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.
A last will and testament is the most commonly thought of document when it comes to an estate plan. But, really, it’s a very small part of an integrated plan that ensures your family stays out of Court and out of conflict when something happens to you.
Don’t think you can just write your own Will and that will help your family. Instead, consider the reality that trying to do so could actually create far more trouble for them down the road. They need you to get professional support from someone who can help you look at what you own, who you love, what would happen to you, what you own, and everyone you love, if and when something happens to you.
Death is unavoidable. And incapacity may happen before that. Facing these matters head-on leads you (and your loved ones) to having the best life possible. Otherwise, it’s the people you love who get stuck with everything you weren’t willing to take care of now.
Unfortunately, if you go it alone, you may miss important facets of what happens in the event of your incapacity or death. For example, you may think that a Will is sufficient, when what you really need is a trust to keep your family out of Court.
Or, you may think your kids are adequately protected because you have a Will, but you may really need a full Kids Protection Plan® and without it your kids could end up in the care of strangers, even if just temporarily. Before you do anything, get educated and empowered to do what’s right.
The right plan for you begins with knowing what you have. Then, being clear on what is necessary to keep your family out of court and conflict and keep your assets out of the State Department of Unclaimed Property. If you are ready to write your Will, that’s great. And, come see us first.
The biggest mistake you can make is not facing the reality of death, the second biggest mistake is facing it alone. If you need help getting started, consult with a Personal Family Lawyer®. We’ll help you through the process so you can make sure your loved ones are protected and your wishes are honored.
It’s sad but true that many pets end up in shelters after their owner dies or becomes incapacitated. In fact, the Humane Society estimates that between 100,00 to 500,000 pets are placed in shelters each year for exactly this reason, and a large number of these animals are ultimately euthanized.
Whether we like it or not, the law considers pets to be nothing more than personal property just like cars, furniture, and electronic devices. In light of this cold reality, it’s vital that you provide for your pet’s future care through estate planning, so when you die or if you become incapacitated, your beloved friend won’t wind up in a shelter or worse.
The following tips offer helpful advice to ensure your faithful companion receives the best possible care when you’re no longer able to do it yourself.
Identify a new caregiver for your pet
Selecting a trustworthy caregiver is the first—and most important—step in protecting your pet(s) through estate planning. Many people assume their children, relatives, or friends will be suitable guardians, and these folks may even tell you as much in conversation. But the reality is, properly caring for most pets is a major commitment of time, emotion, and finances.
It’s best to come up with a list of potential candidates, and then have a frank talk with each of them, discussing the extent of care your pet requires and whether they have any personal issues (allergies, housing, other pets) that might prevent them from providing the necessary care.
If you don’t know any suitable caregivers, charitable groups, such as the Safe Haven® Surviving Pet Care Program, can provide for your pet in the event of your death or incapacity.
Get it in writing
Once you’ve chosen a guardian—along with one or two alternates in case something happens to your top choice—outline all of your pet’s care requirements, listing its health issues, dietary concerns, medications, etc. These requirements should be indicated within a properly drafted legal document to ensure that your wishes are properly carried out and enforceable.
As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help you create a legally binding agreement detailing your pet’s specific needs, which can be easily added to your other estate planning documents.
Provide funding for your pet’s continued care
All pets have basic food, shelter, and medical needs, and these needs can be quite expensive, depending on the animal’s age and health. And if you’re like most pet owners, you probably want your pet to receive more than just the bare necessities, so it’s imperative that you leave enough money to cover all such expenses.
Be sure to not only provide clear, detailed instructions on how your pet should be taken care of in your estate plan, but also include the necessary funding to cover these costs. And be sure you think about all of your pet’s future needs, including any extra services—grooming, boarding, and walking services—when calculating these expenses.
Set up a pet trust
Because pet care can be quite complicated and costly, the best way to ensure your wishes are properly carried out is to set up a pet trust.
While it’s possible to leave care instructions and funding for your pet in a will, a will cannot guarantee the new caregiver will use the funds properly or even that they’ll care for your pet at all. Indeed, a person who’s left your pet in a will can simply drop the animal off at a local shelter and keep the money for themselves.
A pet trust, on the other hand, allows you to lay out detailed rules for exactly how the trust’s funds can be used. To ensure your wishes are accurately carried out, you should name someone other than the caregiver as trustee, so this person can manage the funds and make sure they’re only used as spelled out by the rules you’ve created.
While leaving assets in a pet trust is fairly simple, creating a properly drafted trust that includes all of the necessary terms can be quite complex. Given this, you should work with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to be certain that all of the necessary elements are in place to ensure your pet will continue to receive the love and care it deserves if you aren’t around to do it.