Category Archives: Parents

Pet Trusts Offer Protection for Your Furry Family

If you’re an animal lover and have a pet of your own, you likely consider your pet to be a member of the family. And since your furry friends can provide protection, emotional support, and unconditional love, such consideration is often well deserved.

In stark contrast, the law considers your pet nothing more than personal property. That means that without plans in place, your pet will be treated just like your couch or vacuum in the event of your death or incapacity.

For example, if you die without including any provisions for your pet’s care in your estate plan and none of your family or friends volunteer to take your pet in, your faithful companion will likely end up in an animal shelter.

While you can leave money for the care or your pet in a will, there will be no continuing oversight to ensure your pet (and the money you leave for its care) will be cared for as you wish. Indeed, the person named as pet guardian in your will could drop the animal off at the shelter and use the money to buy a new TV—and face no penalties for doing so.

What’s more, a will is required to go through a court process known as probate, which can last for years and leave your pet in limbo during that entire time. And a will only goes into effect upon your death, so if you’re incapacitated by accident or illness, it will be useless for protecting your pet.

Pet trusts
Given these limitations, the best way to ensure your animal companions are properly taken care of in the event of your death or incapacity is to create a pet trust.

Pet trusts go into effect immediately and allow you to lay out detailed, legally binding rules for how the funds in the trust can be used. Pet trusts can cover multiple pets, work in cases of incapacity as well as death, and they remain in effect until the last surviving animal dies.

Here are a few of the most important things to consider when setting up a pet trust:

Caregivers: The most important decision when creating a pet trust is naming the caretaker. The caretaker will have custody of your pet and is responsible for your pet’s daily care for the remainder of your pet’s life. As with naming a guardian for your children, make certain you choose someone you know will watch over and love your pet just as you would.

Consider the caretaker’s physical ability—naming someone elderly to raise your Great Dane puppy might be asking too much. Also make certain your pet fits in with the caretaker’s family members and other pets. In case your first-choice for caretaker is unable to take in your pet, name at least one or two alternates. If you don’t know any suitable caregivers, there are a variety of charitable groups that can provide for your pet if you’re no longer able to.

Trustees: Trustees are tasked with managing the trust’s funds and ensuring your wishes for the animal’s care are carried out in the manner the trust spells out. The caretaker and the trustee may be the same person or the roles can be divided between two different people.

Caretaking instructions: You may also want to include caretaking instructions such as your pet’s basic requirements: dietary needs, exercise regimen, medications, and veterinary care. Be sure you think about all of your pet’s future needs, including extra services like grooming, boarding, and walking.

Funding: When determining how much money to put aside for your pet’s care, you should carefully consider the pet’s age, health, and care needs. Remember, you’re covering the cost of caring for the animal for the rest of its life, and even basic expenses can add up over time.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

4 Ways Estate Planning Can Improve Relationships with Loved Ones

Like me, you probably spent lots of time with family and friends over the holidays. And I hope, like me, that time reminded you of just how important and special these relationships can be.

Though you might not realize it, estate planning has the potential to enhance those relationships in some major ways. Planning requires you to closely consider your relationships with family and friends—past, present, and future—like never before. Indeed, the process can be the ultimate forum for heartfelt communication, fostering a deeper bond and sense of intimacy, and prioritizing what matters most in life.

Here are just a few of the valuable ways estate planning can improve the relationships you cherish most:

1) It shows you sincerely care
Taking the time and effort to carefully plan for what will happen to you in the event of your incapacity or death is a genuine demonstration of your love. It would be far easier to do nothing and simply let you family and friends figure it out for themselves. After all, you won’t be around to deal with any of the fallout.

Planning in advance, though, shows that you truly care about the welfare of your loved ones. Such selfless concern and forethought equates to nothing less than a final expression of your unconditional love.

2) It inspires honest communication about difficult issues
Sitting down and having an honest discussion about life’s most taboo subjects—incapacity and death—is almost certain to bring you and your loved ones closer. By facing immortality together, planning has a way of highlighting what’s really important in life—and what’s not.

