a relationship with a trusted lawyer.

  3. If your estate contains assets that would go through the probate court process consider owning your assets in a living trust.  Keep your family out of court and out of conflict as a way to avoid probate and to keep your affairs private.

 

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Do you consider trusts to be instruments of the wealthy? While it is true that many Americans of means have trusts to protect and pass their wealth, there are a number of reasons why trusts can also be useful for middle-class families. Here are 7 of them:

1. Control distribution of assets. You wouldn’t hand over your car keys to a child who has had no proper preparation for driving, and chances are you would not want to hand over all your assets to a teenager either. But if both parents die at the same time, the children would inherit all the assets upon their 18th birthdays. A trust allows you to specify how and when you want your children to inherit.

2. Protect assets from creditors. Placing an inheritance in a trust makes it likely that those assets are protected from your heir’s -- or their spouse’s – creditors. Consider a Inheritance Protection Trust.

3. Protect inheritance from spendthrift heirs. Not everyone is good with money. If your heirs fall into that category, you can use a trust to ensure the assets are not frittered away due to spendthrift behavior.

4. Protect inheritance for children of prior marriage. You can use a trust to both provide for your current spouse and any children from a previous marriage.

5. Provide for a special needs heir. Leaving assets outright to an heir with special needs could disqualify them from receiving important government benefits. Leaving those assets in trust bypasses this potential risk.

6. Avoid probate. Assets can pass to heirs without going through probate by using a trust, saving beneficiaries the time and expense of the probate process. Probate is an expensive, public and unnecessary court process you can keep your family from having to deal with.

7. Protect privacy. Once a will is entered into probate, it becomes semi-public; a trust is a private document that will protect your family’s privacy.

If you would like more information about protecting your loved ones, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

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Many people fail to create an estate plan because they don’t truly understand what is involved and therefore believe it is too complicated. But the real truth is that creating an estate plan during your lifetime is far less complicated than what your family will deal with after you are gone, if you don’t:

1. Create a Trust. When most people think of preparing for the end of life, they think of writing a Will, but having a Will without a Trust is fast track to put your family in the Courthouse after you are gone. Instead, to keep your family out of Court, you’ll want to set up a Trust and title all of your assets to be owned by that Trust. While it might feel like a lot of effort, it will save your family a LOT of trouble after you are gone.

2. Designate beneficiaries. Designating beneficiaries for your retirement accounts and insurance policies is critical because these assets do not pass through your Will or Trust. Filling out beneficiary designation forms for each of your accounts will ensure these assets pass to the people you want to have them and stay out of the Court system. Be sure to review your beneficiary designations periodically to be sure they align with your current circumstances. Hot tip: never name minor children as beneficiaries of your retirement account or life insurance policies AND if you have more than $150,000 in a retirement account, consider a special trust called a Retirement Trust to ensure the most beneficial tax treatment for your loved ones.

3. Avoid estate taxes. Most of us will not have to worry about estate taxes since the federal estate and gift tax exemption is $5.34 million ($10.68 million for married couples) in 2014 and indexed every year for inflation. However, if you are married and wish to take advantage of portability – where spouses are entitled to each other’s unused exemption – the surviving spouse must file the required paperwork to claim the exemption.

Plus, 15 states and the District of Columbia have state estate taxes, so you could still owe even if your estate is too small to owe federal tax. The big key here is to not just leave a set of documents that your family will have to figure out after you are gone, but give them the gift of a trusted advisor to turn to; call us if you’d like to consider having us be that trusted advisor for your loved ones.

4. Leave a letter of instruction. Not everything you may wish to pass on to your heirs – like instructions for your funeral – should be put in your will or Trust. Leaving a letter of instruction with your family or attorney can ensure your final wishes are respected. We provide this service at no additional charge for our clients because we know this is one of the things families value the most and is least often handled.

5. Sign a durable power of attorney. Estate planning is not just about death, but also ensuring your family can handle things in the event you become incapacitated. Signing a durable power of attorney that designates someone to handle your financial affairs will save time, money and hassle for your family that, without it, will have to go to court to have a guardian or conservator appointed to manage your financial affairs. This could cost tens of thousands of dollars and is easily handled with one simple document and a trusted advisor for your family to turn to in a time of need.

