When The Unthinkable Happens…

When The Unthinkable Happens…

It’s “Date Night” Friday…

The one night a week when you and your spouse spend time together…talk about the week…have a nice leisurely dinner…just the two of you.

You’ve lined up a babysitter…

You left money for the pizza delivery guy and a list of contact numbers on the refrigerator door…right under the magnet you bought in Yosemite last summer…

You’ve got everything taken care of…

Except what happens to your children if the unthinkable happens and you never make it back home.

If you have minor children and you’re severely injured or worse in an accident, the police may have no choice but to place your children with Child Protective Services if they don’t have information or documentation indicating who you would want to care for your children.

Once the immediate situation has passed, your children could then be at the mercy of the “system”.  There is no way the State can know who would be the best choice as a guardian for your children.

So…what do you need to do?

First, Put Your Guardianship Wishes in Writing

Just telling your chosen guardian that you want them to take care of your children is not enough.  What you “said” is not legally sufficient and you could be placing your children at the mercy of the foster care system for a long period of time.  You need to have a plan in place, written instructions, and the proper legal documentation in order to ensure that your wishes are followed and that everyone knows what those wishes are.

Another misconception is that if you name a guardian in your Will, that’s all you have to do.

Wrong.

A guardianship provided for in a Will only takes effect after you die.  If you become incapacitated but are still alive, it means nothing.

Proper Documentation for Guardianship

A good, solid guardianship plan will allow you to choose guardians either on a permanent or temporary basis and leave instructions for those guardians so they know exactly what you want them to do and under what circumstances.

You need to have at least these documents in place at all times if you have minor children:

1.         Legal documentation naming a short term or temporary guardian in case you become incapacitated for a short period of time, or in the interim between your death and the time your permanent guardian can arrive.  The best option for this guardianship is someone close by that can take immediate custody of your children and keep them out of the court system.  Make sure that you talk to these individuals about your plans and that they are willing to serve as temporary guardians.  Have their names at the top of a contact list that is available immediately in the event you are not able to communicate.  And always make sure they have a copy of the documents naming them as temporary guardians.

2.         Legal documents naming permanent guardians.  The same information applies for this document as for temporary guardianship papers.  Make sure you talk to the people you select and that they have copies of these documents to provide to the court.

3.         Make sure you have written instructions for anyone taking care of your children so they know exactly what needs to be done if something happens to you.  Make sure they know who to call.  Even if you’re leaving your kids with the 16 year old kid next door to babysit on Friday night, make sure she or he knows what needs to be done if the worst happens.  And always have written instructions in place for the person or persons you choose as a guardian to tell them how you want your children to be raised.

4.         Always have a Medical Authorization and Power of Attorney for your children, especially if you’re sending them to Grandma’s on their own.  These documents will allow the person taking care of your children in your absence to make medical decisions that could be a matter of life and death.

Really makes you think, doesn’t it?

He said/She said will not hold up in court, so if that is the only plan you’ve made for your children if the unthinkable happens, you could be placing them at the mercy of the foster care system without even realizing it.

If all this has made you realize you would like to get your documents in order to make sure that your children and your property are taken care of, call us to schedule your Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session today.  We can identify what you need to do to plan for your family’s future and answer any questions you have about an effective estate plan.  Our Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session is normally $750, but  mention this article and you’ll have a complete planning session with me at no charge.  Call 770-425-6060 today and mention this article.

When Designating a Guardian

Guardianship is a topic we cover very extensively in our blog articles and in our ProtectMyKids Planning™ seminars.  Today we want to share some practical considerations with you–things you should consider before naming one or more people to serve as guardians for your children.  The intent is to encourage you to engage in proactive planning, and also to take some pressure off of you.  The latter comes from realizing that until you actually die, your planning is quite flexible and can be changed to meet your wishes.

Not Permanent Until It’s Permanent

Naming one or more people to serve as a guardian for your children in the event of your death or incapacity might seem very permanent, but again, it’s not.  You can change the named guardians in your plan at will . . . right up until the time you pass away or become incapacitated.  For that reason, it’s not enough that you set up a great plan initially.  You must also review that plan and the continuing suitability of the people you’ve chosen.  As circumstances change and people evolve, so might your choices.

That’s where our law firm is unique.  We have options available whereby we conduct an annual review of your plan each year just to make sure that our planning is still appropriate.  We want you to sleep well at night, but we also want your children to receive the best care possible if something happens to you.  It’s very important.

Really, Really Know The Appointees

Make sure you know the person or people you’re appointing very well.  That means you need to spend a lot of time with them.  Ideally, choose someone who is already a parent.  That way you can observe and get comfortable with their parenting style.  It’s also great if your children feel close to, and a sense of support from, the person you’re going to choose.  You need to know and feel comfortable with things like religious beliefs, habits, where the person lives (so your children aren’t uprooted if that’s important to you), and how equipped the person is to help your children through a very difficult time.

Practical Considerations

Does the person you’re considering have a home that is big enough to include your children?  How about his or her relative health and financial stability, does that meet your standards?  Financial issues can be overcome with additional planning on your part, which might include something like a term life insurance policy.  But the real question is whether the person you’re appointing manages money well enough to make the inheritance last.

You do have the option to name two guardians for your children, because it just so happens that raising children and managing money requires two different skill sets!  One guardian would be the caretaker (“Guardian of the Person”), and the other would manage the money (“Guardian of the Estate”).  If you consider this option, make sure the two guardians get along well, and make sure that they’re on the same page with respect to your wishes and what you believe to be in the best interest of your children.

DO NOT WAIT

It’s very important that you act right away to name a guardian for your children.  Remember, until you die, the decision can be “undone,” but if you die without having named a guardian, then the fate of your children will be left to the discretion of a total stranger . . . a judge.  You have the ability to take control right now, and your words and planning will have the effect of law.  In other words, a less than perfect choice is better than no choice at all.

If you would like to discuss setting up a guardianship plan, please call our offices and schedule a time to speak with an attorney.  If you mention this article by name and say that you’re interested in a ProtectMyKids Plan™, we will meet with you absolutely free of charge.