Monday, June 27, 2016

How to Harm Your Chances of Getting Custody of Your Children

Fighting for custody is a heartrending, exhausting, and sorrowful experience. No matter what the results, it is hard on everyone.  In fact, people become so completely emotional and exhausted that they are not on their best behavior. If there is a time to be on your best behavior, it is while you are asking for custody.

Here are some of the top mistakes that people make when involved in a custody fight:

  1. Speaking poorly of the other parent in front of or to the children.    Remember when your mother used to tell you, "if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all"?  Well, now is the time to put that into practice.   Note: there is a difference between giving your children information to keep them safe ("call me right away if mommy says she is going to leave you alone at night) and saying things that you shouldn't ("You know that your mommy's friends are more important to her than anything in the world, she doesn't deserve you.")
  2. Not watching their own behavior.   Watch what you say and do, and who you hang out with. Yes, this includes your online life. 
  3. Not telling their lawyer everything.  Even if it is embarrassing, even if you wish it hadn't happened, even if you can't understand why she keeps asking you about that....
  4. Being angry, bitter, or hateful.  Even if you have every reason in the world to be angry... don't let it poison your life, your children's life, or the judge's perception of you. 
  5. Putting the kids in the middle.  Don't ask your kids to take sides. Don't discuss things that you shouldn't discuss with your kids. Don't. Just Don't. 
Easy to say, not always easy to do... but worth doing. 

Family Law, Divorce, Custody, Visitation
"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Why Beneficiary Designations are important

"Beneficiary designations" transfer property to beneficiaries after the owner is deceased.  They are used for bank accounts, investments, insurance policies and the like.

Often people fill them out once, then forget about them.  They may not update them for years, or ever.

However, life goes on. Divorce, death of a beneficiary, estrangement of family members, children growing up, aging of parents and changing financial circumstances of any of the involved parties may lead the owner of the asset to make a different choice than s/he would have previously.  For instance, it is unlikely that someone would want to leave such an asset to his or her ex-spouse, but that could be exactly what happens if care is not taken to update the designation.

We recommend that our clients review all of their beneficiary designations once a year. Remember that any property that passed to your loved ones through beneficiary designations after you die generally does not have to go through the probate court.

Your estate planning attorney can help you further.

"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Monday, June 13, 2016

How Specific Should Your Will Be?

Deciding what to put into a Last Will and Testament is a VERY individual choice! We prepare wills that are a few pages long, and also wills that are like a booklet.  And the difference is not always how much money and property that the client has.

So, how specific should you be?

Generally, we advise against putting in provisions that may make it difficult for your Executor to do his or her job.

So, the first order of business is to name an Executor whom you trust.  This person will be your personal representative in distributing your estate after you are gone.

Your Executor has to do what is best for the estate but also has to follow your wishes as closely as possible.   If you trust your Executor and are willing to let him/her make decisions, then you don't have to be as specific.  You can let go of the "control" and just allow the person that you have chosen to do his/her job, depending on what is best for the estate at the time.  You don't have to say, "My Executor must put my house up for sale within 30 days of my death", you can allow him/her to place it on the market at the time that is best.

Usually, making a long list of each and every item that you own and insisting that it goes to a certain person doesn't work well. What if the person doesn't want that item, but they prefer something else? What if you no longer own the item when you die, or if the item is not in good condition? What if it costs a fortune to ship? Much better to allow your Executor to have the authority to distribute things, if possible. (with the exception of certain family heirlooms, of course.)

The second piece of advice is to avoid putting "contingencies" into your will.  ("I leave my son my home if he is married and has children.", "I want my grandchildren to have my boat if they live in Texas, but if they live in another state, then I want them to have my oil paintings.").  These types of statements only make it more difficult to administer your will.   My advice is to leave out the "if ... only" statements altogether.

The third piece of advice is to make sure that you don't have any conflicts between your will and other legal documents.  For example, if your will says that you leave a retirement account to your son, but the beneficiary designation says that you leave it to your daughter, that sets up a conflict between them, confusion, and extra time in getting it sorted out.  (By the way, the beneficiary designation to an account generally rules, as long as it is accurate and properly done.).

Tip number four:  Avoid confusion by updating when necessary. If you have gotten a divorce or are separated and not living with your spouse, make a new will and take that spouse's name out.  If the relationship between you and a person who has a major role in your will has changed, update your will. Do you really want that cousin that you have been angry with for years to be the one making decisions that affect your estate and its distribution?

There is a lot to be said for "keeping it simple".  Simple, yet clear is the best way to go when at all possible.

Family Law, Wills, Powers of Attorney & Estate Planning

"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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Monday, June 6, 2016

Where Should you Keep your "Original" Will?

Once you have signed your Last Will and Testament where should you keep it?  How do you know that your loved ones will be able to find it?

This is an important concern because if the original is lost, it may not be found when it is needed. Or, even worse, it may be found years later after everything has been distributed in way that you did not intend (leading to guilt and upset for your family).

Here is what we advise our clients:

  1. Keep your original will in a safe place that you, your spouse and your executor (and alternate executor) can access.  Do not keep it in a safe deposit box unless your executor and alternate executors also have access to that box.  A good place is a fireproof safe or box at your home or office.   
  2. Give copies to important people.  For example, your attorney's office, your spouse,  your executor(s), and perhaps your children can have copies.   These copies can be paper copies and/or digital (pdf) copies. 
  3. Keep a digital copy on your own computer and know how to access it. 
  4. Keep your original Will clean. Don't let it get wet, musty or dirty. Don't set your coffee cup on it, unstaple and restaple it, or write on it. (these acts can make it invalid or difficult to read). 
  5. Yes, you can probate a copy of a will, but it is more complicated to do so and it costs more money to do so.  However, it can be done. So, if your will is lost in a move or flood, then it is possible to get a judge to accept a copy. 
  6. When you update your will, gather and destroy all the prior wills and tell your loved ones to do the same.   Don't allow multiple versions to float around.
These tips can help keep you organized, and can help your loved ones in the future. 

Family Law, Wills, Powers of Attorney & Estate Planning

"Passionate, Professional & Personal. We Make the Difference." For Over Thirty Years.
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