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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

How To Name Legal Guardians For Kids

For parents, naming a legal guardian for your children can be the hardest estate planning decision to make. The guardian is the person that will raise your child(ren) if mom and dad both pass away or are incapacitated.

In her article “Choosing Legal Guardians for Your Children? A Mother’s Thoughts,” Maran Hanley says that many of the families she interviewed were having trouble selecting a guardian due to emotional reasons, including “guilt, fear, and the unknown.” 

Maran points out that naming a guardian is often a sticking point for parents. While some people are fortunate enough to have a good number of family members or friends to choose from, other people do not have that advantage.

According to her,
"One young family struggled selecting a guardian because neither parent had a sibling qualified for the responsibility of raising their children: one with serious medical struggles, and another with Autism Spectrum Disorder."
But guess what? That family still chose a legal guardian. They chose the kids’ maternal grandmother, “due to her familiarity with and love for the children,” as stated in the article.

Here we see the importance of deciding to select a legal guardian despite a setback. If you have a challenge of this kind also, you should not let that stop you from naming a guardian. This is because if you do not name a guardian for your child, the court will have to make a decision for you...and the judge does not know anything about who you may or may not have wanted to choose!

What about naming a guardian that has their own children? The article mentioned that some parents worry that the guardian may “prioritize a natural loyalty to their own kids” or take a different parenting style with your children (more strict or more lax). 

Yet as Maran said so herself,

And you, as a parent, have to make that choice.

Maran disclosed how her family went about their selection process for a guardian:

  1. My husband and I came to a consensus about our most important family values.
  2. We listed all possible candidates from the pool of family and friends.
  3. We discussed each candidate relative to our family values and made the best decision we could with the information available and the beliefs we hold important.
She also shared other ideas that have helped other couples: spreadsheets, lists, discussions, surveys, understanding emotional block, and connecting with friends, among others. You can follow what Maran and her husband did, try these others things and find what works for you.

When you’ve tried everything and still have a very hard time deciding, let me tell you what I said a few years back on my blog “What To Do If You Can't Decide Who To Name As Guardians For Your Kids”:

If you don't decide, a Judge will.

Even your worst choice would be better than that, right?

So go on and make that choice.

Here’s another important thing other couples might overlook--Your role does not end on just choosing the legal guardian. You have to formalize your decision.

Your choice of guardian and other specific wishes regarding the care that your children would get after you are gone would be good as nothing when you don’t put it in legal writing. Talk to your lawyer and legally document that decision.

For even more, like why you should name short-term emergency guardians for children, click the link!

Golowin Legal works with many parents of young children. As part of the estate planning process, we ensure that parents have named emergency and permanent guardians for minor children. Call us today at (614) 453-5208 to schedule an meeting. Visit our website for more information on Estate Planning for Parents in Columbus, Ohio.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Danger Of Do-It-Yourself Wills

The internet is a wonderful information sharing tool. The ability to easily research nearly any topic enabled me to fix my dishwasher and make other repairs that I would not have known how to do without the internet. Unfortunately, this access to information promotes people people falling into the trap of thinking it is simple to create vital estate planning documents themselves.

A great example of a document that seems simple to create is a Will. Recently I posted about the importance and urgency of getting a will, but a Do-It-Yourself Will (DIY) is not the way to go in all but the most simple situations. Even then, I urge you to think twice.

You might think you can never go wrong if you just strictly follow an online format or an example of a will from the internet, but many people have tried going this path and ended up risking their assets and dragging their family into a winding legal battle.

If you are thinking about what the dangers of DIY wills could be, here are a few real life examples. Author Deborah Jacobs called them “DIY horror stories” in her article The Case Against Do-It-Yourself Wills:

#1 Charles Kuralt, the CBS News correspondent and anchor

“Several weeks before he died in 1997, he penned a note to Patricia Elizabeth Shannon, his mistress for 29 years, promising to leave her 90 acres and a renovated schoolhouse near the Montana fishing retreat where they spent time together.

After Kuralt’s death, his family and Shannon spent six years in court fighting over whether this note was a valid amendment to the 1994 will that a lawyer had prepared, or simply a promise to revise the document–a promise that Kuralt never carried out. Without ruling on this issue, a Montana court awarded Shannon the $600,000 property but stuck Kuralt’s family with all the estate taxes.”

#2 Wealthy Texan

“A wealthy Texan who tried to save a few bucks wound up forfeiting his $3.5 million federal estate tax exemption. Using a form he copied from a library book, this guy cobbled together a will, leaving everything–a cool $7 million–to his wife. There was no estate tax due at that point because assets left to a citizen spouse (or to charity) generally aren’t subject to the tax. But anything left when she died, less her own exemption amount, could be taxable as part of her estate.

