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Squabbles Between Alan Thicke’s Heirs Highlight the Importance of Properly Drafted and Updated Estate Planning

In the 1980s, the late actor Alan Thicke played the wise-but-hip father figure and psychiatrist Dr. Jason Seaver in the sitcom Growing Pains. Following Alan’s sudden death in December 2016, with his children and widow battling over his estate, one can only wonder what sage advice Dr. Seaver would have had for Thicke’s heirs.

Alan collapsed and died from a heart attack at age 69, while playing ice hockey with his youngest son, Carter. Unlike some celebrities, he had a fairly comprehensive estate plan. But with three marriages, three sons from two of those unions, and an estate worth an estimated $40 million, the planning is proving insufficient to stave off family feuding.

Stepmom vs. Stepchildren
Specifically, Alan’s two oldest sons—Robin and Brennan—have been fighting his third wife, Tanya Callau Thicke, for almost two years. The first petition filed in California Superior Court in May 2016 by Robin and Brennan—who are co-trustees of their late father’s estate—sought clarification of conflicting terms in Alan’s living trust and a prenuptial agreement he and Tanya signed before getting married in 2005.

At issue was the division of Alan’s $3.5 million ranch in Carpinteria, where he and Tanya lived. The prenup states that Tanya would get 25% of his net estate, including a five-acre parcel of the ranch property. However, the trust—last updated in 2016—doesn’t grant her any ownership of the ranch, only the right to live there provided she pays all the expenses.

Robin and Brennan’s petition alleged that Tanya demanded a larger portion of Alan’s estate than she was allocated in the trust and that she planned to contest the validity of the prenuptial agreement.

Tanya claimed her stepsons’ legal claim was merely aimed at smearing her in the media, and she never had any intention of challenging the prenup. Other reports allege the petition was retaliation for Tanya’s refusal to allow the brothers to convert the ranch into a medical marijuana farm.
In September 2017, a judge rejected the sibling’s petition to block Tanya from challenging the prenup, finding there was no evidence she ever planned to take such action.

A Breach of Duties?
More recently in May 2018, Tanya filed papers accusing Robin and Brennan of violating their fiduciary duties as co-trustees. She claims they’re spending the estate assets recklessly, failing to pay her share of the inheritance, unfairly saddling her with taxes and other expenses that are not her responsibility, and failing to keep her clearly informed about estate proceedings.

One of her specific complaints asserts the brothers refused to reimburse her for a monument she placed at Alan’s gravesite. This claim was exacerbated by reports that the older brother Robin was reimbursed $105,000 for an elaborate memorial party he threw the night before his father’s burial.

Tanya plans to file a lawsuit against the siblings if they don’t meet her demands. And her suit may have merit, as trustees owe a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of beneficiaries and account for all financial transactions related to the trust.

Lessons Learned
Though we’ll have to wait and see how Robin and Brennan react to Tanya’s latest claim and how the court rules, the case highlights several important estate planning issues.

First, second (or more) marriages with children from a prior marriage are always at risk of going down the road of conflict. If you are in such a marriage, it’s critical we plan in advance to ensure the people you love have the best chance of loving each other after your incapacity or death.

Even with a trust in place, it’s vital the document is regularly updated to ensure it’s current and doesn’t conflict with other legal agreements, like the prenup in this case. Please contact us now if your plan has not been reviewed or updated within the past year.

Finally, the case demonstrates that a trust won’t stay private if the heirs have a conflict that results in court proceedings. One of a trust’s key benefits is that it keeps the contents of the estate confidential. But if a dispute ends up in court, the estate documents can be made public, exposing not only your assets, but all your family’s “dirty laundry” as well.


Proper estate planning can keep your family out of conflict, out of court, and out of the public eye. If you’re ready to create a comprehensive estate plan, contact us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to get started. If you already have a plan in place, we can review and update it to avoid similar conflicts.


This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

What You Should Know About Guardianship—In Case A Parent or Loved One Becomes Incapacitated

Whether through illness, injury, or other means, anyone can require a guardian to become appointed if they become mentally incapacitated. In such cases, if there is no estate planning in place (or insufficient planning) to keep family or other loved one’s out of court, a guardianship, or conservatorship as it is sometimes called, must be established via a court process in the county probate court. 

