Your estate plan 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 a way you want, no matter what happens.
At Sky Unlimited Legal Advisory, we are very passionate about planning for the well-being and care of the children you love. Over the years, we have developed an expertise for advance planning for the care of children in the event of the death of one or both parents. Without this advance legal planning, unthinkable events can (and do) take place:
Ø Your children could be placed into the care of the California Department of Social Services ... 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.)
Ø 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!
Ø 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.
Ø A long and nasty custody fight could ensure or there might be a challenge to the guardians you have designated.
Ø Up to 5% of the value of your gross 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.
Ø Unscrupulous people can take advantage of children when they turn 18 and get a check for whatever assets are left.
With advance legal planning, these problems and more can be avoided. A majority of estate planning attorneys do not address these issues. They do not plan from a parent's perspective and they do not have the expertise to do a comprehensive job.
Yes, these occurrences scare us, too! That is why we offer a Kids Protection Plan® with every estate plan we do for families with minor children.
Our Kids Protection Plan® includes a specific set of instructions, legal documents, and an ID card for your wallet. If you are in an accident, your Kids Protection Plan will help to make sure your children are never taken into the custody of Child Protective Services or anyone else you would not want. These clear instructions inform the Police and ensure your children will be raised by people you have selected.
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And as this ugly drama plays out in the courtroom and tabloids, it highlights the single-most costly estate-planning mistake a parent can make.
Hussle, 34, whose given name was Ermias Ashgedom, was gunned down outside his South Los Angeles clothing store in March. His alleged killer, Eric Holder, was arrested and indicted for murder a few days later. The rapper’s death is particularly tragic, as his debut album, Victory Lap, was recently nominated for a Grammy Award.
Yet even more tragic is what’s happening to Hussle’s kids. Because Hussle never named legal guardians, the decision of who will raise his two children—daughter Emani, 10, and son Kross, 2—is now up to the court. And this mistake is already having terrible consequences.
In addition to not naming guardians for his kids, Hussle also failed to create a will, which makes their guardianship even more contentious. Hussle’s estate is estimated to be worth $2 million, and under California law, in the absence of a will, that money is to be split equally between his two kids.
Given that both children are minors, however, they’re ineligible to access their inheritance until they reach the age of majority. This means that whoever ultimately wins guardianship of the children will likely gain control over their money as well.
Caught in the middle
Guardianship of Hussle’s son Kross, while still undecided, is currently not a source of conflict. Kross’s mother is actress Lauren London, who was Hussle’s longtime girlfriend, and Kross had been living with London at the time of his father’s death. She petitioned the court for her son’s guardianship, and there’s little doubt she’ll get it.
Estate planning, in particular, is one arena where these new rights and benefits are readily apparent.
With marriage equality, same-gender couples no longer have to pay exorbitant amounts of money for creative estate-planning work-arounds just to achieve similar protections offered to opposite-gender couples. Yet same-gender couples continue to face unique planning challenges.
Because you may have family members who remain opposed to the validity of your marriage, same-gender couples’ estate plans are often more vulnerable to dispute and even sabotage by unsupportive relatives. This could mean that family members are more likely to contest your wishes, or it might entail custody battles over non-biological children in the event of the biological parent’s death.
Unsupportive family members may even try to block the ability of your spouse to make medical decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated by accident or illness.
While the planning vehicles available to same-gender and opposite-gender married couples are generally the same, there are a few unique considerations those in same-gender marriages ought to be aware of.
Here are three of the most important things to keep in mind.
Because no one knows exactly how long Boomers will live or how much money they’ll spend before they pass on, it’s impossible to accurately predict just how much wealth will be transferred. But studies suggest it’s somewhere between $30 and $50 trillion. Yes, that’s “trillion” with a “T.”
A blessing or a curse?
And while most are talking about the benefits this asset transfer might have for younger generations and the economy, few are talking about its potential negative ramifications. Yet there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that many people, especially younger generations, are woefully unprepared to handle such an inheritance.
Indeed, an Ohio State University study found that one third of people who received an inheritance had negative savings within two years of getting the money. Another study by The Williams Group found that intergenerational wealth transfers often become a source of tension and dispute among family members, and 70% of such transfers fail by the time they reach the second generation.
Whether you will be inheriting or passing on this wealth, it’s crucial to have a plan in place to reduce the potentially calamitous effects such transfers can lead to. Without proper estate planning, the money and other assets that get passed on can easily become more of a curse than a blessing.
There are several proactive measures you can take to help stave off the risks posed by the big wealth transfer. Beyond having a comprehensive estate plan, openly discussing your values and legacy
with your loved ones can be a key way to ensure your planning strategies work exactly as you intended.
This is the fourth in an ongoing series of articles discussing the true costs and consequences of failed estate planning. The series highlights a few of the most common—and costly—planning mistakes we encounter with clients. If the series exposes any potential gaps or weak spots in your plan, meet with us, your neighborhood Family Startup Lawyer™, to learn how to do the right thing for the people you love.
You may shop around and find a lawyer to create planning documents for you, or you might try creating your own DIY plan using online documents. Then, you’ll put those documents into a drawer, mentally check estate planning off your to-do list, and forget about them.
The problem is, your estate plan is not a one-and-done type of deal.
In fact, if it’s not regularly updated when your assets, family situation, and/or the laws change, your plan will be totally worthless when your family needs it. What’s more, failing to regularly update your plan can create its own unique set of problems that can leave your family worse off than if you’d never created a plan at all.
The following true story illustrates the consequences of not updating your plan, and it happened to the founder and CEO of New Law Business Model, Alexis Neely. Indeed, this experience was one of the leading catalysts for her to create the new, family-centered model of estate planning we use with all of our clients.
The father-in-law story
When Alexis was in law school, her father-in-law died. He’d done his estate planning—or at least thought he had. He paid a Florida law firm roughly $3000 to prepare an estate plan for him, so his family wouldn’t be stuck dealing with the hassles and expense of probate court or drawn into needless conflict with his ex-wife.
And yet, after his death, that’s exactly what did happen. His family was forced to go to court in order to claim assets that were supposed to pass directly to them. And on top of that, they had to deal with his ex-wife and her attorneys in the process.
Alexis couldn’t understand it. If her father-in-law paid $3,000 for an estate plan, why were his loved ones dealing with the court and his ex-wife? It turned out that not only had his
planning documents not been updated, but his assets were not even properly titled.
One crucial part of estate planning that frequently gets overlooked is ensuring your loved ones can easily locate all of your planning documents and other key assets upon your death or incapacity. One simple way to handle this important task is to create a “When I Die” file. According to A Beginner's Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death, this is a “findable file, binder, cloud-based drive, or even a shoebox where you store estate documents and meaningful personal effects.”
This new book, authored by Shoshana Berger and BJ Miller, was recently excerpted in TIME magazine, and the excerpt discussed the importance of creating such a file in order to “save your loved ones incalculable time, money, and suffering” upon your death.
We agree with Berger and Miller, and would add that this file is every bit as important in the event of your potential incapacity, not just your death—and perhaps even more so. We also offer some additional guidance here about how to ensure your “When I Die” file provides maximum efficiency and effectiveness for the people you love.
Death can be a logistical nightmare
Following the death of her elderly father, Berger learned first-hand how agonizing it can be to not have a “When I Die” file. Though her father made his will and trust easily accessible, Berger and her sister spent nearly two years tracking down his other planning documents, assets, and finalizing his affairs.
Beger recalls “sleuthing through his file cabinet and mail and requesting what seemed like a mountain of duplicate death certificates to prove to various companies that he had actually died.”