When a Will Is Not Enough: Essential Legal Planning for Busy Parents

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Do you know what would happen to your children if something happened to you? The sad truth is, having a Will simply is not enough. It doesn’t guarantee the care of your children if the unthinkable happens!

As a parent, your estate plan must be different than the typical plan. It must safeguard your children, who are counting on you to ensure that they will always be taken care of by the people you want, in the way you want, no matter what happens.

Without this advance legal planning, unthinkable events can (and do) take place:

  • Your children could be placed into the care of the Department of Children and Families … even if you have a will in place … and even if you have a living trust. (Likely this circumstance would be temporary, but you never want your children in the care of strangers – not even for a minute.)
  • Your children could be put into the custody and care of someone you would never choose, like the one family member who may have good intentions, but you don’t want raising your kids!
  • A Judge, who doesn’t know you or your family, will decide who will raise your kids, even if it is the last person you would ever want.
  • A long and nasty custody fight could ensue or there might be a challenge to the guardians you have designated.
  • Up to 5% of the value of your assets could be lost to court costs and other unnecessary fees through the probate process that can tie up your assets for years and deprive your kids of the resources they need.
  • Unscrupulous people can take advantage of children when they turn 18 and get a check for whatever assets are left.

But, the GREAT NEWS is, with advance legal planning, these problems and more CAN BE AVOIDED.  Most estate planning attorneys do not address these issues that are important to parents.  It’s not malicious; they just do not plan from a parent’s perspective and they do not have the expertise to do a comprehensive job. As a parent, you want to make sure that your children are well cared for, even after you are no longer here. That’s why it is so important for you to have 5 important documents in place for the protection and well-being of your family.

  1. Kids Protection Plan – Names long term guardians (the people who will raise, love and care for your kids until they are adults) and short term guardians (also known as First Responders, the friends and neighbors close to your home who can stay with your kids until your long-term guardians arrive) for your kids. Make sure you carry a Family Emergency ID Card in your purse or wallet that lists the names and telephone numbers of your First Responders. Whether you have $5 or $50 million, a Kids Protection Plan is critical if you have kids at home under the age of 18.
  2. Will – Names long term guardians and details how and to whom you want your money and property distributed. All wills must be filed and approved by the Probate Court and become public documents.
  3. Living Trust – If you own a house or have more than $25,000 in the bank or investments, life insurance or retirement accounts, you want to have a living trust in addition to your will. A living trust keeps all your assets private and makes it as easy as possible for your family to manage things after you’re gone. You can also set up your living trust to minimize state and federal estate taxes, and protect your kids’ inheritance from being lost to divorce, creditors and lawsuits.
  4. Health Care Proxy – Name the people (Agents) you want to make health care decisions for you if you become incapacitated and cannot make decisions for yourself. Make sure that your Health Care Proxy has language that authorizes your agents to obtain full access to your medical records.
  5. Durable Power of Attorney – Name the people (Agents) you want to make legal and financial decisions for you if you become incapacitated and cannot make decisions for yourself.

If you have kids over the age of 18, it is important to know that you no longer have the right to make health care, legal or financial decisions for them. Therefore, it is critical for each of your adult children to have Health Care Proxies and Durable Powers of Attorney in place.

To your family’s health, wealth, and happiness!

David Feakes is the owner of The Parents Estate Planning Law Firm, PC – a law firm for families in the Acton, Massachusetts area. David helps parents protect the people they love the most. If you would like to receive David’s exclusive, “Kids Protection Planning Guide” you can get it right here.  

He recently held an online Kids Protection Planning class for Mommybites readers to address these and other truths about estate planning for parents. During the class, he discussed the unique facets of estate planning for parents with young children, and how to plan to ensure that all your assets (including the most precious thing in your life—your children!) are protected- no matter what- if the absolutely unthinkable happens to you.

In case you missed it, you’ll find the class re-play here

For more information about The Parents Estate Planning Law Firm visit on the web at www.parentsestateplanning.com. Or, call at (978) 263-6900 and ask for Paula. She’ll able to answer your questions.

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