Friday, April 27, 2018

Available Protections for Same-Gender Parents

In 2015, when the Supreme Court ruled that same-gender couples had the right to marry, the LGBTQ community celebrated a huge victory. With the issue of marriage settled, it looked as if same-gender couples were finally going to have equal standing with heterosexual couples in the eyes of the law.

But while same-gender couples now have nearly all of the same matrimonial rights as heterosexual couples, there is one key right that’s still up in the air—the automatic right to be legal parents. Known as “marital presumption,” this right deems that when a married man and woman have a child, they’re both automatically considered legal parents of the child.

While parental rights are automatically bestowed upon the biological parent of a child in a same-gender couple, the non-biological spouse/parent still faces a host of legal complications and challenges. Because the Supreme Court has yet to rule on the specific issue of the parental rights of non-biological spouses/parents in a same-gender marriage, there is a tangled, often-contradictory, web of state laws governing such rights.

If you’re a same-gender couple, for example, some states and courts may not consider you a legal parent based solely on your marriage. And even in places where there are some protections under the law, same-gender couples can still experience discrimination and difficulty gaining all the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples. Indeed, it’s a real possibility that you could have total legal rights as a non-biological parent in one state, but drive across the border to a neighboring state and be a complete stranger to your child in the eyes of the law.
Given the murky nature of state laws, most legal experts advise same-gender couples that the best way to ensure you have full rights as a non-biological parent in every state is to obtain a second-parent adoption. The Supreme Court has ruled that the adoptive parental rights granted in one state must be respected in all states.

However, it can be extremely difficult for married same-gender couples even to adopt. In fact, seven states currently permit employees of state-licensed adoption agencies to refuse to grant an adoption if doing so violates their religious beliefs. In other states, however, the state law specifically forbids such discrimination.

What’s more, second-parent adoptions are often costly, averaging about $4,000 nationally. They can also be extremely time-consuming and laborious, requiring the non-biological parent to jump through a range of legal hoops, including state and FBI background checks.

Some states even mandate home visits from social workers to see if a “suitable environment” exists for the child. All of this can be a major inconvenience at the very least and downright demeaning in other cases.

That said, many people are not aware that same-gender couples can achieve nearly the same parental rights that are granted through a second-parent adoption by using a combination of estate planning and family law protections. Moreover, gaining such rights in this manner will involve far less—if any—background screening and/or additional legal obstacles.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we offer a number of unique legal services to provide a non-biological, same-gender parent with as many parental rights as possible, without a full adoption.

Starting with our proprietary Kids Protection Plan®, couples can name the non-biological parent as a legal guardian of the child, both for the short-term and the long-term, while confidentially excluding anyone the biological parent thinks may challenge their wishes.

That way, if the biological parent becomes incapacitated or dies, his or her wishes are clearly known and stated, so the court can do what the parent would’ve wanted and keep the child in the non-biological parent’s care.

Beyond that, there are several other legal protections—living trusts, power of attorney, and health care directives—that a Personal Family Lawyer® can grant to offer the non-biological parent additional rights. Finally, we also create what are known as “co-parenting agreements,” legally binding arrangements that stipulate exactly how the child will be raised, what responsibility each partner has toward the child, and what kind of rights would exist if the couple splits or goes through a divorce.

If you’re in a same-gender marriage, or even involved in a committed partnership with someone of your own gender, and you want that person to stay in relationship with your kids (or yourself) should you become incapacitated, or you want that person financially provided for if you die, contact us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to see what kind of protections we can help you put in place.

This article is a service of Jennifer Cochran-Green, 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.

Choosing the Right Life Insurance Policy

While purchasing life insurance may seem pretty straightforward, it’s actually quite complex, especially with so many different types available.

In order to offer some clarity on the different types of policies out there, we’ve broken down the most popular kinds of life insurance here and discussed the pros and cons that come with each one.  

Term life insurance

Term life insurance is the simplest—and typically least expensive—type of coverage. Term policies are purchased for a set period of time (the term), and if you die during that time, your beneficiary is paid the death benefit. 

