Seasons of Change
Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all. ~ Stanley Horowitz
Spring into AdulthoodIn the context of Life & Estate Planning, spring begins on your 18th birthday, when you become legally responsible for your own personal, health care and financial decisions.
Unless you give your parents, or other trusted adults, proper legal authority in advance, they cannot make your personal, health care or financial decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated due to an injury or an illness. For example, they would not be able to select a rehabilitation setting for you, have access to your medical records, represent your interests regarding the course of your treatment or even file your income tax return. The failure to make proper legal plans in advance could force you and your loved ones into the Incapacity Probate process by default, because these decisions must be made even if you are unable to make them yourself. Making proper legal plans now could avoid creating potential problems for your loved ones later.
Summer RomanceAs you grow older, you may get married. It has been said that a marriage may be made in Heaven, but the maintenance must be done on Earth. As part of your marital maintenance, you should review and update your Life & Estate Plan. For instance, your legal plans should be updated to appoint your spouse as the primary decision-maker for personal, health care and financial decisions. In addition, ensure that your separate and mutual assets would be distributed as desired should either spouse predecease, or in the event of your simultaneous deaths.
If you have children, make sure your legal plans are updated to appoint back-up parents should your minor children be left without parents.
Fall HarvestMany people find that as their estate grew through the springs and summers of life, more advanced estate planning is now in order. You may consider ways to protect your assets with insurance, trusts or other legal strategies. At the very least, now that your children are adults, you will need to update your plans and may include them as back-up decision-makers for financial and/or health care matters. Consider creating Long-Term Discretionary Trusts for your adult children to protect their inheritance from squandering, divorces, lawsuits or bankruptcies.
If a family business is a major asset in your estate, preserve both the business and your family relationships with proper business succession planning.
Through advanced legal planning, you can even disinherit the IRS and leave more wealth to your descendants by maximizing the Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax Exemption.
Old Man WinterWe all face the challenges of aging in the winter of our lives. If you have not already done so, make, review or update plans for your own care – from advance directives specifying your medical decision-makers and the type of medical care you would want to how best to pay for long-term nursing care.
A Time for Every PurposeEven if you have answered these fundamental questions through proper estate planning, it is essential to review your plans periodically, because – as you can see – they may change with the seasons.
Choosing someone to care for your children is difficult. In fact, for many parents, it is the hardest part of the estate planning process.
Separate ChallengesIf you are separated or divorced, the surviving biological parent of your minor children will continue to be their legal guardian, absent a court-proven case of unfitness. What happens if divorced parents name different guardians in their Wills? Most states specifically provide that the Will of the last parent to die controls.
Guardianship GuidanceIt also may surprise you to learn your guardianship appointment is not necessarily binding. About half of the states require court appointment and approval of a guardian. In these “court-appointment states” the court is typically required to give “due regard” to your Will, but also may consider other factors, such as potential conflicts of interest.
Nonetheless, parents of minor children will want to make prudent choices regarding guardianship should those children become orphaned. While every family situation is different, here are some general pointers for your consideration when selecting guardians for your minor children:
Inheritance ManagersIn addition to guardians who will care for your children, you also may want to appoint an “inheritance manager” to manage and look after the money. If you don’t make a separate appointment, a court would likely appoint the guardian to serve as the inheritance manager, too. Very few divorced parents want their ex-spouses to manage the inheritance left to their minor children. Common candidates for this role include trusted family members or friends, professional inheritance managers (i.e., trust companies) or combinations of the two.
Practically speaking, you have three options.
Option #1: Appoint trusted family members or friends.
Option #2: Appoint a professional fiduciary, such as an institution (e.g., a corporate personal representative/trustee).
Option #3: Combine Options #1 and #2. In other words, your family member or trusted friend works in concert with a professional fiduciary, providing personal guidance while the professional fiduciary shoulders the management of investments, accounting and tax details.
This publication does not constitute legal, accounting or other professional advice. Although it is intended to be accurate, neither the publisher nor any other party assumes liability for loss or damage due to reliance on this material.
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