Obtaining guardianship can be an extraordinarily challenging and an expensive process. It begins with filing a petition in court for guardianship and requesting the court declare the incapacitated person incompetent. In some cases, these types of filings are made “ex parte”, or in secret, and a guardianship can be established before family or close friends even know what’s happening. In other cases, such a filing can result in a heated dispute between family members and/or friends, who may claim they’d be better suited for the role. Given this, things can get quite costly very quickly.

Of course, this assumes these matters haven’t already been decided through proper and up-to-date estate planning, including a valid durable power of attorney and advance health care directives, which are the best methods for ensuring this massive responsibility is handled as effectively as possible. Sadly, most people don’t think of the costly possibility of incapacity and therefore leave their families at risk.

If you do have a loved one who needs a guardian, here are some of the things you’ll need to know:

Who can be appointed as guardian?
Unless specified in a valid legal document, any family member or other interested person can petition for guardianship—even a close friend can do it if they prove they’re best suited for the position. That said, most courts give preference to the ward’s spouse or other close family members. In some cases, the guardian is required to post a bond, which typically requires good credit and some level of deposit to be held in the event of the guardian’s wrongdoing. This bond requirement often disqualifies friends and family, who either don’t have good credit or the resources to post a bond.

If a relative or friend is not willing—or capable—of serving, the court will appoint a professional guardian or public guardian. This is one of the ways that an estate can be drained extremely quickly. If you want to hear more about how this can happen, read this terrifying article about the way public and professional guardians are stealing from our elders.
When are guardians appointed?
A guardian will only be appointed if a court determines there is enough evidence to show a person is mentally incapacitated, such that they can no longer make legal, financial, and/or health-care decisions.

What are a guardian’s responsibilities?
Depending on the extent of the ward’s mental capacity, a court-appointed guardian can be given near complete control over a person’s life and finances. Some of the most common duties include:

  • Paying the ward’s bills
  • Determining where they live
  • Monitoring their residence and living conditions
  • Providing consent for medical treatments
  • Deciding how their finances are handled, including how their assets are invested and if any assets should be liquidated
  • Managing real estate and other tangible personal property
  • Keeping detailed records of all their expenditures and other financial transactions
  • Making end-of-life and other palliative-care decisions
  • Reporting to the court about the ward’s status at least annually

 

The extent of duties the guardian is responsible for is up to the court, and the guardian will not be allowed to act in areas the court has not authorized. Moreover, guardians are required to seek the ward’s preferences whenever possible—though ultimately, the decision about what action to take will be in the guardian’s hands.

The court can also divide out responsibilities to multiple parties. For example, one person may oversee the financial decisions, while another handles living arrangements and health-care decisions. What’s more, the court often requires detailed status reports, such as financial accounting, at regular intervals or whenever important decisions are made, such as the sale of assets.

Are guardians compensated?
Yes, guardians are entitled to reasonable compensation for their services based on the ward’s financial ability to pay. The appointed guardian is paid directly from the ward’s estate. In most cases, the compensation must be approved by the court ahead of time, and the guardian must carefully account for all of their services, the time spent on tasks on behalf of the ward, and any associated out-of-pocket expenses.

Given the huge level of responsibility and loss of control that comes with guardianship, the best course of action would be to get proper and updated estate planning in place ahead of time to ensure that if you or anyone you love becomes incapacitated, you can stay out of the court process altogether if possible.

Contact us as your neighborhood Personal Family Lawyer® to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session—first for yourself—and then for the people you love before something happens to make it too late to plan. If it’s already too late and you’re reading this article because you need assistance petitioning a court for guardianship, contact us now to mitigate the risks, hassles, and expense.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Safeguard Your Cryptocurrency Assets With Estate Planning

One of the biggest appeals of cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin, is that it is decentralized, unregulated, and anonymous. There are no financial institutions controlling it, and unless you tell someone you own digital currency, it remains a secret.

When it comes to estate planning, however, that kind of secrecy can be disastrous. In fact, without the appropriate planning protections in place, all your crypto wealth will disappear the moment you die or become incapacitated, leaving your family with absolutely no way to recover it.

Indeed, we’re facing a potential crisis whereby millions—perhaps billions—of dollars’ worth of family wealth could potentially vanish into thin air unless you take action to protect your digital assets with estate planning. Fortunately, putting the appropriate safeguards in place is a fairly simple process for a Personal Family Lawyer® experienced with cryptocurrency.