Terms can vary widely—10, 15, 25, 30 years or longer—and if it’s a Level Term policy, the premium and death benefit remain the same throughout the duration. If you survive the term and want to retain coverage, you must re-qualify for a policy at your new age and health status.

In addition to Level Term, other variations include “Annual Renewable Term,” in which the death benefit is unchanged throughout the term, but the insurance is renewed annually, often with an increase in premiums. With a “Decreasing Term” policy, the death benefits decrease each year until they reach zero, but the premium remains the same. 

Decreasing Term life insurance is often used to cover a mortgage, student loan, or other long-term debt, so the policy expires at the time the mortgage/debt is paid off.

Whole life insurance

Whole life, or permanent, insurance pays a death benefit whenever you die, no matter how long you live. With a whole life policy, both the death benefit and premium stay the same for your entire life span. 

However, depending on when you purchase coverage, the premium can vary widely depending on how much the policy’s death benefit is worth. So, for example, purchasing whole life in your senior years can be extremely expensive and possibly not even available at all. 

What’s more, your whole life policy premiums will be much higher than your term life insurance premiums because the insurance company knows the policy will pay out when you die, no matter how long you live.

Indeed, the premium for whole life policies can be among the most costly of all types of life insurance coverage, including similar types of “permanent” policies discussed below. This is simply the price paid for the guaranteed death benefit and a level premium.

Universal life insurance
Universal life is a variation on whole life—it covers you for your entire lifespan, but also contains a “cash-value” component. Rather than putting 100% of your premium toward your death benefit, part of your premium is put into a separate cash-value account that earns interest and is tax-deferred.

The insurance company invests the cash-value funds in various investment vehicles of its choice, and provided the market performs well, you can access those extra funds for things like paying the policy’s premiums, paying off debt, or supplementing your later-in-life fixed income. Some insurance companies will even let you take tax-free loans against the policy’s cash value.

That said, the cash-value account is set at an interest rate that can adjust to reflect the market’s current rates, so if the interest rate of the cash value account decreases to the minimum rate, your premium would need to increase to offset the account’s reduced value.

While universal life premiums are typically more costly than term policies, universal life also allows you to adjust the death benefit within certain guidelines. This added flexibility allows you to choose how much of one’s premium funds will go toward the death benefit and how much goes into the cash value, offering you the ability to adjust the death benefit as your financial circumstances change.

Variable universal life insurance

Variable universal life insurance is quite similar to normal universal life except that variable policies allow you to choose how your cash-value funds are invested, rather than the insurance company. This offers you more control over the cash-value investment and potentially higher returns.

However, if the invested cash-value funds perform poorly or the market tanks, your policy could be at risk. Given a major drop in the cash-value account investments, you may have to pay increased premiums just to keep the policy in force. Moreover, the fees and expenses associated with the cash value investments for variable policies may be much higher than you would pay if you simply invested the funds on your own.

Because understanding life insurance can be confusing, it’s best to get the advice of a trusted advisor before you meet with an insurance agent, who might try to talk you into more coverage than you need in order to earn a larger commission. By sitting down with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can work with you and your insurance advisors to offer truly unbiased advice about which policy type is best for your family and life circumstances. 

Contact us today, and we’ll walk you step-by-step through the different life insurance options and help you with your other legal, financial, and tax decisions to ensure your family is planned for and protected no matter what happens.

This article is a service of Jennifer Cochran-Green, 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.

3 Key Benefits of Conscious Uncoupling

The concept of conscious uncoupling, or conscious divorce, has been around for decades in the psychotherapy community. However, the actual term “conscious uncoupling” was thrust into the mainstream lexicon in 2014, when Gwyneth Paltrow used it to publicly announce that she and husband Chris Martin were separating.
Since then, the term has been used extensively to describe what was previously called “amicable divorce” or “uncontested divorce.” In 2016, relationship expert Katherine Woodward Thomas wrote the book Conscious Uncoupling, and she now offers a five-week program of therapy designed to help individuals make a more healthy transition from marriage to singlehood.

