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.
Without proper estate planning, you’re not only jeopardizing your personal property, but you’re putting your life at risk, too. And that’s not even mentioning the potential conflict and expense you’re leaving for your surviving family and friends to deal with.
So if you’re childless, consider these three inconvenient truths before you decide to forego estate planning.
Someone will get your stuff
Whether you’re rich, poor, or somewhere in between, in the event of your death everything you own will be passed on to someone. Without a will or trust, your assets will go through probate, where a judge and state law will decide who gets everything you own. In the event no family steps forward, your assets will become property of your state government.
Why give the state everything you worked your life to build? And even if you have little financial wealth, you undoubtedly own a few sentimental items, including pets, that you’d like to pass to a close friend or favorite charity.
However, it’s rare for someone to die without any family members stepping forward. It’s far more likely that some relative you haven’t spoken with in years will come out of the woodwork to stake a claim. Without a will or trust, state laws establish which family member has the priority inheritance. If you’re unmarried with no children, this hierarchy typically puts parents first, then siblings, then more distant relatives like nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, and cousins.
Depending on your family, this could have a potentially dangerous—even deadly—outcome. For instance, what if your closest living relative is your estranged brother with serious addiction issues? Or what if your assets are passed on to a niece who’s still a child and likely to squander the inheritance?
And if your estate does contain significant wealth and assets, this could lead to a costly and contentious court battle, with all of your relatives hiring expensive lawyers to fight over your estate—which is exactly what’s happening with Prince’s family right now.
Finally, even if you have a spouse and your assets are passed to him or her, there’s no guarantee they’ll live much longer than you. In the event of their death without a will or a trust, everything goes to his or her family, regardless of the fact that you can’t stand your in-laws.
You really don’t want your spouse’s sister, brother, parents (or the new spouse he or she marries after you die) inheriting what you’ve worked so hard for, do you?
Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the value of estate planning for those without children: how you could be leaving YOURself at risk.
Today, we live in an uber-connected world, where nearly every type of financial transaction—shopping, banking, investment management—can be made online using a computer or mobile device.
In light of this, it’s critically important to have the appropriate safeguards in place to reduce the risk of fraud and identity theft, especially for your senior parents. Because your parents are probably not as savvy about digital technology and may be losing some of their powers of discernment as they age, it’s quite likely up to you to help them protect themselves—and ultimately your inheritance.
Along with traditional estate planning strategies to ensure you’re parents’ planning is handled in the event of their incapacity or death, you should take the following four precautions to ensure the safety of their identity and finances while they’re still alive and well.
1) Secure their computer: Your first step should be to make sure all computers they use are protected by robust security software bundled with anti-virus, anti-spam, and spyware detection features. Always go with the latest version of software, and make sure it’s configured to provide automatic updates, including security patches.
2) Use strong passwords and PINs: Create strong passwords and PINs that contain numbers, letters, and symbols, and change them regularly (once every six months). Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts—each account should have its own unique password. Never share passwords, don’t store them on a computer, and keep them in a secure location.
Since diligently keeping up with passwords can be a hassle, invest in a password manager, such as LastPass, which generates and stores strong, complicated passwords and can be used to share passwords with you and other family members.
Consider activating 2 Factor Authorization (2FA) on your parents’ accounts by using your cell phone number as the authenticating phone number or even Google Authenticator, and then teach your parents how to use it.
3) Regularly monitor their credit score and reports: Because thieves can use your loved ones’ personal information to set up new credit cards and other accounts, with bills that won’t get mailed to their home, be sure to regularly check their credit score and report for any suspicious activity. We like to use CreditKarma.com or TotalCreditCheck.com.
4) Use their own computer and avoid public wireless: Because public computers can be rigged to capture passwords and other personal data, seniors should always use their own computer or device to make financial transactions.
Even using one’s own computer can be risky if it’s done on a public wi-fi network, as found in airports, hotels, and restaurants. Many public wireless hotspots reduce their security settings, so people can more easily access and use these networks, which makes it easier to intercept personal information.
While taking these precautions is vital, it’s only the first step to ensure your elderly parents’ financial resources are protected. Consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to develop comprehensive estate planning strategies to safeguard not only their finances, but all of their tangible and intangible assets—as well as your own.