The first step in securing your crypto assets is to let your heirs know you own it. This can be done by including your digital currency in your net-worth statement listing all your assets and liabilities. Along with the amount of cryptocurrency you own, you should also include detailed instructions about where it’s located and how to find the instructions to access it. But you want those instructions to be kept in an absolutely secure location because anyone who has them can take your cryptocurrency.

Even if your heirs know you own cryptocurrency, they won’t be able to access it unless they know the encrypted passcodes needed to unlock your account. Indeed, there are numerous stories of crypto owners losing their own passcodes and then being so desperate to recover or remember them that they dug through trash cans and even hired hypnotists.

The best way to secure your passcodes is by storing them in a digital wallet. The safest option is a “cold” wallet, or one that is not connected to the internet and thus cannot be hacked. Cold wallets include USB drives as well as “paper” wallets, which are simply the passcodes printed on paper—and ideally stored in a fireproof safe.

But as with the existence of your crypto assets, the only way these wallets are of any use to your heirs is for them to know where they are and how to access them in the event of your incapacity or death. So, make sure these instructions are included in your estate plan and your Personal Family Lawyer® knows about the assets and where to locate the instructions on how to access them.

Just as it would be foolish to store your money in a secret safe and not tell anybody where it is or give them the combination to open it, it’s just as foolhardy not to take the appropriate steps to protect your cryptocurrency through proper estate planning.

Since digital currency is such a recent phenomenon, not all estate planning attorneys are familiar with it, but with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, you can rest assured we have the knowledge and experience to help you safeguard your digital wealth just as effectively as all your other assets.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

I Don’t Have Kids, So Why Do I Need Estate Planning? Part 2

Last week, we shared the first part of our series on the importance of estate planning for those without children. If you haven’t read it yet, you can do so here. Here in part two, we discuss the other risks involved for those who forego estate planning.

Someone will have power over your health care
Estate planning isn’t just about passing on your assets when you die. In fact, some of the most critical  parts of planning have nothing to do with your money at all, but are aimed at protecting you while you’re still very much alive.

Advance planning allows you to name the person you want to make healthcare decisions for you if you’re incapacitated and unable to make decisions yourself.

For example, if you’re temporarily unconscious following a car accident and unable to give doctors permission to perform a potentially risky medical treatment, it’s not always clear who’ll be asked to make that decision for you.

If you have a romantic partner but aren’t married and haven’t granted them medical power of attorney, the court will likely have a family member, not your partner, make that decision. Depending on your family, that person may make decisions contrary to what you or your partner would want.

Indeed, if you don’t want your estranged brother to inherit your property, you probably don’t want him to have the power to make life-and-death decisions about your medical care, either. But that’s exactly what could happen if you don’t proactively plan.

Even worse, your family members who have priority to make decisions for you could keep your dearest friends away from your bedside in the event of your hospitalization or incapacity. Or family members who don’t share your values about the types of food you eat, or the types of medical care you receive, could be the one’s making decisions about how you’ll be cared for.

Even if, or maybe especially if, you don’t have kids, you need to do estate planning in order to name health care decisions-makers for yourself and provide instructions on how you want decisions made.

Someone will get power over your finances

As with health-care decisions, if you become incapacitated and haven’t legally named someone to handle your finances while you’re unable to do so, the court will pick someone for you. The way to avoid this is by naming someone you trust to hold power of attorney for you in the event of your incapacity.

Durable power of attorney is an estate planning tool that gives the person you choose immediate authority to manage your financial matters if you’re incapacitated. This agent will have a broad range of powers to handle things like paying your bills and taxes, running your business, collecting your Social Security benefits, selling your home, as well as managing your banking and investment accounts.

Because these powers are so broad, it’s critical that you only give this power to someone you absolutely trust, and ideally, with the guidance of a lawyer who can watch out for your best interests.

The fact that durable power of attorney is granted as soon as you’re incapacitated means your agent can begin handling your finances immediately, without waiting for a judge’s decision, simply by presenting a legal document and appropriate proof of your incapacity to a financial account holder. Since courts are notoriously slow, this quick access can be immensely beneficial to ensure your bills get paid on time and you have the funds available when you need them.

Without signed durable power of attorney, your family and friends will have to go to court to get access to your finances, which not only takes time, but it could lead to mismanagement and even the loss of your assets should the court grant this authority to the wrong person.

