Young Adult Planning

The holidays are upon us. This means getting together with family and friends to celebrate the many things for which we are thankful and to exchange gifts. I am excited to have my daughter home from college. Even though she is 20, I still consider her my responsibility. I am supporting her through college, paying for her tuition and other needs. This includes her healthcare.


But did you know that without the proper documentation in place, she could be in the emergency room or hospital and neither I nor my husband would have any right to speak with her caregivers? We might not even be given access to her if she is unable to give her consent or if the ER is so crazy the caregivers don't have time to get her consent. She would be responsible for making medical decisions for herself. Now, my daughter - quite frankly - would no idea what to do or say. She would want my husband and I would to make these decisions for her; however, sometimes logistics in an emergency room or hospital don't make such consults possible. But, because my daughter has signed the proper documentation, I can maneuver through the system and ultimately gain access to my daughter, her healthcare providers, and her situation.

So how can you help your young adult child? If you are a young adult, how can you help yourself? Put into place a HIPAA release, a Medical Power of Attorney, and (to round out your ability to fully help your young adult), a Statutory Durable Power of Attorney. Having these documents in place will allow you to help the young adults you love as they begin navigating adulthood.

Whether you are the parent of a young adult or you are a young adult, we can help you get these document put into place for you. Use the time you have during the holidays with your child or your parents to discuss the need for these documents. Click on the Start Planning button or call our office at 512-649-2300 to begin the process.

Choosing Your Child's Guardian - Part 4 of 4

In Part 3 of Choosing Your Child's Guardian, you matched potential guardians with characteristics that are most important to you. In other words, you matched people to priorities. Now let's conclude this process by making it a positive experience for you and those you ultimately choose to help you with this extraordinary opportunity.

Step Four: Make it Positive

For some parents, getting past this decision quickly is the best way to achieve peace of mind and happiness.  For others, choosing a guardian can be the start of a more intensive relationship-building process.  An attorney who listens and understands where you and your spouse fall on that spectrum can counsel you appropriately.

For those who want to use the estate planning process as a life-enhancing inquiry, consider the following:

-          Once they know how strongly you feel about their loving and good characters, your appointed guardians may choose to become more involved with your children (as “godparents” do in some religions);

-          Focus on what you want for your children.  Whether you are there to provide it or not can clarify your own parenting priorities, in addition to enabling you to create a highly customized estate plan that conveys your morals and values;

-    Consider what you want to achieve with your children while they’re still at home with you?  What legacy do you want to leave for them when you say goodbye?

Nominating a guardian can be an intensive, life-changing process, but it can also be the easiest “legal” issue you’ll ever face.  The nomination of guardianship itself can be a very brief document, a short paragraph in a will, or a detailed provision in a comprehensive living trust.  Use this 4-part article as a resource as you make these tough decisions… but only take what works for you.  Nominating guardians need not be a life-long event.  Know that no matter how you choose to complete the process, you will find a new level of peace of mind once you complete it.

Choosing Your Child's Guardian - Part 3 of 4

In Part 2 of Choosing Your Child's Guardian, you considered the most important character traits you want in a guardian for your children. This week we are going to match these priorities to people.

Step Three: Match People to Priorities

Use the factors you chose in step two to narrow your list of candidates to a handful.  Congratulations!  You can relax knowing you have many good choices to choose from.  Listen to your body and feelings as you consider each person or couple as guardian.  If you choose not to use a Guardianship Panel, you will have to use your instincts to rank this short-list into the people you would want first, second, and so on.  If you are working with an attorney experienced in planning for parents of minor children, be prepared to answer the following question whenever you have named a couple: if the couple divorces or, because of death or incapacity, only one can serve, would you like either one to be guardian by themselves?  Or would you prefer to move to the next name on the list?  For this reason, it may be best to just name one member of a couple, rather than both, or name a contingency in case of divorce, death or separation.

For many families, it’s as easy as it looks.  For others, however, choosing a guardian is fraught with conflict.  One common source of difficulty is disagreement between spouses.  Consensus is important.  While you can each name different guardians, most parents are happier when they reach agreement.  Explore the disagreements to see what information about values and people you should both understand.  Use your strongest communications skills and empathy to understand each other’s position before you try to find a solution that you can both feel good about.

Regardless of which spouse’s family or friends appear more frequently on your final list, it’s important to keep both families involved.  One way to do this is to name members of both families to the Guardianship Panel. If there is a likelihood of conflict between these family members, be sure to share this with your attorney so that your guardianship provisions can be customized to encourage the families to keep the lines of communication open.

NEXT WEEK: Choosing Your Child's Guardian - Part 4: Keep It Positive

Choosing Your Child's Guardian - Part 2 of 4

Last week week, you worked on making a list of people who we might consider asking to be guardians for your children. This week, we want you to examine what factors are most important to you as a parent to help you narrow your choice.

Step Two:  Decide What Matters Most

Choose a few factors that are most important to you.  Here are some to consider:

  • maturity
  • patience
  • stamina
  • age
  • child-rearing philosophy
  • presence of children in the home already
  • interest in and relationship with your children
  • integrity
  • stability
  • ability to meet the physical demands of child care
  • presence of enough “free” time to raise children
  • religion or spirituality
  • marital or family status
  • potential conflicts of interest with your children
  • willingness to serve
  • social and moral habits and values
  • willingness to adopt your children

Take a look at your list and take time to think about the ones you chose. Why did you choose these characteristics? Are there others that are not listed above that you would like to add? Add them. Obviously, the perfect person to be the guardian of your children would score highly on every measure.  But that is likely not realistic. Because we are all imperfect, you will likely have more success in choosing the few characteristics that are most important to you.  Consider, as you make your choice, that some factors can be influenced by you and others cannot.  Integrity is something you cannot change.  But if having an at-home parent is important to you, your prospective guardian might be willing to come home to raise your child if you make it possible through a well-structured and properly funded estate plan. 

