If you have a blended family (with kids from a prior marriage or relationship) and do not plan for what happens to your assets in the event of your incapacity or eventual death, you are almost certainly guaranteeing hurt feelings, conflict, and maybe even a long, drawn out court battle.

So let’s start with clarity around what a blended family is and whether you have one. If you have stepchildren, or children from a prior marriage, or other people you consider “kin” who are not considered legal relatives in the eyes of the law, you’ve got a blended family.

Bottom line: if you have a blended family, you need an estate plan, and not just a will you created for yourself online, or a trust that isn’t very intentionally designed to keep your family out of court and out of conflict. Period. End of story. Unless you are okay with setting your loved ones up for unnecessary heartache, confusion, and pain when something happens to you. 

What Will the Law Do?

Blended Families, once considered “non-traditional” families are swiftly becoming the norm. Currently 52% of married couples (or unmarried couples who live together) have a stepkin relationship of some kind, and 4 in 10 new marriages involve remarriage. Thus, while this really is no longer “non-traditional” our laws about what happens if you become incapacitated or die are still very much based on the model of two people who get married, have kids together, and then die married.

Every state has different provisions for what happens when you become incapacitated or die, and the laws of the state where you become incapacitated or die may or may not match your wishes.

For example, in Colorado, if you are survived by a spouse, your surviving spouse would only receive a part of your estate if you have living children (or parents!), and your living children or parents would receive the rest. And the amount your spouse receives is variable based on the number and ages of your children.

In Alaska, if you have joint children then everything goes to the surviving spouse, but if there are children of only one spouse then the children will inherit at the first death.

In contrast, in California, all community property assets would go to your surviving spouse, and separate property assets would be distributed partially to a surviving spouse and partially to children, if living, in amounts depending on the number of surviving children.

In Texas, it can get very complex, depending on whether your assets are separate or community, and whether you have children from the marriage, no children from the marriage or living parents or siblings.

These are examples to show you that where you die, and what’s true when you die, may not result in the outcome you want for your loved ones, especially if you have a blended family situation.

So, here’s what you do to make sure that things do go the way you want: call us and schedule a Life & Legacy Planning Session. While the session is normally $750, if you do some homework ahead of time (homework that’s going to make sure your family can find everything you have if and when you become incapacitated or die), we’ll waive the Life & Legacy Planning Session fee for you, and spend two hours getting to know you, your family dynamics, and your assets, and teach you about the law here in Alaska and how it would impact your family and your assets in the event of your incapacity or death, so you can ensure that things go the way you want for the people you love.

Even within “traditional” families, aka married parents with families, I want to emphasize that having a full plan is the best way to provide for your loved ones. However, with “blended” families, carefully considered estate plans are, as you can see, even more vital to avoid massive misunderstanding and conflict, and having your assets tied up in court instead of going to the people you want to receive them.

Disputes Between Spouse and Children from Previous Marriage

One of the most common problems that arises in a blended family is that the deceased’s children from a prior marriage and the surviving spouse end up in conflict. This is sadly common.

When you’re considering all of these factors for the people you love, it’s important to have a Personal Family Lawyer® who can help you look at the reality of what will happen if you become incapacitated or when you die. With the complexities of modern families, it’s better to know than to leave it to the law or a court to provide. That way, not only do the people you love get the assets that you want them to receive, but you may also be saving them from years of legal conflict. Just give us a call and we’ll help you review your options.

This article is a service of Liz Smith, Personal Family Lawyer® in Juneau, Alaska. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Life & Legacy Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today at 907-312-5436 to schedule a Life & Legacy Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Many people come to us curious (or confused) about trusts and taxes. So today’s article is going to sort it out and clarify things for you.

There are two types of trusts, and each have different tax consequences.

Revocable trusts, which are the far more commonly used trusts, have no tax consequences whatsoever. A revocable trust has your social security number as it’s tax identifier, and is not a separate entity from you for tax purposes. It is a separate entity from you for purposes of probate, meaning if you become incapacitated or die your Trustee can take over without a court order, keeping your family out of court. But, until your death, it’s treated as invisible from a tax perspective. At the time of your death, if your revocable trust provides for the creation of irrevocable trusts, then the tax implications will shift.