Last week, we shared the first part of our series on selecting and naming the right guardians for your children. If you haven’t read it yet, you can do so here. Here in part two, we discuss the final three steps in the process.
Read Part 1 here.
4. Narrow candidate list, and rank your choices
When you’ve come up with all of the potential candidates for guardian, narrow down the list to your top five people. There’s no guarantee that your ideal candidate(s) will be willing to serve as guardian, so having more than one or two is a practical necessity.
To aid in this process, you should consider things, such as who really loves your children and who do your kids really get along with? Will this person be physically, mentally, and emotionally able to raise your kids to adulthood? The most important thing is to choose SOMEONE, even if you aren’t 100% sure about them, since you can always select a new guardian later.
Then rank your choices from top choice down to last. Again, backups are critical in case your first choice cannot serve.
5. Sit down with top candidates and discuss what’s involved
When it comes to asking someone to be your child’s guardian, you need to provide crystal-clear guidance about what’s involved. The discussion should cover all of your expectations about how you want your kids raised. Speak openly about finances, discipline, education, spirituality, and any needs that are unique to your children.
Once the discussion is complete, give them a few days to carefully consider the choice, even if they seem immediately gung-ho about doing it. Depending on the age of your kids, this could be a more than decade-long commitment. If they don’t carefully think it over, the responsibility can easily turn into resentment.
6. Legally document your plan
It’s essential to legally document your choice as soon as possible. Verbal commitments mean nothing in the eyes of the law. This is especially true when you name a friend over a family member.
For a quick and easy way to legally document your plan, visit our free website shown below. The entire process takes only 15-20 minutes, so you can immediately get this urgent matter taken care of.
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After you’ve used our website to name your legal guardians, you can then work with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to create a more comprehensive plan that includes all of the necessary legal documents to ensure the well-being of your children and the assets you’re leaving behind, no matter what happens.
With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, you’ll have a trusted advisor who can help you navigate all of the legal, insurance, financial, and tax issues involved with estate planning. Indeed, we can put a plan in place that not only protects and provides for your children, but your entire family.
Whether you consider yourself wealthy or not, you need to think about how (and when) you’ll talk with your children about money, whether they’re little kids, tweens, teens, or already adults.
The Wall Street Journal article “The Best Way for Wealthy Parents to Talk to Children About Family Money” offers guidelines for how and when “the money talk” should take place. Based on interviews with multiple financial experts, the article suggests these discussions should happen in three stages during the child’s lifetime.
Here, we’re showing you how each of these three stages apply to your family wealth as a whole, regardless of how much—or how little—money you have at the moment:
Tweens and teens
The tween years (ages 10-12) are a good time to start talking with your children about your family wealth. At this age, the discussion should be aimed at letting your children know that family wealth is not just the amount of money that your family has, but involves all of the family resources.
Time, energy, attention, and money (TEAM) are the resources that make up your family wealth. With this in mind, use one day over a coming weekend to create a Family Wealth Inventory with your tween or teen children. Inventory all of the family’s TEAM resources, along with other intangibles, such as values, insights, as well as stories and experiences you want considered as part of the Family Wealth bank.
This is an ideal time to tell them the family story, talking about how you and their other relatives worked your way to the family wealth you have now, how decisions have been made from one generation to the next regarding family wealth, and how you hope decisions will be made in the future.
Around ages 10 to 12, you can also start talking to your children about the fact that one day you won’t be here, your intentions surrounding what you plan to pass on to them (beyond just money) and how you plan to pass it on, as well as what they choose to do with the inheritance they’re receiving.
Again, the inheritance they’re receiving is not just the money you’re leaving—it also involves your family genetics, epigenetics, values, ancestry, connections, knowledge, and much more.
In their 20s
If you haven’t yet begun talking to your children about your family wealth, you should start now. And if you’ve already begun the conversations, make sure to continue talking to them during this important stage of their life.
Once they’ve moved out of the home, they need to begin thinking about their own family wealth, including setting up their own legal documents, so if something happens to them, you won’t get stuck in court or conflict. They also need to know whether you plan to offer them financial assistance during their lifetime, along with what the parameters of this assistance are and why you’ve set things up this way.