Knowing the answers to these questions can be very helpful as you work through the process of choosing a guardian for your kiddos.

NEXT WEEK: Choosing Your Child's Guardian - Part 3: Match People to Priorities

Choosing Your Child's Guardian - Part 1 of 4

Choosing a person or family to care for your children is difficult.  In fact, for many families, it’s the hardest part of planning their estate.  It’s not easy to think of anyone else, no matter how loving, raising your child.  Yet, you can make a tremendous difference in your child’s life by planning ahead.  And you have nothing to lose except a few moments thinking about what you value most in life, and in childrearing.

Anyone with a child under the age of 18 must consider who would raise that child if they were unable to.  Of course, we all imagine the worst-case scenario – our own premature deaths – when we consider this.  But there is a less tragic, and common, situation in which naming a guardian is crucial: incapacity.  If you and your spouse were unable to care for your children temporarily, who would watch over them while you recovered?

The younger your child, the more crucial this choice is, because very young children cannot form or express their own preferences about caregivers.  Yet young children are not the only ones who benefit from careful parental attention to guardianship.  Children close to 18 years old will be legal adults soon, but, as you well know, a parent’s job does not end when the child reaches 18.  By naming and talking about your choice of guardian, you can encourage a lifelong bond with a caring family.

The nomination of guardians is a straightforward aspect of any family’s estate plan.  It can be as basic or detailed as you want.  You can simply name the person or persons who would act if both you and your spouse were unable.  Or you can provide detailed guidance about your children and the sort of experiences and family environment you would like for them.  Our firm almost always recommends that it is best to leave detailed guidelines regarding the care of your children, including information on how you have raised them, your philosophies about religious upbringing, discipline, education, etc.  The more detailed the instructions, the closer your children will be raised according to your family’s values. 

So how do you actually choose the right guardian?  You may have too many loving family members to count.  How do you choose between them?  Or you may be from small families and wonder if you can find anyone suitable.  Either way, you can make good choices by following our 4-step process.

This is the first part of a 4-part series where we will walk you through the process of choosing a guardian for your children.

Step One: Make a List

Make a long list of everyone you know who might possibly be a good guardian.  When considering whether someone should be on the list, ask yourself, “would they provide a better home for my children than the foster care system?”  If the answer is yes, put them down.  If the answer is no, note that too, for you may wish to express that under no circumstances should these people be made the guardians of your precious children.  Your list could contain dozens of names but should have at least 3 or 4 people or couples before you call it a day. 

Think beyond your immediate family.  Parents have chosen cousins, aunts & uncles, grandparents, child care providers, business partners and friends to serve as guardians.  Consider long-time friends and those you’ve gotten to know at parenting groups.  They may share similar philosophies about child rearing.  Do not eliminate people from your list for financial reasons unless they lack basic money management skills.  Sufficient life insurance or other assets in a well-drafted Children’s Trust can ensure your children’s material well being.

Temporary & Permanent Guardians

Consider the difference between “temporary” guardians and “permanent” guardians.  Temporary guardians may be appointed to care for your children if both parents become disabled but will eventually recover (a car accident, for example).  Permanent guardians would be appointed if both parents have died.   If you are unable to physically care for your children, you may want them to stay in town close to you, with the least amount of disruption to their normal routine.   This would entail naming a “temporary” guardian who lives locally or who could move into your home on a short term basis.  On the other hand, if you have died, it may be best for the children to move to wherever the appointed guardian is living, so they can begin to establish themselves in their new town and new school.

The Guardianship Panel

Finally, for the greatest flexibility, consider using a Guardianship Panel to appoint your children’s guardians.  The panel can consist of family members, loved ones and trusted friends who will decide together as a group who would be the best guardian for your children when and if the time comes. 

Guardianship Panels allows for tremendous flexibility, since a named guardian might be appropriate at one time or stage in your child’s life, but may not be appropriate when the child is older and the child and/or the guardian now have different needs and desires.  The Panel members are able to consult with your children as they grow up and, depending on the children’s desires and what is in the child’s best interests, the panel can then appoint appropriate guardians after taking the current situation into account.  

NEXT WEEK: Choosing Your Child's Guardian - Part 2: Deciding What Matters Most

Who Needs A Will?

Full disclosure. We are estate planning attorneys.  It is in our best interest to tell you that everyone needs a will.  But guess what?  It's true. Everyone needs a will. And if we are being honest with you (which we are!), everyone already has a will. The question is - who wrote their will?  If you have not signed a will, the answer is this – your state legislature wrote it. 

Why does this matter? Because you should have control over what happens to your hard-earned assets - not some politicians.  You take valuable time to work with financial advisors, accountants, and insurance agents to discuss, research, and select the best investment strategies.  You talk about you goals for retirement, and you may be charitably minded.   But does your state-written will reflect your goals for disposing of your assets and taking care of your family after your death? Do you even know what the state laws say regarding the disposition of your estate?

All the hard work you have put into your businesses, families, and investment portfolios deserves to be honored with an estate plan that matches your goals. You are busy, and if you do not personally know an estate planning attorney, finding one can be a huge stumbling block to completing the process.  If you (or a family member or friend) does not already have a relationship with an estate planning attorney, we would be happy to talk with you about our estate planning philosophy.