While there’s no precise definition of conscious uncoupling, according to Thomas, it basically involves reframing divorce from a traumatic experience into one that focuses on the positive opportunities a split offers for personal growth and spiritual development. The goal is to end the relationship in a truly cooperative and respectful manner, which can have tremendous benefits for both the couple and their children.

It’s important to note that conscious uncoupling has no legal effect on the marriage. Rather, it’s about maintaining a positive mindset that seeks to mitigate the often terrible effects divorce can have on our emotions, family, and finances. 

In order to actually terminate the marriage and resolve all of the legal consequences that this entails, couples must still undergo a divorce. This is one reason we often use the term “conscious divorce,” instead of conscious uncoupling.

Based on numerous reports from therapists and couples, we’ve laid out the primary benefits conscious divorce offers those seeking a more compassionate and mindful way to end their relationship:

1. A focus on the positives
Though it may seem like New Age hyperbole to reframe divorce from a traumatic experience to one that’s ultimately positive, the process of adjusting one’s perspective like this can be extraordinarily powerful. In fact, therapists who work with people at the end of life often report their patients wish they’d dissolved past relationships more amicably instead of focusing so much on the blame and pain involved.

Indeed, one of the goals of conscious divorce is to move away from the “blame game” model to one that acknowledges that romantic relationships often end for a variety of reasons, not necessarily because it was anyone’s failure or fault. Like all changes in life, the best way to deal with divorce is to accept the loss of the relationship as a simple part of life’s natural roller-coaster ride of ups and downs.

The challenge is to focus on all of the things you’ve gained through the relationship, rather than what you’re losing. You’ve undoubtedly shared some amazing times and learned a great deal from being married, and by focusing on these aspects, you can not only experience less trauma, but also be better prepared to move into your new life beyond the relationship.

2. Puts the children first
While conscious divorce seeks to minimize the pain and hostility for the couple, the most important reason behind such a mindset is to protect your children. Make your kids the motivating factor for keeping the breakup as amicable as possible. 

When you’re tempted to keep arguing, choose your kids over being right. Don’t fight in front of your children, and never talk negatively about your spouse with them. No matter what happens, you will always be a family, so keep this in mind when making your decisions.

By doing this, your children are far less likely to be seriously damaged by the divorce, and it will set the stage for everyone to move on to the next chapter in their lives in a healthier manner.

3. Avoids a contentious court battle
Anyone who’s witnessed a seriously contentious divorce proceeding can attest that such public battles should be a true last resort. Not only do these courtroom dramas take a toll on a family’s mental health, but they also can drag on for months or even years, unnecessarily draining bank accounts and corrupting the marital estate. 

Conscious divorce, on the other hand, can not only dramatically minimize the time, cost, and emotional toll of divorce, it lays the groundwork for the new non-traditional family to interact and function once the court proceedings are over. This is a huge benefit for establishing a healthy co-parenting relationship, and showing both your children and yourselves that marriage can still be “successful” even if it ends in divorce.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help you navigate the more contentious aspects of divorce in a “conscious” way by supporting you to find the right counsel to guide you. And, of course, we’ll also help you restructure your assets properly after your divorce. If you’d like to end your marriage in a more positive manner, while ensuring that your children suffer as little trauma as possible, contact us today.
This article is a service of Jennifer Cochran-Green, 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 of these 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 of 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 got 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 Jennifer Cochran-Green, 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 $500-$2000, depending on the options selected.  An average trust-based plan can be set up for $3,000-$5,000, 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 Jennifer Cochran-Green, 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.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

We Can Learn a lot from Celebrities

The next time one of your relatives tells you they don’t want to talk about estate planning, share these famous celebrities’ stories to get the conversation started. Such cautionary tales offer first-hand evidence of just how critical it is to engage in estate planning, even if it’s uncomfortable.