In fact, our clients consistently share that after going through our estate planning process they feel more connected to the people they love the most. And they also feel clearer about the lives they want to live during the fleeting time we have here on earth.

Planning offers the opportunity to talk openly about matters you may not have even considered. When it comes to choices about distributing assets and naming executors and trustees, you’ll have a chance to engage in frank discussions about why you made the choices you did. And that may just be the first step in actively addressing and healing any problems that may be lurking under the surface of your relationships.

3) It builds a deep sense of trust and respect
Whether it’s the individuals you name as your children’s legal guardians or those you nominate to handle your own end-of-life care, estate planning shows your loved ones just how much you trust and admire them. What greater honor can you bestow upon another than putting your own life and those of your children in their hands?

Though it’s often challenging to verbally express how much you love your family and friends, estate planning demonstrates your affection in a truly tangible way. And once these people see exactly how much you value them, it can foster a deepening of your relationship with one another.

4) It creates a lasting legacy
While estate planning is primarily viewed as a way to pass on your financial wealth and property, it can offer your loved ones much more than just financial security. When done right, it also lets you hand down the most precious assets of all—your life stories, lessons, and values.

In fact, the wisdom and experience you’ve gained during your lifetime are among the most treasured gifts you can give. Left to chance, these gifts are often lost forever. Considering this, our planning process includes a means of preserving and passing on these intangible assets.

We guide clients to create a customized video in which they share their most insightful memories and experiences with those they’re leaving behind. This not only ensures our clients are able to say everything that needs to be said, but that their legacy carries on long after they—and their money—are gone.

The heart of the matter
Estate planning doesn’t have to be a dreary and depressing affair. When done right, it can put your life and relationships into a much clearer focus and ultimately be a tremendously uplifting experience for everyone involved. Contact us today to learn more.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Why Naming Legal Guardians for Children in a Will Isn’t Good Enough

Template wills and other cheap legal documents are among the most dangerous choices you can make for the people you love. These plans can fail to keep your family out of court and out of conflict, and can leave the people you love most of all—your children—at risk.

The people you love most
It’s probably distressing to think that by using a cut-rate estate plan you could force your loved ones into court or conflict in the event of your incapacity or death. And if you’re like most parents, it’s probably downright unimaginable to contemplate your children’s care falling into the wrong hands.

Yet that’s exactly what could happen if you rely on free or low-cost fill-in-the-blank wills found online, or even if you hire a lawyer who isn’t equipped or trained to plan for the needs of parents with minor children.

Naming and legally documenting guardians entails a number of complexities that most people aren’t aware of. Even lawyers with decades of experience frequently make at least one of six common errors when naming long-term legal guardians.

If wills drafted with the help of a professional are likely to leave your children at risk, the chances that you’ll get things right on your own are much worse.

What could go wrong?
If your DIY will names legal guardians for your kids in the event of your death, that’s great. But does it include back-ups? And if you named a couple to serve, how is that handled? Do you still want one of them if the other is unavailable due to illness, injury, death, or divorce?

And what happens if you become incapacitated and are unable to care for your children? You might assume the guardians named in the DIY will would automatically get custody, but your will isn’t even operative in the event of your incapacity.

Or perhaps the guardians you named in the will live far from your home, so it would take them a few days to get there. If you haven’t made legally-binding arrangements for the immediate care of your children, it’s possible they will be placed with child protective services until those guardians arrive.

Even if you name family who live nearby as guardians, your kids are still at risk if those guardians are not immediately available if and when needed.

And do they even know where your will is or how to access it? There are simply far too many potential pitfalls when you go it alone.

Kids Legal Planning
To ensure your children are never raised by someone you don’t trust or taken into the custody of strangers (even temporarily), consider creating a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan®.

Protecting your family and assets in the event of your death or incapacity is such a monumentally important task you should never consider winging it with a DIY plan. No matter how busy you are or how little wealth you own, the potentially disastrous consequences are simply too great—and often they’re not even worth the paper they’re printed on.

Plus, proper estate planning doesn’t have to be a depressing, stressful, or morbid event. In fact, we work hard to ensure our planning process is as stress-free as possible.