Furthermore, the person you name doesn’t have to be a lawyer or financial professional—it can be anybody you choose, including both family and friends. The most important aspect of your choice is selecting someone who’s imminently trustworthy, since they will have nearly complete control over your estate. Besides, with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, your agent will have access to us as your trusted counsel should they need guidance or help.

Given all these potential risks, it would be foolhardy for those without children to ignore or put off these basic estate-planning strategies. Identifying the right planning tools is easy to do, and begins with a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can consider everything you own and everyone you love, and guide you to make informed, educated, empowered choices for yourself and your loved ones.

It will likely take just a few hours of your time to be certain that both your assets, healthcare, and relationships will be managed in the most effective and affordable manner possible in the event of your death or incapacity.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

I Don’t Have Kids, So Why Do I Need Estate Planning? Part 1

It’s a common misconception to think that if you don’t have children, you don’t need to worry about estate planning. But the fact is, it can be even MORE important to do estate planning if you have no children.

Some of the common thoughts behind this mistaken belief may take one of these forms:

“If I die, everything will pass to my spouse anyway, so why bother?”

“I’m single with little wealth, so who cares who gets my few meager assets?”

“Estate planning is an expensive hassle and it doesn’t even benefit me because I’ll be dead, so I’m better off letting a judge handle things.”

This kind of thinking ignores several basic facts about both estate planning and life in general. Regardless of your marital status, if you don’t have children, you face potential estate-planning complications which those with children do not. And this is true whether you’re wealthy or have very limited assets.

Without proper estate planning, you’re not only jeopardizing your personal property, but you’re putting your life at risk, too. And that’s not even mentioning the potential conflict and expense you’re leaving for your surviving family and friends to deal with.

So if you’re childless, consider these three inconvenient truths before you decide to forego estate planning.

Someone will get your stuff
Whether you’re rich, poor, or somewhere in between, in the event of your death everything you own will be passed on to someone. Without a will or trust, your assets will go through probate, where a judge and state law will decide who gets everything you own. In the event no family steps forward, your assets will become property of your state government.

Why give the state everything you worked your life to build? And even if you have little financial wealth, you undoubtedly own a few sentimental items, including pets, that you’d like to pass to a close friend or favorite charity.

However, it’s rare for someone to die without any family members stepping forward. It’s far more likely that some relative you haven’t spoken with in years will come out of the woodwork to stake a claim. Without a will or trust, state laws establish which family member has the priority inheritance. If you’re unmarried with no children, this hierarchy typically puts parents first, then siblings, then more distant relatives like nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, and cousins.

Depending on your family, this could have a potentially dangerous—even deadly—outcome. For instance, what if your closest living relative is your estranged brother with serious addiction issues? Or what if your assets are passed on to a niece who’s still a child and likely to squander the inheritance?

And if your estate does contain significant wealth and assets, this could lead to a costly and contentious court battle, with all your relatives hiring expensive lawyers to fight over your estate—which is exactly what’s happening with Prince’s family right now.

Finally, even if you have a spouse and your assets are passed to him or her, there’s no guarantee they’ll live much longer than you. In the event of their death without a will or a trust, everything goes to his or her family, regardless of the fact that you can’t stand your in-laws.

You really don’t want your spouse’s sister, brother, parents (or the new spouse he or she marries after you die) inheriting what you’ve worked so hard for, do you?

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the value of estate planning for those without children: how you could be leaving YOURself at risk.
This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Ensure the Security of Your Senior Parents’ Identity and Financial Assets

Today, we live in an uber-connected world, where nearly every type of financial transaction—shopping, banking, investment management—can be made online using a computer or mobile device.

In light of this, it’s critically important to have the appropriate safeguards in place to reduce the risk of fraud and identity theft, especially for your senior parents. Because your parents are probably not as savvy about digital technology and may be losing some of their powers of discernment as they age, it’s quite likely up to you to help them protect themselves—and ultimately your inheritance.

Along with traditional estate planning strategies to ensure your parents’ planning is handled in the event of their incapacity or death, you should take the following four precautions to ensure the safety of their identity and finances while they’re still alive and well.

1) Secure their computer: Your first step should be to make sure all computers they use are protected by robust security software bundled with anti-virus, anti-spam, and spyware detection features. Always go with the latest version of software, and make sure it’s configured to provide automatic updates, including security patches.

