Downs Law Firm, P.C.

Mother with her special needs daughter at the park

How to not pick a guardian

Waiting for the perfect answer often leads to no answer at all Picking a Guardian for your children is no picnic. I am an estate planning attorney and have three children. They are now thankfully adults, and I am very proud of them. I am also one of eight children. My wife is one of 10 children.  When our children were young, we had a great deal of difficulty trying to figure out who would be the best choice for guardian if we both died. We had many candidates to choose from in our siblings alone. In my 36 years of advising young parents on this topic, I find it is often an emotionally charged “Bone of contention.” I carried a draft will in my briefcase for longer than I care to admit because we could not resolve this problem. Every time the topic came up it was an unpleasant conversation, one that was best left unresolved. That is a good way to not pick a guardian: Avoid the touchy subject altogether. Eventually, we finally figured out that although we couldn’t agree on who should be named the guardian, we could easily agree on who shouldn’t be, which left a short list. I find that this is almost always the case. A couple may not agree on who should be first and who should be second as guardian, but they can usually agree on who should be on the list and who shouldn’t. Making sure that the right people only are involved in the conversation is an important parental act. Imagine for a moment that you have died, and are now a spirit in the room, watching all the people who think that they are supposed to be guardian vying to be appointed. Exactly how would that go? Wouldn’t it be better to have only the people on the short list be in the conversation? We were able to compromise once we got there. It also often helpful to have a third party, such as an estate planning attorney, put in their two cents. Complex issues of ego and family pride that burden the parents are not baggage of the lawyer, at least not for your family. What if your child was at school and needed a ride home, but neither parent was available? Having no one handle the pick up would not seem a viable option, right? What if you were never going to be there? You need an answer to the critical question of “Who raises your child?”: it’s a paramount parental duty. An imperfect plan would be far better than none at all. Waiting for an answer to arrive which “rings true” is another problem. The only answer that rings true is that you are there to see your child grow to adulthood, as I have had the good fortune to experience. Anything short of that won’t seem right. Deciding is great, but not enough. Reducing your choice of a guardian to writing in your Last Will

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Estate Plan

An Estate Plan Really Needs to Be Correctly and Available

The legal issues that may surround a health problem, can go from bad to worse if you are not protected by legal documents expressing your wishes, according to the New Jersey Herald in “The importance of putting plans in writing.” The message hits home especially hard, recently with two different instances. First, a Father wanted is child to receive a house and did his own invalid “amendment” to his will. In a second instance, a person wanted is caretaker to receive assets and expressed that through an unsigned email. Lack of legal documents at these times has made difficult situations even worse. Although discussing concepts like end-of-life care can be challenging, all adults do need to have specific plans in place, even if their estate plan is basic: a last will and testament, a living will and a power of attorney. It is never to early to put these documents into place. If you have a college student or other child who is 18 years or older, he or she should at least have a designated power of attorney and a medical directive, in case they are unable to manage their own affairs or make healthcare decisions. Unfortunately, many people still think estate planning is only for wealthy people who want to pay less taxes. Tax planning can help lighten tax liability for some. However, there are far more important reasons to do estate planning. The main reason for estate planning is to set down expectations and wishes, while you are alive and after you pass. An estate planning attorney will help review the benefits of having a power of attorney and a healthcare directive. They can help, if the situation occurs where your loved ones have to make decisions for you. The amount of time, expense and frustration of going through a guardianship process can be avoided, if these items are in place. An estate planning attorney can also help you with completing beneficiary forms for non-probate assets, preparing a funeral plan, planning a personal property memorandum and discussing elder care and planning for incapacity. Making decisions in advance regarding who will care for minor children, if young parents cannot and who will be the person’s executor and handle all the details of their estate, are all necessary. Many couples choose joint ownership and consider that their estate planning. However, that’s not enough. What happens when the last “surviving” joint owner passes? There are many other issues that need to be addressed. An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances. Reference: New Jersey Herald (Aug. 22, 2018) “The importance of putting plans in writing”

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Young Family Estate Plan

Young Family- Consider an Estate Plan

For a young family, when is the right time to put together an estate plan? Right before you die is the correct, but not realistic, answer. Estate planning is especially important for families with young children, and to be updated to pass on assets in later years, according to the Lodi News Sentinel in “Planning for what comes last.” Think of an estate plan as a gift for the next generation, as is making funeral plans in advance. I used to avoid doctor visits, until a friend pointed out, the visit is not just for me, but the whole family. Doing what you should is for them. You can’t assume that your adult children will know what you want for your funeral and you don’t want them to have to make decisions during a time of great sadness. These are gifts, that parents who love their children can give: taking care of the business side of their lives and their deaths, so that a difficult time is manageable. Once you have worked with an estate planning attorney to prepare all the necessary documents and made funeral plans, the next step is to share that information with your heirs. It’s not an easy conversation to have. Most of us tend to keep that side of our lives private from our kids, no matter how old we become. However, sharing this information can keep families from fighting in the future. It is not easy to know how much different members of the family can handle and who can be trusted with what information while you are living. There are times when people who appear completely selfless suddenly become greedy when an inheritance is being probated. It’s hard to anticipate this. However, there are several things that you can do now to make it easier for those you love. Have a will and if appropriate, a trust, created with an estate planning attorney. Don’t neglect a power of attorney for health and for finances. Make funeral plans and tell your family about those plans. Make an end-of-life plan. Don’t leave it to others to make these difficult decisions, if you know what you want to have done. Plan for your pets, in case they outlive you. Protect your digital assets by obtaining the correct information for all your social platforms, so your loved ones are empowered to access and close accounts after your death. An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances. Reference: Lodi News-Sentinel (July 1, 2018) “Planning for what comes last”

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