If you are a parent with children under the age of 18 at home, your number-one estate planning priority should be selecting and legally documenting both long and short-term guardians for your kids. Guardians are the people legally named to care for your children in the event something happens to you.
And if you’ve named guardians for your children in your will—even with the help of another lawyer—your kids could still be at risk of being taken into the care of strangers!
One of the most disturbing aspects of this situation is that you probably have no idea just how vulnerable your kids are, since this is a blind spot inherent to the estate plan of countless parents around the world. Even many lawyers aren’t fully aware of this issue—and that’s because most lawyers simply don’t understand what’s necessary for planning and ensuring the well-being and care of minor children.
Why? Well, most estate planning over...
When it comes to estate planning, you’ve most likely heard people mention a couple of different types of wills. The most common is a “last will and testament,” which is also known simply as a “will.” But you may have also heard people talk about what’s called a “living will.”
Both terms describe important legal documents used in estate planning, but their purpose and the way in which they work is very different. In fact, using the term "living wills" is actually outdated in many states and not used anymore.
Let's talk about some of the most critical things you should know about what living wills are, and why having updated documents to replace these, is an essential part of every adult’s estate plan and how to get yours created or updated.
1. What Is A Living Will?
A living will, in some states is often called an “advance healthcare directive,” and is a legal document that tells your loved ones and doctors how...
When discussing estate planning, a will is what most people think of first. Indeed, wills have been the most popular method for passing on assets to heirs for hundreds of years. But wills aren’t your only option. And if you rely on a will alone to pass on what matters, you’re guaranteeing your family has to go to court when you die.
In contrast, other estate planning vehicles, such as trusts, which used to be available only to the uber wealthy, are now being used by those of all income levels and asset values to keep their loved ones out of the court process.
But determining whether a will or a trust is best for you depends entirely on your personal circumstances. And the fact that estate planning has changed so much makes choosing the right tool for the job even more complex.
The best way for you to determine the truly right solution for your family is to meet with me as your Personal Family Lawyer® for a Family Wealth Planning Session™. During that...
Last week, I shared the first part of my series on the importance of estate planning for those without children. If you haven’t read it yet, you can do so here. Here in part two, we discuss the other risks involved for those who forego estate planning.
Someone will have power over your health care
Estate planning isn’t just about passing on your assets when you die. In fact, some of the most critical parts of planning have nothing to do with your money at all, but are aimed at protecting you while you’re still very much alive.
Advance planning allows you to name the person you want to make healthcare decisions for you if you’re incapacitated and unable to make decisions yourself.
For example, if you’re temporarily unconscious following a car accident or an illness like COVID, and unable to give doctors permission to perform a potentially risky medical treatment, it’s not always clear who’ll be asked to make that decision for you.
It’s a common misconception to think that if you don’t have children, you don’t need to worry about estate planning. But the fact is, it can be even MORE important to do estate planning if you have no children.
Some of the common thoughts behind this mistaken belief may take one of these forms:
“If I die, everything will pass to my spouse anyway, so why bother?”
“I’m single with little wealth, so who cares who gets my few meager assets?”
“Estate planning is an expensive hassle and it doesn’t even benefit me because I’ll be dead, so I’m better off letting a judge handle things.”
This kind of thinking ignores several basic facts about both estate planning and life in general. Regardless of your marital status, if you don’t have children, you face potential estate-planning complications which those with children do not. And this is true whether you’re wealthy or have very limited assets.
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.
In our last newsletter, we shared the first part of our article on how to discuss estate planning with aging or sick loved ones.
If you didn’t read it yet, you can do so here.
Here’s the bottom line: learn to ask the right questions and then listen deeply. This may be a difficult topic for your loved one to discuss, so make sure you are bringing your curiosity, not answers, and then staying open to truly hear what your loved one wants.
Ask your loved one what role they would like you to take, rather than assuming. And reassure your loved one that you have no expectations, but that you will be involved as much or as little as he or she desires.
If you need support on the right questions to ask, check out the Conversation Project. Their Conversation Starter Kit, available for free on their website, has a series of questions that you can use to begin the conversation about end of life care with your loved one.
Be able to answer questions. If your loved one...
Someone you love is aging. Or maybe, facing a potentially terminal illness. And you know it’s time for them to think about end of life planning because the end of their life will impact you.
So how do you broach this delicate topic when it feels so uncomfortable to acknowledge?
The first step is to acknowledge that it can be a difficult or uncomfortable conversation. Give yourself time to consider how you want to bring it up with your loved one.
Ideally, considering end of life matters would be something we regularly spoke about and got comfortable with before the end of life was near, but that’s not generally the case in our culture.
You can change that going forward, and I’ll share an article next week with guidance for how to make end of life discussions a regular part of your family conversations. If you have been reading my articles all year, you will see that I make it a practice to speak plainly and openly about it.
But, if you...
Since you’ll be discussing topics like death, incapacity, and other frightening life events, hiring an estate planning lawyer may feel intimidating or morbid. But it definitely doesn’t have to be that way.
Instead, it can be the most empowering decision you ever make for yourself and your loved ones. The key to transforming the experience of hiring a lawyer from one that you dread into one that empowers you is to educate yourself first. This is the person who is going to be there for your family when you can’t be, so you want to really understand who the lawyer is as a human, not just an attorney. Of course, you’ll also want to find out the kind of services the lawyer offers and how they run their business.
To gather this information and get a better feel for who the individual is at the human level, we suggest you ask the prospective lawyer five key questions. Last week in part one we listed the first two of these questions, and here, we cover the...