2) Use strong passwords and PINs: Create strong passwords and PINs that contain numbers, letters, and symbols, and change them regularly (once every six months). Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts—each account should have its own unique password. Never share passwords, don’t store them on a computer, and keep them in a secure location.

Since diligently keeping up with passwords can be a hassle, invest in a password manager, such as LastPass, which generates and stores strong, complicated passwords and can be used to share passwords with you and other family members.

Consider activating 2 Factor Authorization (2FA) on your parents’ accounts by using your cell phone number as the authenticating phone number or even Google Authenticator, and then teach your parents how to use it.

3) Regularly monitor their credit score and reports: Because thieves can use your loved ones’ personal information to set up new credit cards and other accounts, with bills that won’t get mailed to their home, be sure to regularly check their credit score and report for any suspicious activity. We like to use CreditKarma.com or TotalCreditCheck.com.

4) Use their own computer and avoid public wireless: Because public computers can be rigged to capture passwords and other personal data, seniors should always use their own computer or device to make financial transactions.

Even using one’s own computer can be risky if it’s done on a public wi-fi network, as found in airports, hotels, and restaurants. Many public wireless hotspots reduce their security settings, so people can more easily access and use these networks, which makes it easier to intercept personal information.

While taking these precautions is vital, it’s only the first step to ensure your elderly parents’ financial resources are protected. Consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to develop comprehensive estate planning strategies to safeguard not only their finances, but all their tangible and intangible assets—as well as your own.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

6 Steps to Select and Name the Right Guardians for Your Children—Part 2

Last week, we shared the first part of our series on selecting and naming the right guardians for your children. If you haven’t read it yet, you can do so here. Here in part two, we discuss the final three steps in the process. 

4. Narrow candidate list, and rank your choices

When you’ve come up with all the potential candidates for guardian, narrow down the list to your top five people. There’s no guarantee that your ideal candidate(s) will be willing to serve as guardian, so having more than one or two is a practical necessity.

To aide in this process, you should consider things, such as who really loves your children and who do your kids really get along with? Will this person be physically, mentally, and emotionally able to raise your kids to adulthood? The most important thing is to choose SOMEONE, even if you aren’t 100% sure about them, since you can always select a new guardian later.

Then rank your choices from top choice down to last. Again, backups are critical in case your first choice cannot serve.

5. Sit down with top candidates and discuss what’s involved

When it comes to asking someone to be your child’s guardian, you need to provide crystal-clear guidance about what’s involved. The discussion should cover all of your expectations about how you want your kids raised. Speak openly about finances, discipline, education, spirituality, and any needs that are unique to your children.

Once the discussion is complete, give them a few days to carefully consider the choice, even if they seem immediately gung-ho about doing it. Depending on the age of your kids, this could be a more than decade-long commitment. If they don’t carefully think it over, the responsibility can easily turn into resentment.

6. Legally document your plan

It’s essential to legally document your choice as soon as possible. Verbal commitments mean nothing in the eyes of the law. This is especially true when you name a friend over a family member.

For a quick and easy way to legally document your plan, visit our free website shown below. The entire process takes only 15-20 minutes, so you can immediately get this urgent matter taken care of.

⇒ Visit our website to go through these steps and create legal documents naming guardians for the long-term care of your children, absolutely free. Do it here now!

After you’ve used our website to name your legal guardians, you can then work with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to create a more comprehensive plan that includes all the necessary legal documents to ensure the well-being of your children and the assets you’re leaving behind, no matter what happens.

With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, you’ll have a trusted advisor who can help you navigate all the legal, insurance, financial, and tax issues involved with estate planning. Indeed, we can put a plan in place that not only protects and provides for your children, but your entire family.
This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today at (631) 627- 3433 to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

6 Steps to Select and Name the Right Guardians for Your Children—Part 1

One of your most important responsibilities as a parent is to select and legally document guardians for your children. This doesn’t mean just naming godparents or trusting the grandparents will step in if necessary. It means consciously deciding who would raise your children if you cannot. And then it means legally documenting your choices and making sure the people you’ve chosen know what to do if they’re ever called upon.

However, most people have no idea how to even start this process, much less create a legally binding plan. Because of this, many parents simply never get around to doing it. And those who do often make one of several common mistakes—even if they’ve worked with a lawyer.
Why? Because most lawyers haven’t been trained properly to help parents with this vital issue.