6. Create an Advance Healthcare Directive. This document designates a decision maker of your choosing to make sure your wishes are followed when it comes to the medical care you want – or do not want – to receive when you are incapacitated or near death. You will also need to sign a HIPAA release form so your medical records can be released to your health care agent and medical professionals can discuss your medical care with that person.

7. Organize your paperwork and digital files. Since many of us live our lives online these days, make sure your executor has access to all your digital information, including website addresses and the log-in information for those sites. Put all your important paperwork – deeds, insurance policies, bank and brokerage statements, etc. – in one file and let your executor know where it is.

Bonus tip: If you have minor children at home (or adult children with special needs), you should give special attention to ensure your children’s care is covered not just for the long-term, but for the immediate term as well and no one you don’t want raising your kids ever has a chance to take control.

Contact us about scheduling a Family Wealth Planning Session so we can sit down and talk about designing a plan that fits the needs of you and your family. Surprisingly, sometimes the less you have, the more important it is to plan.

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If you have young children, chances are that your summer activities include some careful planning to keep them safe from harm. Unfortunately, even with proper precautions in place, accidents do happen and not just to children. Have you planned for what will happen to your children if you are the one involved in a tragic accident?

If you don’t put the proper legal protections in place and the unthinkable happens to you, any number of things could happen to your children, and none of them are good:

  • Your children could be put in the care of Child Protective Services, even temporarily. You never want strangers determining your children’s fate.

  • Your children could be put in the custody of someone you would never want to have them by a judge who does not know you or your family dynamics.

  • Your family could get into a fight about the custody of your children.

  • Your estate can be thrown into probate, with a portion of your assets going to court costs and fees -- money that your children could use in the future.

  • If you have significant assets, those could go to your children once they turn 18 in one lump sum that they will likely not be prepared to handle properly.

Since there are so many bad things that can happen to your children should something bad happen to you, we plan for families with young children. This includes the instructions and legal documents that will ensure your kids will be raised by someone you choose and that your assets are protected for their well-being.

To get started planning for the well-being of your minor children if something were to happen to you, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

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As an Estate Planning attorney, I see many of the same estate planning mistakes made time and again by people who either fail to plan properly or who use “do-it-yourself” estate planning websites or forms in an effort to save money.

Without professional guidance, this can cause more problems for your heirs and end up depleting estate assets by far more than what you could potentially “save” by doing it yourself online.

A qualified estate planning attorney can help you avoid these 10 common estate planning mistakes:

1. Failure to leave any written documentation of your assets, including a list of your online accounts and passwords.

2. Failure to let family members know where to find important estate planning documents.

3. Failure to name a guardian for minor children or choosing a guardian who lives far away without planning for temporary, local guardianship.

4. Failure to name recipients for your personal possessions.

5. Failure to designate beneficiaries for retirement and other financial accounts.

6. Failure to name secondary beneficiaries.

7. Failure to name alternative trustees or personal representatives.

8. Failure to properly fund or title assets to any trusts you have established.

9. Failure to update your estate plan as life circumstances change.

10. Failure to create an estate plan of any kind and instead leaving it to the court system to decide how your assets will be distributed.

If you’d like to learn more about how to avoid common estate planning mistakes that could cost your heirs dearly, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

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Did you know that the best-selling item at Walmart is bananas? It’s true, and has been for several years. So the next time you need a great price on your favorite yellow fruit, go ahead and head for Walmart.

But steer clear of the world’s largest retailer when you need a will or other estate planning documents.

While not available in the U.S. (yet), Walmart just started selling wills for $99 in several Canadian locations. You can also get powers of attorney at the boutique law shop called Axess Law set up in Walmart. And in our opinion, that’s not just bananas, it’s nuts too.

Creating an estate plan is something you do to leave a legacy of care and love for the people who matter to you the most. Working with an attorney who understands your goals and wishes for your family, and can articulate those in a well-crafted estate plan, is a much better alternative than relying on a one-stop shopping experience, be it at Walmart or through online legal websites with standard forms that can’t begin to know what you truly want and deserve for your loved ones.