What’s more, many of our clients actually find the process highly rewarding. Our proprietary systems provide the type of peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’ve not only checked estate planning off your to-do list, but you’ve done it using the most forethought, experience, and knowledge available.

Act now
If you’ve yet to do any planning, contact us to schedule a Family Estate Planning Session. This evaluation will allow us to determine your best option.

If you’ve already created a plan—whether it’s a DIY job or one created with another lawyer’s help—contact us to schedule an Estate Plan Review and Check-Up. We’ll ensure your plan is not only properly drafted and updated, but that it has all of the protections in place to prevent your children from ever being placed in the care of strangers or anyone you’d never want to raise them.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

6 Key Steps For Conscious Co-Parenting: Part Two

Last week, I shared the first part of this series, discussing some of the key steps for conscious co-parenting. In part two, we continue with the final steps.

Conscious co-parenting after divorce is a child-centered process, where both you and your ex-spouse agree to work as cooperative partners for the sake of your kids. This ultimately helps both you and your children adapt in a healthier way.

Such collaboration can be challenging, but last week I offered three ways you can successfully navigate the process. Here  are three additional ways to make conscious co-parenting work for you:

 4. Respect your co-parent’s time with the children

Conscious co-parenting is about demonstrating to your children that you still want the other parent in their lives.

It’s normal to miss your children when they’re away, but it will be easier and healthier for everyone if you don’t do anything that might stop your kids from having an enjoyable time when they’re with the co-parent. This means not scheduling children’s activities during the co-parent’s time, unless you’ve asked them first. It also means respecting their time together by not constantly calling or texting.

 5. Get outside support

When it comes to divorce, the experience is often painful and unsettling. The underlying emotions can be overwhelming if they aren’t processed properly, which can have negative effects on your parenting skills.

Given this, it’s crucial you have support systems in place to move through this phase of life. There’s no single solution, so try a few different supportive outlets to find the one(s) that most suit you.

Whether it’s therapy, support groups, trusted confidants, and/or meditative solitude, you should take this opportunity to practice self-care. For better or worse, our personal identities are often largely centered around our marriages, so it’s perfectly natural to go through a grieving process when they end. Just don’t let the grief become what defines you.

6. Use conscious co-parenting to achieve personal growth
While it may sound paradoxical, divorce can offer a perfect opportunity for personal growth. The steps discussed here can help you adjust to your new life in divorce’s immediate aftermath, but they can also allow you to better express yourself throughout your life overall.

Consciously choosing a cooperative co-parenting relationship is just the beginning. You can bring the same mindful focus to every other area of your life. Treating your co-parent in a compassionate, respectful, and patient manner can provide the foundation for how you deal with all of life’s relationships and circumstances.

By doing this, you can serve as a role model for your children, demonstrating how they can deal with adversity in their own lives. In fact, conscious co-parenting can provide them with an array of vital skills that will strengthen their ability to endure the trials and tribulations they’re likely face in the future.

From custody agreements to alimony payments, there are numerous legal issues that can arise when co-parenting, so be sure you have the legal support you need. And given the fact that your family structure has changed, you’ll want to update your estate plan as well. Please contact us today if we can be of any assistance.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

6 Key Steps For Conscious Co-Parenting—Part One

Committing to an amicable divorce means protecting your children from end-of-marriage related trauma. When the marriage ends in a cooperative manner, divorce can be transformed from a contentious event into one that can inspire growth and healing.

But getting the divorce finalized is only the first step. Where the rubber really meets the road is how you navigate your new relationship as a co-parent.  And co-parenting means both parents must put aside any negativity they may have toward one another, so they can place their children’s needs first.

While this may sound simple, it can be challenging. To help you get started, I’ve outlined six steps that are crucial to a collaborative approach to co-parenting.

  1. Establish a “professional” relationship with your co-parent
    Your marriage with your ex may done, but your relationship as co-parents will last a lifetime. Think of your new co-parenting relationship as a business partnership, where your business is raising successful, well-adjusted children. This professional approach can not only help you become a more effective parent, but it also helps prevent unnecessary conflict over personal boundaries and past problems.

