If you would have asked me at the beginning of the season if the Philadelphia Eagles would be playing in February, I would have said no way. But here we are, the big game is just around the corner and the Eagles have a chance to play for the game’s biggest prize. In sports, as in life, the unexpected often happens—and when it does, it’s crucial to be prepared. Just as The New England Patriots will be watching footage and fine tuning their strategy to stop an opponent they didn’t see coming, so too is it important that you and I have a plan to address the unexpected. In this week’s blog we’ll talk about formulating a plan:
What happens to your kids if you suddenly cannot care for them?
Assume for a moment that you have no formal written plan in place and you don’t make it home today. Who is going to be the first person to pick up your children and take care of them? Is that the person you want caring for your children long-term? If you aren’t comfortable with that, you are not alone. If you are not comfortable making this decision, you are also not alone. In my experience, the single question of who is going to take care of the children is the stumbling block for most to getting a plan in place. We can talk about who will take care of us, or who will get our stuff, but our children are different. Don’t let this be a stumbling block for you. Get a plan in place. Understand that you can have separate people managing the money for the kids from the people providing the day to day care. For example, I’ve had clients in my office. The husband turns to his wife and says, “Well sure, your sister is great with our kids, but she can’t manage money, so we obviously can’t pick her.” The wife turns back and says, “Well, your brother is good with money, but you know he doesn’t live here and we don’t want the kids to have to leave their friends and the family here.” In their minds, they have reached a deadlock until I point out that those two family members can work together. They can make her sister the Guardian for the children and allow his brother to manage the investments and accounts. If this discussion is what is keeping you from making the decision, call an attorney today and make the appointment. Having a third party in the room often helps trigger new ideas. Remember, the attorney has likely seen this struggle a few times before. The attorney can help you set up a trust, so the money can be managed and you will also complete a form titled, “Appointment of Guardian for children in the case of incapacity or death.” This simple document can help your family avoid years of litigation as the two sides of the family might otherwise both believe they are the best fit.
What happens to your estate if you pass away unexpectedly?
The answer to this question is often not as easy as you might think. I work with clients all the time who lost a loved one who did not have an estate plan. The absolute worst part of my job as a Probate Attorney is having to tell a spouse that they don’t automatically own 100% of the home that they purchased with their spouse. Several factors go into who owns the property after the death of a spouse. They biggest myth I see is this one: Texas is a Community Property state, so that means if my husband dies, all the property is mine, right? Wrong, in Texas Community Property assets are split at death very much in the same was in a divorce. The community splits in two. The half of the community owned by the deceased spouse will pass to that spouse’s estate. If there were children from a previous marriage, or if property was owned before marriage, the distribution may change further. There is an easy way to avoid this: Create a plan, Sign a will in front of a notary and two witnesses. Make sure that Will was prepared by an attorney. Just this week, I met with a client who presented a will to me. Her step-mother had prepared the will online and had it signed and notarized. The notary (not a lawyer) assured her that the will would be valid. Unfortunately, he was wrong. I informed the person sitting across the table from me that the will was in fact not valid at all. The person who thought they were about to inherit a house learned that they would not in fact be inheriting anything at all and it was too late to fix it.
What happens if you’re injured and need someone to make financial and medical decisions on your behalf?
Just as the Eagles had to have a backup plan when their quarterback Carson Wentz went down with a knee injury, you need to have plan in place to have a backup step in for you in the case of an injury that causes you to be incapacitated. The Eagles brought in Nick Foles who knows the system and could step into Carson’s shoes and keep the team going. The backup has done well enough to lead the team to the Super Bowl. You need to have someone like that in place as well. The first step to accomplishing this is signing a Statutory Durable Power of Attorney and a Medical Power of Attorney. These two documents will allow you to name an agent to make both financial and medical decisions for you. The second step is making sure that the agent you name knows where to find your playbook. Make sure they know where to find your banking passwords and where to find an idea about where to find other important information. Talk to them about your preferences regarding medical care. Give your agent the tools to make the game winning plays until you are back in the huddle.