Having the caring guidance The Will Lawyer, P.A. will ensure that your estate plan takes advantage of the ever-changing state and federal laws as well as reduces the potential for family feuds.

If you’re the parent of minor children, we will help you create a valid will that ensures the well-being and care of your children; without one, a judge will make that decision for you (or your kids could even be taken from your home temporarily).

Even if you don’t have minor or dependent children, you have stuff that will have to be handled after you are gone and a $99 will is likely only going to make it worse for the people left to clean up the mess.

Estate laws vary by state, which is another good reason to have the Will Lawyer, P.A. guide you. The probate process can be lengthy and arduous; and we can help you and your family stay out of Court, saving time, money and stress.

Finally, many life circumstances – remarriage, divorce, new children – impact your estate plan, so be sure you review it annually and keep it updated when things change. Having a lawyer that knows you and your family makes it much easier to keep your plan on track, so it will always be just what your family needs, when they need it.

If you would like more information about creating or updating your estate plan, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

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Posted by on in Uncategorized

If you came to this page to find out what I’ll charge you for a Will or you are considering calling me (or any other attorney) to ask, “How much do you charge for a will?” stop.

It’s not the right question.

The question you need an answer to first is “What do I really need to have in place to ensure me, my family, and money are cared for the way I want?”

Far too many people make their estate planning decisions based on what it’s going to cost. Sometimes, that may be the right criteria. Most of the time it’s not.

The problem is you don’t know what you don’t know.

When you get on the internet to download a cheap will or fill out canned documents from a book or DIY kit from the office supply store, you don’t know what you are actually putting into place or setting in motion.

When tragedy strikes, it’s your family who is left holding the bag.

Failed plans, unnecessary, expensive, semi-public probate, multiple probates in different states, even, loss of sovereignty, legal fees for guardianships and conservatorships, being at the mercy of the judicial system.

When you hire me, you aren’t paying for documents.

You are hiring me for my guidance throughout your lifetime and to be there for your loved ones when you can’t be.

When you hire me, you aren’t renting my time, but my brain and my heart. You are hiring an ally who will help you get your affairs in order, and keep them there across time and changes in the law, tax policies and your life.

When you call me and ask how much for a Will, I can’t give you an answer because I don’t even know if that’s what you need.

Maybe a Will would suffice for your family, but maybe it won’t. And if I tell you how much a Will costs and then you come into my office and you need so much more, you’ll be angry with me.

So I won’t answer your question. Because I don’t charge for Wills. I charge for advice, guidance, counsel and support. The Will? It’s free.

Our process begins with a Family Planning Session. Before this Session, you will receive a package of information with homework for you to complete so you can benefit from the time with me the most.

Whether I ever write a Will (or any other documents) for you or not, I want every interaction of ours to be extremely valuable to you.

To that end, I’ll review the homework you complete before we meet. And then we’ll invest our time together exploring your life, looking at what would happen to you, your children, your money, and the people you love if anything happens to you.

You will feel heard, cared about, informed, educated, and empowered to make the best decisions for the people and things that matter most in your life.

If, after we spend that time together, it turns out you need a Will (or any other type of legal planning), it will be because we came to that conclusion together.

Then, I will offer you planning packages that will cover the different options for taking care of things the way you want.

I can tell you this – most of our foundational plans range between $1,500 and $6,000. Your package will be customized to the specific needs of your family. And you will stay in control the whole time.

How do you choose a lawyer, if not based on price?

Get referrals from your friends and family. When you call the office to inquire about their services, rather than asking what they charge, ask HOW they charge and what makes their office different than others.

See who stands out in your area. Is there a lawyer who is frequently seen around your community? That lawyer means business and is putting their reputation on the line every day. Give them a try.

Get connected. When you find the right lawyer, he or she will be a member of your team for the long term, not for just this one transaction. Your lawyer should be approachable and not only want to be in a long-term relationship with you, but have systems and a team to support that.

Simply asking, “What do you charge for a Will?” does not get you what you need to know to make a smart and loving decision for your family.

A far more powerful question to begin with is “What do I need to do to make things as easy for my family as possible, if something happens to me?”