As a result, unless you’ve worked with us or another trained Personal Family Lawyer®, it’s likely your children are extremely vulnerable to being taken out of your home and placed in the care of strangers. This might be temporary, while the authorities figure out what to do, or they could end up being raised to adulthood by someone you’d never choose.
Even if you don’t have any minor children at home, please consider sharing this article with any friends or family who do—it’s that important. While it’s rare for something to happen to both parents of a minor child, it does occur, and the consequences are simply too severe to not take a few simple steps to select and legally name guardians the right way.

To help with this process, we’ve outlined some basic steps to select and name a legal guardian. Regardless of whether you own any other assets or wealth, it’s vital to complete this process immediately, so you know that who you care about most—your kids—will be cared for the way you want, no matter what.

⇒ We’ve even created an easy-to-use website, where you can go through these steps to create legal documents naming guardians for the long-term care of your children, absolutely free. Do it here now: https://mariannesrantalapc.kidsprotectionplan.com/

  1. Define your ideal candidate

The first step in selecting a guardian is to come up with a list outlining the qualities and attributes you and your partner value most when it comes to the long-term care of your children. The list can mirror your own parenting philosophy and style, as well as list the qualities that would make up your absolute “dream” guardian.

In addition to qualities like parental values, discipline style, religious/spiritual background, kindness, and honesty, you also need to consider more practical matters. Is the person young enough and physically capable of raising your kids to adulthood? Do they have a family of their own, and if so, would adding your kids to the mix be too much?

Geography should also come into play—do they live nearby, and if not, would it be a major hardship to relocate your children? Is their home in a location you would feel comfortable having your kids grow up in?

One thing you may think you should consider is financial stability, and that’s a frequent misconception. However, the people you name as legal guardians for your children are the people making decisions for their healthcare and their education, but they don’t need to be the ones managing your children’s financial needs.

Ideally, you’ll leave behind ample financial resources for your children and the people raising them. You can do this by establishing a trust for those resources and naming a financial guardian, or trustee, to oversee them. Please contact us for help with that, as there are many options to consider.

  1. Make a list of candidates

Based on those parenting qualities, start compiling a list of people in your life who match your ideals. Be sure to consider not only family, but also close friends.

Though you may feel obligated to choose a family member, this decision is about what’s best for your children’s future, not trying to protect someone’s feelings. And if you’re having trouble coming up with enough suitable candidates, try coming up with people who you would definitely NOT want as guardians, and work backwards from there.

Or consider the person a judge would likely select if you didn’t make your own choice and whether there are any other people you’d prefer to raise your children.

  1. Select first responders (temporary guardians)                                                             In addition to legally naming long-term guardians, you also need to choose someone in your local area to be a “first responder,” or temporary guardian. This is someone who lives near you and who’s willing to immediately go to your children during a time of crisis and take care of them until the long-term guardian is notified and appointed by the court pursuant to your long-term guardianship nomination.

If your children are in the care of someone like a babysitter without legal authority to have custody of them, the police will have no choice but to call Child Protective Services and take your children into the care of the authorities. From there, you children could be placed in the care of strangers until your named long-term guardian shows up, or until the court decides on an appropriate guardian.
This is an area where plans that only name a legal guardian through a Will typically fail. Beyond naming just a long-term guardian, you need a short-term, temporary guardian who’s named as the first responder and knows exactly what to do if something happens to you.

Once you’ve chosen your long-term guardian, it’s imperative that all temporary caretakers know exactly how to contact them. This precaution is not just about your death—it also covers your incapacity and any other situation when you’re unable to return home for a lengthy period of time.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on selecting and naming the right guardians for your kids.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Estate Planning Mistakes Seniors (Including You or Your Parents) Can’t Afford to Make

Estate planning really should be considered as soon as you acquire your first asset, have a child, or step into adulthood in any truly meaningful way. And yet many of us put it off for far too long, leaving ourselves and our families at risk of getting stuck in the court system in the event of an unexpected accident, illness, or injury.

Once you (or your parents) reach senior status, you can no longer pretend that estate planning is something you can put off. The effects of aging become impossible to ignore, and the fact that you’re not going to live forever moves to the front of your mind.