The Marley Family Battle
You would think that with millions of dollars in assets—including royalties offering revenue for the indefinite future—at stake, more famous musicians would at least have a will in place. But sadly, you’d be wrong. Legendary stars like Bob Marley, Prince, and Jimi Hendrix failed to write down their wishes on paper at all.

Not having an estate plan can be a nightmare for your surviving family. Indeed, Marley’s heirs are still battling one another in court three decades later. If you do nothing else before you die, at least be courteous enough to your loved one’s to document your wishes and keep them out of court and out of conflict.

Paul Walker Died Fast and Furious at Just 40
While Fast and Furious actor Paul Walker was just 40 when he died in a tragic car accident, he had enough forethought to implement some basic estate planning. His will left his $25 million estate to his teenage daughter in a trust and appointed his mother as her legal guardian until 18.

But isn’t 18 far too young for a child to receive an inheritance of any size? Walker would have been far better advised to leave his assets in an ongoing trust, with financial education built in to give his daughter her best shot at a life well lived, even without him in the picture.
Most inheritors, like lottery winners, are not properly educated about what to do after receiving an inheritance, so they often lose their inheritance within just a few years, even when it’s millions.

Indeed, none of us has any clue when we’ll die, only that it will happen, so no matter how young you are or how much money you have—and especially if you have any children—don’t put off estate planning for another day. You truly never know when it’ll be needed.

Heath Ledger Didn’t Update His Estate Planning
Even though actor Heath Ledger created a will shortly after becoming famous, he failed to update it for more than five years. The will left his entire fortune to his parents and sister, so when he died unexpectedly in 2008, his young daughter received nothing, as she hadn’t been added to the will. Fortunately, his parents made sure their granddaughter was provided for, but that might not always be the case.

Creating an estate planning strategy is just the start—be sure to regularly update your documents, especially following births, deaths, divorces, new marriages, acquiring new assets, or retiring. Many estate plans fail because most lawyers don’t have built-in systems for updating your estate plans, but we do—mostly because we don’t want this to happen to your family.
Paul Newman Cut Out His Daughters Too
Though it’s a good idea to regularly update your estate plan, be sure your heirs know exactly what your intentions are when making such updates, or your family might experience significant  shock by not knowing why you did what you did.

The final update to Paul Newman’s will, which was made just a few months before his death in 2008, left his daughters with no ownership or control of Newman’s Own Foundation, his legendary charity associated with the Newman’s Own food brand. Prior versions of Newman’s will— and indeed his own personal assurances to his family—indicated they’d have membership on the foundation’s board following his death.

Instead, the final version of his will left control of the foundation to his business partner Robert Forrester. Some allege that during his final months, when Newman was mentally unstable, he was secretly persuaded to change his estate plan to leave control of the Newman’s Own brand and foundation to Forrester. Newman’s daughters are currently fighting Forrester in court over the rights they believe they’re entitled to receive.
While changes to your estate plan may seem perfectly clear to you, make sure your family is on the same page by clearly communicating your intentions. In fact, if you are making significant changes to your plan, and your children are adults, we often recommend a full family meeting to go over everything with all impacted parties, and we often facilitate such meetings for our clients.
Muhammad Ali Made His Wishes Clear
Boxing great Muhammad Ali wanted multi-day festivities to be held in his honor, including a large festival, an Islamic funeral, and a dazzling public memorial at the KFC headquarters in Louisville, KY. Given such elaborate plans, he worked with his lawyers for years, ensuring his wishes would be properly carried out.

While you probably won’t need a multi-day festivity to celebrate your life, you may have wishes regarding how your life should be memorialized when you pass or how your care should be handled if you’re incapacitated. If you eat a special diet or want certain friends by your side while incapacitated, you have to make these wishes clearly known in writing or they very well might not happen. At the same time, you should spell out exactly how you want your remains cared for and what kind of memorial service, if any, you prefer.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help ensure your final wishes are carried out exactly how you want. But more importantly, we’ll help protect your family and keep them out of conflict and out of court in the event of your death or incapacitation. With a Personal Family Lawyer® on your side, you’ll have access to the exact same estate planning strategies and protections that A-List celebrities use, so don’t wait another day—contact us now to get started!

