3 Legal Secrets All Parents Should Know
By Julia NickersonPublished November 3, 2011
What would happen to your children if something happens to you? This is a tough question that no parent wants to think about. I hope all our tomorrows are filled with joy, educational experiences, dreams and goals. Yet, for those of us who have been faced with life threatening situations, we know how important it is to be prepared.
We all know, at least in theory, that life is unpredictable and that we never know what tomorrow will bring. This eye opening realization was slapped in my face when I almost died in the hospital after giving birth to my first child. I was expecting to hold my baby immediately after his birth, begin breastfeeding and pose for numerous memorable photo opportunities. I had a scrapbook to create after all. Instead, I was rushed into the operating room, intubated, and put on life support. I can remember being so exhausted after this whole ordeal, yet waking up every five minutes to the sound of an alarming blood pressure monitor alerting those who already knew about my unstable condition. After spending the first night after my son’s birth in the ICU, I was given two liters of someone else’s blood transfused into my veins.
I learned later what had happened to me, which was a rare birth complication no one could have expected. But that event, like so many others who have life threatening situations, taught me a lot about life. First, I learned the importance of nurses. I was fortunate enough to have very experienced nurses. Always be extra nice to your nurse—she could save your life.
I learned what every mom at some point recognizes--that the trials and sacrifices we go through for our children transform us into more loving and dedicated mothers.
And, as an attorney, I realized that since I was now a parent, I better get my legal affairs in order. What would have happened to my son if something tragic happened to me? What would happen to your children if something happens to you? This is a tough question that no parent wants to think about. I hope all our tomorrows are filled with joy, educational experiences, dreams and goals. Yet, for those of us who have been faced with life threatening situations, we know how important it is to be prepared. All parents should know these 3 legal secrets.
Secret #1: Legally Document Your Guardianship Decisions. As parents, the last thing we would want if something happens to us is for our children to be put into a situation in which they feel scared, unloved and surrounded by people they don't know. Don’t ever put your children’s care in the hands of a broken down court system and a judge who doesn’t know your family, your goals or your values. Legally document your guardianship decisions. No one can replace you; however, if you are not here to parent your children, you should be the one who decides the person who has the goals and values to take over.
Secret #2: Have a Plan that Can Actually be Implemented. Legal guardianship documents for minor children sitting on a shelf or in a safe someplace don’t help in an emergency situation. While things are being sorted out with the police, child protective services and the court, your children could be shipped off to a place you never imagined. If your guardians live out of town, name a temporary guardian such as a neighbor. Make sure emergency non-confidential legal documents can be obtained 24/7/365 from anywhere by emergency responders.
Secret #3: Ensure your Children Don’t Receive Their Inheritance at Age 18. If parents leave an inheritance to their children outside of a trust, a court will have no choice but to manage it until the child obtains age 18. At age 18 the children will receive complete access to all the remaining assets---outright and totally unprotected! Ironically, the child would receive such assets during the year in which his or her parents would most likely have wanted their child to begin a college education.
Whether you have thousands or millions, smart parents all need to ensure that their assets are transferred properly upon death. Smart parents prepare trusts to hold assets for the benefit of their children. They name a trusted friend or relative to serve as a trustee. They delay the time when their children are able to receive full access to the trust. They put steps in place to enable their children to get their education and become contributing members of society. They plan to avoid estate tax or to give to charities.
As a mom and an attorney, I know how difficult it can be to make sure all the details of parenting are thought out and planned for—figuring out which camps my children should attend this summer has been a big issue for me. Having a legal plan in place for your children in case something happens to you is one of the most important steps you as a parent can take to protect your children and their future. Remember, Smart Parents Plan Ahead.
About the Author
Julia Nickerson is an estate and probate attorney in Austin Texas. She is passionate about building awareness of the importance of thoughtful legal planning. Julia frequently speaks to groups on estate planning issues.
Julia makes it easy for your family to talk about and plan for tough subjects like money, death and taxes. Julia also counsels families on probate and estate administration and helps families with special needs children set up the correct special needs trust planning. www.julianickerson.com
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