For example, if you schedule a time to pick up the kids, treat it like an appointment with a colleague; don’t blow it off or be late. Be as courteous to your co-parent as you would with any business colleague.

  1. Communicate clearly, cordially, and consciously with your co-parent
    Effective communication is paramount to successful co-parenting. This can present a challenge if poor communication was a primary cause of the divorce. By setting a professional tone, however, you may find communication becomes easier, since it’s free from emotional baggage.

    When communicating, make your kids and their healthy adjustment the focal point. Tailor everything you say in terms of shared responsibility, using terms like “we” and “us,” instead of “you” or “me.” Avoid anything judgmental: stick to the facts and how they affect your children’s well-being.

    Never talk down about your ex in front of the kids, and don’t allow your children to be disrespectful toward your co-parent, either. You never want them to feel like they must choose a side.

Finally, don’t use your children as messengers. Speak directly to the co-parent yourself.

  1. Create a comprehensive parenting plan
    Every successful partnership requires planning, so sit down together and come up with a set of mutually agreed-upon guidelines and routines. This is essential for fostering security and predictability to help the children quickly and comfortably adapt to their new situation.

    The more details the plan includes, the better. Try to anticipate potential problems ahead of time. How will holidays, birthdays, and vacations be shared? How will you resolve major disagreements between co-parents? How will new romantic relationships be handled? Be sure to revisit and update the plan regularly as the kids mature.

    Developing such a comprehensive plan with an ex is challenging, so it’s often helpful to have a third-party present for advice and dispute mediation. As your Personal Family Lawyer, we can bring in trusted colleagues in the community who can help you to develop and maintain conscious co-parenting arrangements while we make sure your estate planning reflects your custody wishes.

Next week, I’ll continue with part two in this series, discussing the other 3 key steps to conscious co-parenting.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Do Your Homework to Ensure Your Kids Are Properly Cared For No Matter What Happens

mother with son doing homework
It’s back-to-school time again, and when it comes to estate planning YOU may have homework to do. As a parent, your most critical—and often overlooked—task is to select and legally document guardians for your minor children. Guardians are people legally named to care for your children in the event of your death or incapacity.

If you haven’t done that yet, you should immediately do so – or come to one of our “Guardian Naming Workshops” and get it done there. Information on our next workshop can be found here.

Don’t think just because you’ve named godparents or have grandparents living nearby that’s enough. You must name guardians in a legal document, or risk creating conflict and a long, expensive court process for your loved ones—all of which can be so easily avoided.

Covering all your bases
However, naming permanent guardians is just one step in protecting your kids. It’s equally important to have someone (plus backups) with documented authority, who can stay with your children until the long-term guardians can be located and formally named by the court, which can take weeks or even months.

The last thing you want is for police to show up at your home and find your children with a caregiver, who doesn’t have documented or legal authority to stay with them and doesn’t have any idea how to contact someone with such authority. In such a case, police would have no choice but to call Child Protective Services.

Closing the gap
This is a major hole in many parent’s estate plans, as we know you’d never want your kids in the care of strangers, even for a short time. To fix this, we’ve created a comprehensive system called the Kids Protection Plan®, which lets you name temporary guardians who have immediate documented authority to care for your children until the long-term guardians you‘ve appointed can be notified and get to your children.

The Kids Protection Plan® also includes specific instructions that are given to everyone entrusted with your children’s care, explaining how to contact your short and long-term guardians. The plan also ensures everyone named by you has the legal documents they’d need on hand and knows exactly what to do if called upon. We even provide you with an ID card for your wallet and emergency instructions to post on your refrigerator, so the contacts and process are prominently available in case something happens to you.

A foolproof plan
With the Kids Protection Plan®, you’ll name one permanent guardian and one temporary guardian, along with two or more backups, in case the primary isn’t available or cannot serve. And we instruct caregivers to NEVER CALL POLICE IF YOU CANNOT BE REACHED UNTIL ONE OF THE NAMED GUARDIANS ARRIVES AND IS PRESENT WITH YOUR CHILDREN.