While planning for your incapacity and death can be scary, it’s even more frightening to think of the potential tragedies that can arise if you and your family don’t have the right planning in place. More and more, the media is highlighting the reality that without proper planning, the elderly can lose everything, even if they have family looking after them.

At the senior stage of life, effective estate planning is urgent, both for you and the people you love. And if you aren’t a senior yet yourself but have senior parents, get your own planning handled, and then use that as a model to get your parents’ planning taken care of.

Here are a few of the most common errors seniors make when it comes to estate planning and how to fix them:

Not creating advance medical directives
In your senior years, health care matters become much more relevant and urgent. At this age, you can no longer afford to put off important decisions related to your medical needs.

Two of the most important considerations you face are how you want your medical care handled in the event you become incapacitated, and how you want medical care to be handled at the end of your life. Both situations can be addressed using advance medical directives, specifically a medical power of attorney and a living will.

Medical power of attorney allows you to name the person you want to make healthcare decisions for you if you’re incapacitated and unable to make decisions yourself.

You also want to make sure you have a living will, which provides guidelines for how your medical care should be handled, if you become unable to voice your wishes. In addition to guidelines about how you want your medical care handled, your living will may also include instructions on the type of food you want to be fed to you, as well as who should be able to visit you.

In order to ensure that your health care wishes are properly handled—even in the most dire circumstances—creating these advance directives is a must.
Relying only on a will
Many people, particularly older folks, believe that a will is the only estate planning tool they need. While wills are definitely one key aspect of estate planning, they come with some serious limitations:

  • -Wills require your family to go through probate, which is open to the public and often expensive.
  • -Wills don’t offer you any protection if you become incapacitated and unable to make legal and financial decisions.
  • -Wills don’t cover jointly owned assets or those with beneficiary designations, such as life insurance policies.
  • -Wills don’t shield assets from your creditors or those of your heirs.
  • -Wills don’t provide protections or guidance for when and how your heirs take control of their inheritance.

Fortunately, all the above areas can be effectively managed using a trust. However, some people are reluctant to use trusts because they’re unfamiliar with them and have been told a will is all they need.

What’s more, because until fairly recently trusts were primarily used by the ultra-wealthy, many believe they’re an extravagance they don’t need and can’t afford. But the truth is, people of all income levels and asset values can afford and benefit from trusts, which provide numerous protections unavailable through wills.

If you’re relying solely on a will for estate planning, you’re missing out on many valuable safeguards for your assets, while also guaranteeing your family will have to go to court when you die.

If you aren’t sure what you need, begin by contacting us for a Family Wealth Planning Session. Your Family Wealth Planning Session is custom-designed to your assets, your family, your wishes, and to educate you on the best way to reach your objectives for the people you love.

Not keeping your plan current

Far too often people prepare a will or trust when they’re young, put it into a drawer, and forget about it. But your estate plan is worthless if you don’t regularly update it when your assets, family situation, and/or the laws change.

We recommend you review your plan annually to make sure it’s up to date and immediately amend it following events like divorce, deaths, births, and inheritances. With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we have built-in processes to ensure these updates are made right away.

And when it comes to a trust, it’s not enough to simply list the assets you want it to cover. You have to transfer the legal title of certain assets—real estate, bank accounts, securities, brokerage accounts—to the trust, known as “funding” the trust, in order for them to be distributed properly.

While most lawyers will create a trust for you, few will ensure your assets are properly funded. But with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’ve got processes in place to keep track of your assets over life, make sure none are lost to your state’s Department of Unclaimed Property, and that you don’t inadvertently force your family into court because your plan wasn’t fully completed.

Not pre-planning funeral arrangements
Although most people don’t want to think about their own funerals, pre-planning these services is a key facet of estate planning, especially for seniors. By taking care of your funeral arrangements ahead of time, you not only eliminate the burden and expense for your family, you’re able to make your memorial ceremony more meaningful, as well.

In addition to basic wishes, such as whether you prefer to be buried or cremated, you can choose what kind of memorial service you want—simple, elaborate, or maybe none at all. Are there songs you want played? Prayers or poems recited? Do you have a specific burial plot or a spot where you want your ashes scattered?

Pre-planning these things can help relieve significant stress and sadness for your family, while ensuring your memory is honored exactly how you want.