Additionally, this is an ideal time to start discussing your own plans for retirement and whether or not you’ll need any financial support from them later on in their life.
If you haven’t already shared your estate plan with your children—including where to find it, why you’ve made the decisions you’ve made, and introduced them to your family lawyer—this is the time to do that as well.
In their 30s and 40s
By their 30s, your children should be ready to be fully involved in your family wealth. This would be the perfect time to have a family meeting facilitated by us, if you haven’t done so already.
You can kick-start the talk by reading from a letter you’ve written that outlines the hopes you have for your family wealth, both now and in the future. Since you’ll likely be nearing or in retirement at this stage, it’s important that you eventually discuss the actual value of the family’s wealth and detail your wishes about passing it on. At this age, you never know how much time you have left to prepare your children to effectively manage the money you’ve spent your entire life accumulating.
By now, you definitely want your children to know if they should plan to provide financial support for you. At the same time, you may want to start looking at how you can pass on what you do have during your lifetime, instead of waiting until death, so you can invest in creating more family wealth with your children together.
With high school graduation coming up, many parents will soon watch their children become adults (at least in the eyes of the law) and leave home to pursue their education and career goals.
Turning 18, graduating high school, and moving out is a huge accomplishment. And it also comes with some serious responsibilities that probably aren’t at the forefront of their (or your) mind right now. Once your children become legal adults, many areas that were once under your control are now solely up to them.
Here’s the big one: Before they turned 18, you had access to their financial accounts and had the power to make all of their healthcare decisions. After they turn 18, however, you’re no longer able to do either.
Before your kids head out into the world, you should discuss and have them sign the following estate planning documents, so if they become incapacitated, you can easily access their medical records and financial accounts without having to go to court. Signing these documents will ensure that if they ever do need your help and guidance, you’ll have the legal authority to easily provide it.
Advance Health Care Directive
An Advance Health Care Directive allows your child to name an agent (like you), who has the power to make healthcare decisions for them if they’re incapacitated and cannot make such decisions for themselves. For example, this authority allows you to make medical decisions if your child is knocked unconscious in a car accident or falls into a coma due to an illness.
An Advance Health Care Directive also details how they want medical decisions made for them, not just who makes them. Your child may have certain wishes for their end-of-life care, so it’s important you discuss these decisions with them and have such provisions documented. For example, an Advance Health Care Directive allows the child to decide when and if they want life support removed if they ever require it. (Other states call this a “Living Will”) Since these are literally life-or-death decisions, you should document them in an Advance Health Care Directive to ensure they’re properly carried out.
That said, while an Advance Health Care Directive would give you authority to view your child’s medical records and make treatment decisions, that authority may only goes into effect if the child becomes incapacitated. This means that unless your child is incapacitated, you do not have the authority to view their medical records, which are considered private under HIPAA.
Passed in 1996, the “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act,” or HIPPA, requires health care providers and insurance companies to protect the privacy of a patient’s health records. Once your child becomes 18, no one—even parents—is legally authorized to access his or her medical records without prior written permission.
But this is easily remedied by having your child sign a HIPPA authorization that grants you the authority to access his or her medical records. This can be critical if you ever need to make informed decisions about your child’s medical care.
Durable Power of Attorney
In the event your child becomes incapacitated, you’ll also need a durable power of attorney to access his or her financial accounts. You’ll also need it to manage your child’s health care plan. I recently talked to a family whose 26 year old son was in a bad motorcycle accident. He was between jobs, no medical insurance, and too old to be on his parent’s plan. All his parents wanted to do was get him on a good insurance plan right away, but without a Durable Power of Attorney, they were reduced to looking at filing a conservatorship action, a lengthy and expensive process.
While medical power of attorney will authorize you to make healthcare-related decisions on their behalf, durable power of attorney will give you the authority to manage their financial and legal matters, such as paying bills, applying for Social Security benefits, and/or managing banking and other financial accounts.
If your child is getting ready to leave the nest to attend college or pursue some other life goal, you can trust us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to help your child articulate and legally protect their healthcare and end-of-life wishes. With us in your corner, you’ll have peace of mind that your child will be well taken care of in the event of an unforeseen accident or illness.