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Burlington, VT office 802.540.0529
Hanover, NH office 603.643.6072
Rutland, VT office 802.773.3822
Woodstock, VT office 802.457.9492

October 28, 2009 Newsletter Archive


Protecting our Children:
The Documents that Every Parent Needs

There is one certainty in life and that is that life is full of uncertainty...

and you are never too young to plan for uncertainty. As parents, our busy lives can feel chaotic and no matter how we try to get a handle on our schedules, our needs, our visions, we sometimes feel that issues out of our control rise up and trump our best intentions.

Commonly, families avoid planning because it is a daunting task to confront the "what ifs" and worst case scenarios; it seems financially unfeasible; or it simply feels overwhelming to organize for such planning. Yet for parents of minor children all those feelings, whether embarrassing or scary, must be put aside for the greater purpose of protecting our children.

Legacy Planning: What is It?

When we talk about estate planning we mean the following:

We feel that we all plan our legacies not only our estates and so we've taken to calling estate planning, Legacy Planning.

What You Will

Although it is unlikely that both parents die while their children are minors, preparing a will is one way you can ensure that your children will be supported and cared for should this unusual occurrence befall your family.

A will is a written document by which you express your wishes as to how your assets are to be disposed. A will is only effective upon your death and requires a proceeding in Probate Court. Probate is the judicial process by which a court tests the validity of the will and determines whether it is the last will and testament.It is also the process by which the executor gathers assets, pays creditors, and distributes assets. In a will you will name an executor, and importantly for parents, you name guardians for your minor children. A will only disposes of property that goes through the probate process, that is, not property held jointly, or in a trust, or property that already has designated beneficiaries such as retirement benefits or life insurance.

Money Matters

Although legacy planning does at times focus on death, there are documents that you should have to protect you while you are alive. A financial Durable Power of Attorney is one of these documents. In it you name an agent to make all sorts of financial decisions for you. You may allow such a document to be effective immediately or only if and when you are unable to make your own decisions and you may make it broad or limit the powers to specific actions and transactions. It is important that agents are chosen wisely so be sure to name only agents that you trust.

To Your Health

Another document that focuses on life planning is your health care power of attorney, also known as an advance health care directive. This document allows you to name an agent (such as a spouse, adult child or trusted friend) that can make medical decisions for you when you cannot make them yourself. It is only effective if you are unable to make such decisions yourself. While the directive does specify terminal care decisions, you may make your directive as broad or limited as you desire. In your advance directive you may make a statement about organ and tissue donation, you may give instructions about your remains after death and include burial instructions, you may designate your health agent as your medical guardian (in the event that you need a legal guardian), you may specifically address mental health issues and you may, under certain circumstances, allow your agent to make decisions while you are competent and even over your objection.

Trust Me

Although a revocable trust is not for everyone, it is another important document that you should consider in your life planning. A trust is an agreement. The settlor or donor gives property to another "person" called a "trustee" (that is an individual, group, a bank, etc) with directions to that person to hold that property for the benefit of another. A revocable trust is generally made by you and is funded with your assets. Often, while you are alive you hold it for yourself as the beneficiary and you serve as the trustee. During your life you can make any changes to your trust that you want. Upon your death another person whom you designated while you were living steps in as trustee, and the trustee distributes your assets per the direction of your trust. Upon your death your trust becomes irrevocable because you are no longer alive to change it.

There a many benefits of a trust. Properly re-titling your assets to your trust will allow you to avoid probate, thereby keeping your affairs private and saving your estate probate filing fees and executor costs. It will also speed up your estate distribution because your beneficiaries will have instant access to the distribution. Like powers of attorney, a trust affords you disability protection and also allows asset management by a trustee. A trust for your children may protect your assets from going into the hands of your children's creditors and ex-spouses. Notably, a trust is an important tool in estate tax planning.

You are in Control

There is no time like now to consider or reconsider the basic documents that you need to secure your loved ones and ensure your wishes are met on life's uncertain path. You may not be able to control life in all the ways you would like, but securing a relevant legacy plan which is in sync with your life changes and needs is one way to direct this important life aspect.

 

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Melendy Moritz PLLC is a client centered boutique firm. We focus on your unique needs by providing the individualized legal counseling and advising tailored to your specific situation.

We concentrate on the planning that matters to you.
Call us at 603.643.6072 or 802.457.9492

 

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