Finally, if there’s anyone you’d never want raising your children, we confidentially document that in the plan, preventing them from wasting the time, energy, and assets of the people you do want caring for your children.

With us as your personal family lawyer, you have access to the Kids Protection Plan® to ensure the well-being of your children no matter what. As your kids head back to school, do your homework by contacting us today.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Does Your Parent Need Help With Finances? Start Here

 

Elderly 91024Caring for an aging parent is a common challenge for Baby Boomers, and now even Gen-X’ers and Millennials. And, stepping in to help manage your parents’ finances, without eroding their sense of independence and privacy can be a tricky endeavor.

Many aging parents are reluctant to ask their children for help with their finances. It means a loss of control, a trading of places (from them taking care of you to you taking care of them), and can feel quite frightening for your parents.

Nevertheless, you may be wondering what you can do when your parents start needing help.

A pile of unpaid bills, threatening calls from creditors or repeated instances of credit card fraud or financial scams are good indicators that your parent needs help managing his or her finances.

Financial caregiving is easiest when you already have a plan in place. You may be in a good position to make educated decisions about their finances, but without the proper information and legal authority, your options are limited.

If your parent needs help, the first step is to make sure you know what they have, where it is, and how you can access it, if necessary.

Next, you want to make sure you know what bills are due, when and that their bills are being paid on time.

Unless you have the legal authority to manage your parents’ finances, you will need their help in getting access to their account and setting up auto-bill pay for them.

When you are ready, the first place to start is with a heart to heart conversation about whether your parent is ready for help and what that help could look like.

Then, if your parent is ready, you can ask him or her (or them) to legally designate you as either the Trustee of their trust or financial power of attorney holder, depending on the issues. And, be sure you are also designed as medical power of attorney, so you can make important care-giving decisions for your parent(s) if he, she or they cannot.

This is also an opportune time for you to consider your own long-term financial planning. By helping your parents and getting your own affairs in order, you are making things as easy as possible for each generation in your family. What an incredible gift!

Dedicated to empowering your family, increasing your wealth and building your legacy,

Marc Garlett 91024

Is Your Family “Too Young” to Need an Estate Plan?

young-family 91024Young families face different estate planning needs and challenges than those who have had a long life behind them. While established families may be concerned about what will happen to their family when they pass on, young, growing families can be more focused on what is happening to their family in the present. And you may even find it hard to justify planning for an “estate” you haven’t yet established!

But here’s the thing … if you have children or anyone else you care about, you may not have an “estate”, but you do need estate planning – if you want to ensure your loved ones wouldn’t be stuck in Court and/or conflict if anything happens to you.

Here are a few estate-planning issues important for young couples to consider as soon as they start a family:

The Care and Custody of Your Children

If you die or become incapacitated before your children reach 18, they will need a legal guardian. To ensure your children are only ever in the care of people you want and choose, you must name both temporary and long-term guardians for your children.

Identifying friends or family as the “godparent” of your child won’t cover it. You need to legally document your choice. And, naming just one person or a couple isn’t enough, either. Name at least 3 options, in case back-ups are needed.

Also, ensure that you have not just named legal guardians in your Will. This is a common mistake for those that do have planning.

If something happens to you and your child is home with a babysitter, or at school, you want to also name local people, friends or family, who would immediately be able to be called upon by authorities. And, those people need to have legal documentation on hand to step in and make immediate, short-term decisions for your littles.

We recommend a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan® to ensure there are no gaps, even for a minute, in the care of the people you love most.

The Management of Your Children’s Inheritance

Remember, when you die, the assets left to your minor children will need to be managed by someone at least until they turn eighteen. If no one is identified for this task, the court steps in and appoints “professionals” to take over the role, which can cost your children their entire inheritance.

And, it’s totally unnecessary. With just a bit of prior planning, you can keep your loved ones out of the Court system entirely and give total control to the people you know, love and trust.

The Authority to Make Decisions for You

Finally, no matter what your age is, or how big or small your assets are, you want to put in place the documentation that appoints the people you would want making decisions for you, if you cannot make your own decisions.

Once again, the focus here is on keeping the people you love out of Court during what would be a hugely stressful time for them.

