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Tara Cheever
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Tara Cheever Estate Planning Attorney
Tara Cheever Estate Planning Attorney

187 followers
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Selecting and naming the right guardians for minor children in the event that something happens to you is a critical component of your estate plan. Last week I’ve outlined some basic steps to select and name a legal guardian in Part One of this two part series. 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. 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. 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!
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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 an Attorney. Why? Because most lawyers haven’t been trained properly to help parents with this vital issue.
As a result, unless you’ve worked with me 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.
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Consider this story. Beth’s divorce from her husband was recently finalized. Her most valuable assets are her retirement plan at work and her life insurance policy. She updated the beneficiary designations on both to be her two minor children. She did not want her ex-husband to receive the money.

Beth passes away one year after her divorce. Her children are still minors, so the retirement plan and insurance company require an adult to be appointed to receive the inheritance Beth left behind. Who does the court presumptively look to serve as the caretaker of this money? Beth’s ex-husband who is now the only living parent of the children. (In some states, this caretaker of the money is called a guardian, whereas in others it is the conservator. The title does not matter as much as the role, which is to manage the funds on behalf of a minor, since the minor is not legally able to handle significant assets or money.)

Sadly, stories like Beth’s are all too familiar for the loved ones of divorced people who do not make effective use of the estate planning tools. Naming a beneficiary for retirement benefits or life insurance, or having a Will can be a good start. However, the complexities of relationships, post-divorce, often render these basic tools inadequate. Luckily, there is a way to protect and control your children’s inheritance fully.

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The divorce process can be long and expensive. However, the work does not end once the divorce decree is signed. In order to ensure that your assets and estate planning wishes are carried out in light of this major life change, there are three things you must do as soon as possible: Changing beneficiaries on life insurance policy, changing beneficiaries on retirement accounts and creating and/or updating your estate plan.

If you do not have any estate planning documents in place, now is the perfect time to get everything in order. After going through the divorce, you probably have a good idea as to what assets you own and the value of them. This will be very helpful as we discuss the right estate plan for you.
Your estate plan is more than just a Trust. It is a customized plan that ensures that you, your family and your assets are taken care when “something happens.” Something will happen and we do not have the fortune of knowing when, where and how. If you have an estate plan, this is the time to review them as many changes occurred post-divorce. Chances are you no longer want your ex-spouse to have the authority to sign documents on your behalf or make medical decisions for you. To avoid confusion by third parties as to who should be acting on your behalf, make sure to call me, your Personal Family Lawyer so we can update these essential documents.
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In almost all scenarios, do-it-yourself estate planning is risky and can become a costly substitute for comprehensive in-person planning with a professional legal advisor. Typically, these online programs and services have significant limitations when it comes to gathering information needed to properly craft an estate plan. This can result in crucial defects that, sadly, won’t become apparent until the situation becomes a legal and financial nightmare for your loved ones.
Creating your own estate plan without professional advice can also have unintended consequences. Bad or thoughtless documents can be invalid and/or useless when they are needed.

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Owning your own business can be a great endeavor that takes a lot of passion and drive. Many small business owners focus on the day-to-day management and growth of the business, rather than thinking about a time when he or she may not be in the business. This is a far too common mistake. Future plans for your enterprise are even more important when one child works in the business but the others do not. Keeping the peace among your children after you are no longer able to participate in the business requires careful balancing of your estate plan.
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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 (without a Trust) 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 a Trust-based plan 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 alone or a Trust-based plan (Trust and Pour-Over Will) 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 me as your Personal Family Lawyer® for a Family Wealth Planning Session™. During that process, I’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.
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Twenty years ago, the Roth IRA first became available to investors as a financial tool for their estate planning needs. These accounts have maintained their popularity because unlike their traditional IRA counterpart, a Roth IRA provides account owners tax-free income during retirement. In fact, many people chose to convert their traditional IRA or 401(k) plan into a Roth IRA to benefit from this long-term tax advantage. (Of course, there is a current tax bill that has to be considered when you make a conversion.) The recently enacted tax reform, however, has removed one helpful opportunity: the ability to recharacterize — or undo — a Roth IRA conversion.

You can think of these recharacterizations as a second-look at whether the conversion made financial sense. Now, this second-look that a recharacterization offered is closed, so a Roth IRA conversion is just a little riskier than is used to be.
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Whether you consider yourself wealthy or not, you need to think about how (and when) you’ll talk with your children about money, whether they’re little kids, tweens, teens, or already adults.
The Wall Street Journal article “The Best Way for Wealthy Parents to Talk to Children About Family Money” offers guidelines for how and when “the money talk” should take place. Based on interviews with multiple financial experts, the article suggests these discussions should happen in three stages during the child’s lifetime.
Here, I’m showing you how each of these three stages apply to your family wealth as a whole, regardless of how much—or how little—money you have at the moment.
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Estate planning is about protecting what’s important to you. Although much of the traditional estate planning conversation focus on surviving spouses, children, grandchildren, many pet parents wonder about what could happen to their “furry children” after their death or if they become incapacitated and unable to care for the pets. Read on if you’ve ever thought, “What will happen to my cat, dog, or other pet if I pass away?” “What if I’m incapacitated and unable to care for them?”
Enter the pet trust. This tool is something that can be easily incorporated into a new or existing estate plan to provide a strategy for caring for your pets. Remember, estate planning is about protecting what’s important to you. So, even if you anticipate outliving your pets, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
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