To fix the problem after the husband died, William Wollard, a lawyer with his own practice in McKinney, Texas, recommended the wife disclaim (or turn down) the entire $3.5 million exemption amount, allowing it to pass under state law, estate-tax free to the couple’s three adult sons. The assets she chose to disclaim were most of the ranch land the couple owned, and a large sum of cash.”

#3 Father Estranged From His Son

“Dad bought DIY will software from a big-box store and, following the prompts, listed his assets, but omitted some important ones: small numbers of shares of various phone company stocks that he had bought many years earlier. Those shares, which probably once seemed like tiddlywinks, had burgeoned in value because of mergers and stock splits and were worth more than $1.5 million, comprising most of Dad’s estate, by the time he died.

Unfortunately, the DIY will did not include what’s called a residuary clause–indicating how to distribute what is left after estate expenses, creditors and taxes have been paid and gifts of specific items or sums of money have been satisfied. So guess what happened? The stocks passed according to the law of intestacy, and the son, who the father wanted to disinherit, walked away with almost $400,000. To make matters worse, he had a substance abuse problem and blew through the money in less than a year."

I could go on with many more examples, but the point is that a DIY will is often a disaster waiting to happen. An online DIY will package or a library template cannot and will never be able to properly replace having an experienced legal expert to set up your will and other critical estate planning documents.

If the people in the stories above had only hired a lawyer, they could have had better estate planning that would have honored their wishes and made it easier to their family and loved ones.

Should having a DIY will ever cross your mind, remember that Timothy E. Kalamaros, a lawyer with his own practice in South Bend, Ind. Compared DIY wills to “pulling your own tooth with a pair of pliers instead of going to the dentist.” Yikes!

Golowin Legal, LLC helps create Wills and comprehensive Estate Plans in Columbus, Dublin, Upper Arlington, Hilliard and the central Ohio area. If you or a loved one needs assistance in setting up will or trust, call us at (614) 453 5208 today. Visit our website for more information on Wills and Estate Planning Documents.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

There Is More To Estate Planning Than A Will

While having a will is key in estate planning, people often make the mistake of thinking that its the only estate planning document they need.

A Forbes article, The Biggest Estate Planning Mistake People Make points out that a “will has little or nothing to do with you, It’s all about planning for someone else.” 

            So, what is estate planning?        

To guarantee that you are well-covered legally, financially and medically even when you are debilitated and cannot decide for yourself, make sure to complete the following five documents in your estate plan: 

Also known as Health Care Power of Attorney or Medical Power of Attorney, the Advanced Health Care Directive is one of the two legal documents every adult needs. This document assures you that your chosen and trusted health care agent will be able to make health care decisions for you when you are unable to do so for yourself. 

Living Will contains your instructions on what actions should be taken if you are permanently unconscious or terminally ill. A Living Will is often signed by persons who do not want the burden of deciding whether to remove life support to be placed on the shoulders of a loved one.

A Durable Power of Attorney (often called a Financial Power of Attorney), on the other hand, will cover other practical and financial obligations you are incapable of handling. Again, your chosen and trusted agent will make decisions and do thing on your behalf, which includes but are not limited to: payment of bills, taking care of investments and overall financial management. 

A Revocable Living Trust “acts like a super power of attorney,” according to Brad Wiewel. It reduces the possibility of having problems with financial institutions accepting your Durable Power of Attorney and gives you many other benefits. One main advantage of having a revocable living trust is that assets transferred to the trust avoid probate at death, which keeps details of your estate private and often reduces the cost and time of administration after your death.

If you are a long-time reader of my blogs, you might remember me enumerating the benefits of a revocable living trust when I discussed the flexibility of living trusts.

You must take note though, that even with a living trust, you will still need a Durable Power of Attorney “to identify the person you want to manage your retirement accounts, like your 401(k) and your IRAs,” according to the Forbes article.

A HIPAA Medical Authorization ensures that the people you name are legally entitled to obtain your protected health information. In other words, it allows your loved ones to be informed of your condition if you have a medical emergency or condition that prevents you from communicating with them directly.

If you want want to donate your organs when you die, you need to complete an Organ Donor Registry form. You should also notify the BMV when renewing your driver's license and inform your health care agent. To join the organ donor registry, visit Donate Life Ohio.

Ready to get your estate planning taken care of? Call me at 614.453.5208 to set up a free 1-hour initial consultation.

Russell C. Golowin helps clients create wills, trusts powers of attorney, HIPAA Medical Authorizations and other estate planning documents in the central Ohio area. Visit his website for more information on estate planning in Columbus, Ohio.