This article is a service of Jennifer Cochran-Green, 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. 

Monday, March 05, 2018

Getting married again?

Common Estate Planning Issues You Must Navigate When Contemplating a Second (or More) Marriage

These days, second and even third marriages are fairly commonplace. And the estate planning issues that arise from multiple marriages can be highly complex and confusing.
Merging two families into one presents unique legal and financial challenges that can cause significant conflict and distress unless effective estate planning has been put into place early on. Here are a few of the most common issues that blended families should keep in mind when it comes to estate planning.

Keeping assets separate
If you get remarried and have children from your previous marriage(s), you need to think about how you want to balance providing for your new spouse and ensuring the children from your previous marriage are taken care of in the event you become incapacitated or when you die. 

If you intend to keep your assets separate, so each spouse can pass an inheritance to his or her own children, you’ll need to create and maintain separate accounts. One account contains the assets you want to pass on to your children, and the other can be either a separate or joint account that contains the assets you want to share with your spouse. 

If you and your spouse commingle your income and assets, then the new spouse will have claim and control of those assets when you die, which can leave your kids with nothing. Moreover, joint accounts can be subject to claims from a former spouse and/or creditors, so unless you want your new spouse to share that risk, keep at least some assets separate.

And, if you’re keeping assets separate, be sure to talk with us about how to do that properly, as it can get tricky, particularly when you start sharing some assets and buying new assets together.

Inheritance timing

If you have children for whom you want to leave an inheritance, you should think about how and when you want those assets passed on. For example, what if you die prematurely or your spouse is significantly younger than you? Do you want your kids to wait until the new spouse dies to claim their inheritance, or do you want them to receive it immediately following your death? 

Establishing a trust can protect assets for each spouse’s children and stipulate when the kids receive their inheritance. You may want to provide your children with some of their inheritance, such as proceeds from a life insurance policy, upon your death and then release the rest at some point in the future. Or if your kids are very young, you may decide to leave that decision up to your spouse or a third-party successor trustee.

Trustee considerations
A common scenario for blended families is for one spouse to set up a living trust that names themselves as the trustee during his or her lifetime, with the surviving spouse named as successor trustee once they die. This is done to ensure the surviving spouse will be provided for for life and the children will receive the remaining assets once the new spouse passes.

But the new spouse and your children may have conflicting interests, especially if the spouse is older. For example, the new spouse may choose to invest the assets conservatively, ensuring he or she has enough money to live comfortably for a few more decades. However, the children—particularly if they are younger—might be better off having the assets placed into higher-risk investments, which can offer better returns in the long run, but leave less income for the surviving spouse.

In this case, it’s best to name a neutral third-party as successor trustee, so both the children and surviving spouse’s interests can be balanced fairly.

That said, we do recommend leaving at least something to your children from a prior marriage immediately upon your death (in trust if your children are minors). By doing so, you can mitigate potential conflicts between your children and surviving spouse. 

Beyond finances, the issues of power of attorney and health-care directives must also be discussed. If one spouse becomes incapacitated, you must decide who you would want to make legal and medical decisions for you. If the children are young, it’s probably best to leave those decisions up to your surviving spouse. However, if your children are older, you may want them included in the discussion of how your health-care decisions will be made.

Comprehensive and effective estate planning is especially important for blended families. Indeed, it’s crucial that these families work with a professional who is trained in counseling blended families on how to properly protect their assets in a manner that’s best for both the spouses and any children involved.
As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’re specifically trained to work with blended families, ensuring that you and your new spouse can effectively clarify and clearly document your wishes to avoid any confusion or conflict over how the assets and legal agency will be passed on in the event of one spouse’s death or disability. If you have a blended family, or are in the process of merging two families into one, contact us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, so we can discuss all of your options.
This article is a service of Jennifer R. Cochran-Green, 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.