Estate planning is a key part of growing up and showing up for the people you love. So, yes, you may be a young family, but once you’ve become a family, you’re not too young to plan well to make things as easy as possible for the people you love.

Far from being a morbid task, estate planning can give your young family the peace of mind, confidence, and security you desire when it comes to the future well-being of all members of your family.

Dedicated to empowering your family, increasing your wealth and building your legacy,
Marc Garlett 91024

Even Celebrities Like Queen Latifah Act as Caregivers for Their Aging Parents

Queen-LatifahWe may not think about it often, but even celebrities take care of their aging parents. For example, actress, singer, and songwriter Queen Latifah plays an active role in caring for her mother, Rita Owens, who was diagnosed with heart failure more than 10 years ago.

Owens learned of her condition when she passed out at work one day. She moved from New Jersey to California to recover and be close to her daughter. There, Queen Latifah cared for her mom and acted as a coordinator for a network of healthcare providers, family, and friends.

After her recovery, Owens was able to return to her home in New Jersey. Now, the two are working with the American Heart Association to raise awareness of heart failure.

Queen Latifah’s story is far from unique, and can help you remember that if you are a caregiver of an elderly or sick parent, you are not alone. And there are resources available to support you.

AARP reports of a study that found more discontent in relationships between U.S. elderly parents and their adult caregivers than in five other countries. In the U.S., 20% of the relationships were rated as disharmonious. In the five other countries surveyed-England, Germany, Israel, Norway, and Spain-less than 10% were similarly ranked. Here in the US, it is sadly “normal” for caregivers of elderly or sick parents to feel frustrated, unappreciated, and resentful. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. With advance planning, strong communication, and family coordination, the potential for a disharmonious relationship can be greatly reduced.

Proper planning should not only account for the legal issues involved, but also the personal and interpersonal issues, too. Schedules should be worked out, structures put in place, and legal documents prepared. Getting your lawyer involved early in the process ensures all issues are identified, contingencies prepared for, and the transition into caregiving is as easy as possible for both you and your parents.

Dedicated to your family’s health, wealth, and happiness,
Marc Garlett 91024

Life Is Multifaceted: Teach Children to Be Open to All of Its Complexities

Diverse Kids 91024When you picture a “normal” family, what do you see? Is it the traditional notion of one male parent and one female parent, two kids, and a family pet? Or do you see something different? Or perhaps you reject the notion of a “normal” family altogether?

Recent court and legislative activity have opened the institution of marriage to same-gender couples. Regardless of your political position or whether you think this is a wise move, it is happening. Today 1 in 4 children under the age of 18 are being raised by single mothers without a father anywhere in the picture. And nearly 30% of all families today are single parent families. Another 5% of children aren’t living with a “traditional” parent at all, but with grandparents or other family members.

Simply put, mainstream society is changing in our country. It’s important to keep that in mind because sometimes (particularly with affluence) we may not always be aware of changes taking place outside our personal norms. Why not? Well, we often attend institutions – like churches and schools, for example-where most everyone else looks and thinks like we do.

While we may feel more comfortable in these arenas, we need to push the boundaries with our kids for their sake. Regardless of our politics, visible American culture is changing. We cannot expect voluntary segregation of our society-by race, socioeconomic status, or any other factor-to continue.

So how can we help our kids be open to cultural and familial differences and to embrace the complexities therein? Children are best prepared through modeling and practice. This is the true inheritance we leave behind.

Be cognizant of the cultural norms you promote without saying a word, through your choice of neighborhoods, entertainment, institutions, and even the company you keep. It is critical that American children remain open to differences and complexities, to enable them to work and play with those who may be different from them as our society moves forward to keep in step with the ever evolving nature of our world.

Ultimately, estate planning isn’t just about passing on your money. It’s about passing on your whole family wealth, which includes your values, insights, stories and experience, most of which is passed on without awareness. When you can bring awareness to estate planning, however, beyond simply the financial pieces, you are giving your children a true gift that doesn’t last just a lifetime, but for many generations to come.

Dedicated to your family’s health, wealth, and happiness,
Marc Garlett 91024