If you’re already in your senior years, about to be, or have a parent who is, it’s critical that you take care of your estate planning immediately and avoid these common pitfalls. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’ll walk you step-by-step through the process, ensuring that you have everything in place to protect yourself, your assets, and your family. Contact us today to get started.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

The Key Differences Between Wills and Trusts

When discussing estate planning, a will is what most people think of first. Indeed, wills have been the most popular method for passing on assets to heirs for hundreds of years. But wills aren’t your only option. And if you rely on a will alone to pass on what matters, you’re guaranteeing your family has to go to court when you die.

In contrast, other estate planning vehicles, such as trusts, which used to be available only to the uber wealthy, are now being used by those of all income levels and asset values to keep their loved ones out of the court process.

But determining whether a will or a trust is best for you depends entirely on your personal circumstances. And the fact that estate planning has changed so much makes choosing the right tool for the job even more complex.

The best way for you to determine the truly right solution for your family is to meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® for a Family Wealth Planning Session™. During that process, we’ll take you through an analysis of your personal assets, what’s most important to you, and what will happen for your loved ones when you become incapacitated or die. From there, you can make the right choice for the people you love.

In the meantime, here are some key distinctions between wills and trusts you should be aware of.

When they take effect

A will only goes into effect when you die, while a trust takes effect as soon as it’s signed and your assets are transferred into the name of the trust. To this end, a will directs who will receive your property at your death, and a trust specifies how your property will be distributed before your death, at your death, or at a specified time after death. This is what keeps your family out of court in the event of your incapacity or death.

Because a will only goes into effect when you die, it offers no protection if you become incapacitated and are no longer able to make decisions about your financial and healthcare needs. If you do become incapacitated, your family will have to petition the court to appoint a conservator or guardian to handle your affairs, which can be costly, time consuming, and stressful.

With a trust, however, you can include provisions that appoint someone of your choosing—not the court’s—to handle your medical and financial decisions if you’re unable to. This keeps your family out of court, which can be particularly vital during emergencies, when decisions need to be made quickly.

The property they cover

A will covers any property solely owned in your name. A will does not cover property co-owned by you with others listed as joint tenants, nor does your will cover assets that pass directly to a beneficiary by contract, such as life insurance.

Trusts, on the other hand, cover property that has been transferred, or “funded,” to the trust or where the trust is the named beneficiary of an account or policy. That said, if an asset hasn’t been properly funded to the trust, it won’t be covered, so it’s critical to work with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to ensure the trust is properly funded.

Unfortunately, many lawyers and law firms set up trusts, but don’t then ensure your assets are properly re-titled or beneficiary designated, and the trust doesn’t work when your family needs it. We have systems in place to ensure that transferring assets to your trust and making sure they are properly owned at the time of your incapacity or death happens with ease and convenience.
 

How they’re administered

In order for assets in a will to be transferred to a beneficiary, the will must pass through the court process called probate. The court oversees the will’s administration in probate, ensuring your property is distributed according to your wishes, with automatic supervision to handle any disputes.
Because probate is a public proceeding, your will becomes part of the public record upon your death, allowing everyone to see the contents of your estate, who your beneficiaries are, and what they’ll receive.

Unlike wills, trusts don’t require your family to go through probate, which can save both time and money. And since the trust doesn’t pass through court, all of its contents remain private.
 

How much they cost

Wills and trusts do differ in cost—not only when they’re created, but also when they’re used. The average will-based plan can run between $1,000-$2000, depending on the options selected.  An average trust-based plan can be set up for $4,000-$6,000, again depending on the options chosen. So at least on the front end, wills are far less expensive than trusts.

However, wills must go through probate, where attorney fees and court costs can be quite hefty, especially if the will is contested. Given this, the total cost of executing the will through probate can run as high as $8,000-$10,000 or more.

Even though a trust may cost more upfront to create than a will, the total costs once probate is factored in can actually make a trust the less expensive option in the long run.

During our Family Wealth Planning Session™, we’ll compare the costs of will-based planning and trust-based planning with you, so you know exactly what you want and why, as well as the total costs and benefits over the long-term.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we offer expert advice on wills, trusts, and numerous other estate planning vehicles. Using proprietary systems, such as our Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment™ and Family Wealth Planning Session™, we’ll carefully analyze your assets—both tangible and intangible—to help you come up with an estate planning solution that offers maximum protection for your family’s particular situation and budget. Contact us today to get started.

This article is a service of Marianne S. Rantala, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.