Please call me to find out.

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Estate planning rarely comes up in the course of regular conversation and if it does, it is usually involves what has happened to a celebrity’s fortune after his or her death. The distance is safe, so the conversation can take place.

But what if you need to discuss estate planning with a loved one – either your own estate plan or the one they have (or should have)? Because no one likes to talk about the death of someone close to them, we rarely have this critical conversation. But we all should.

So how do you talk to a loved one about estate planning? A recent Forbes.com article provides some good tips:

Pick the right time. If it is too difficult to schedule a time for this conversation, have it when you’re doing something else, like taking a walk.

Start with a story. Use a story as an opener to the conversation, like the death of a celebrity and the havoc that failure to plan is wreaking on his or her estate or how you created your own estate plan.

Talk separately. It may be easier for parents with more than one child to have separate conversations with each child rather than talking to a group.

Use a team approach. If you are having difficulty getting your spouse to focus on estate planning issues, communicate your concerns as a couple. Talk about how aging means making mature decisions and how you need to protect children with estate planning.

Ask for feedback. After discussing your estate plan with your children, ask them individually how they feel about what you have explained. It may not change what you are doing, but it will let them feel they have a voice.

Explain why. Explain to your children the principles that guided your decision about how your estate is being divided. This lessens the chance of conflict among siblings.

If you’d like to learn more about estate planning strategies for your family, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

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If you have minor children and have not yet selected a guardian, you are not unlike many parents who put off this critically important task while waiting for the perfect solution to present itself.

Or perhaps you and your spouse/partner cannot agree on who would be the ideal guardian for your kids.

Here is your solution: Done is better than perfect. Especially here.

If you do nothing, the decision about who would raise your children (if something were to happen to you) would be left up to a judge to decide. A judge who doesn’t know you, doesn’t know what’s important to you, and doesn’t know your children will make all the decisions about who cares for the people who are most important to you in the world.

I know that’s not what you want.

And, truth is … there may never be a perfect solution for you, but there is definitely a solution that is better than your children being raised by someone you didn’t choose.

Perhaps you think the way so many parents do, “if we don’t anticipate it, it will never happen, right?”

Then I guess that means you don’t need things like insurance or any other type of protection since bad things never happen to good people, right? And wouldn’t it be great if that were true.

Responsible parents protect their children, and that means you must think about the unthinkable.

Fortunately, there is a sensible approach to the selection of a guardian for your children that makes it a lot easier.

First, sit down with your spouse or significant other and draw up a list of all potential people you would be willing to have raise your children.

Don’t judge anyone on the list or even consider whether they would be willing. Just make as long a list as you can of all the people you know who you know, like and trust that your children know, like and trust. It can be helpful if each of you and your parenting partner make these lists separately and then compare notes later.

Then, put your list(s) aside.

Now, make a list of your most important values when it comes to raising your children. Things like, prior relationship with your children, education level, discipline philosophy or parenting style.

Under no circumstances would you want to consider the financial resources of the people you are considering because it’s up to you to provide enough financial resources for your children and the people you’ve named as their guardians.

Finally, rank your values and compare those values to your list of potential guardians and put each of those people (or couples) in order first, second and third.

Once you have your list, check it against these practical considerations:

Does your child know them? Ideally, your guardian selection will be someone your child already knows and trusts.

Do they live close by? It is probably not ideal to uproot your children from their local community if you can help it.

Do they share your values? You will want to choose someone who can raise your children with the same values and beliefs that you would.

How old are they? Choosing an elderly person as guardian could mean that your children could lose them too at a tender age.

Do they already have a family? If your choice as guardian already has children of their own, would your children blend in well with their family?

Are they willing to take on the responsibility? Hopefully the person(s) you choose as guardian would welcome the responsibility, but not everyone does. Be sure you have a candid conversation with them before you name them as guardian.

Finally, document your choices, legally and clearly. A comprehensive plan for your children covers not just the long-term care of your children, but the immediate term as well.

Keep in mind that your choice for guardian today could change, and you will likely want to update your guardianship designation as your life and circumstances dictate.

Make the proper protections in place for your family by calling our office to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

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