When you have an irrevocable trust, either created during life, at death through a revocable living trust, or through a will that creates a trust, that trust has its own EIN, or employer identification number (also called a TIN or taxpayer identification number). Generally, it pays income taxes on income earned by the trust, as if it’s a separate tax paying entity.

Trust income is taxed at the highest tax bracket applicable to individuals as soon as there is over $12,950 of income. However, in some cases a trust can be drafted to provide that the tax consequences pass through to the beneficiary, and thus that income is taxed at his or her tax rate. We will often do this when creating a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust for a beneficiary, so that the trust can provide the benefits of credit protection from lawsuits, divorce, or even bankruptcy, but not have the negative tax consequence of the highest tax rates on very little income.

If you have a trust, and you want us to review it for the income tax consequences to your loved ones after your death, please contact us.

Now, let’s talk about estate taxes. Currently, if you die with assets over $11.58M, then your estate will be subject to estate tax on all amounts over that $11.58M at the rate of 40%. Yep, 40% will go to the government. You can mitigate these taxes, or even eliminate them by using various planning methods, most of which are fairly complex, but worth it if you can save your family that 40% estate tax. It is unlikely that you have any concern about paying estate tax right now, because you probably do not have over $11.58M in assets. However, that threshold limit is a number that changes with different administrations and it is likely to come back down.

If you are trying to figure out whether an irrevocable trust, or a revocable trust, or even a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust is best for you and your beneficiaries, we, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, can help you weigh that decision and make the right choice for yourself and the people you love.

This article is a service of Liz Smith, Personal Family Lawyer® in Juneau, Alaska. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Life & Legacy Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today at 907-312-5436 to schedule a Life & Legacy Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Learning Issue Spotting

In law school we spend a lot of time reading fact patterns to identify the legal issues involved. In torts class (where we study civil legal causes of action such as negligence, assault, and defective products) we might read about someone who gets a flat tire on their way to work. It is the same flat tire that was just fixed by the local mechanic. During their lunch break they call and yell at the local mechanic and threaten to beat them up if they do not fix the tire again – right this time! After the call, they buy gluten free soup only to find out later that it contained gluten. This made them very upset. Then they tell their co-workers how bad the mechanic is, and go a step further and place their opinion on a giant billboard and in all the local newspapers…and so on.

That was a pretty horrible example, but we would read a fact pattern along these lines (people have really tough days in law school fact patterns) and be tasked to identify where there could be a “legal cause of action” – in other words, where is there a potential lawsuit, also called issue spotting.

To truly determine where there would actually be potential to sue, we would need a lot more information than this fact pattern involves. We would ask questions and gather data to determine if the legal requirements are met. We must know the legal causes of action to know what questions to ask.

In other words, we need both information (the facts) AND the legal understanding. Only by knowing that negligence requires that there be a duty to act in a certain way towards another, then that the duty is breached, and that there are damages caused by the breach, could an attorney know the right questions to ask and the right information to gather. The person in the fact pattern above might be upset about soup with gluten, but if it doesn’t cause measurable harm then there is no basis to sue.

How it applies to my estate planning process

As an estate planning attorney, I do this same work of issue spotting. I bring my legal knowledge to the table as I meet with clients initially, but then need to spend time learning from them, using that legal knowledge to guide my questions.

Before we can work together, potential clients are asked to fill out extensive information about their interests, values, assets, and family. (And rarely would I meet with someone who didn’t do this carefully). Then, we meet and I find out even more information about you and your family dynamics. Only with ALL of this information am I prepared to explain what would happen upon your death if you do no [additional] planning.

Once you understand what would likely happen, then you can share what, if anything, you don’t like – and from there I can explain options to control the circumstances in the event of your death. Additionally, because I have background information and am starting to know and understand you better, I can explain other options that might be of interest to you without overwhelming you with the endless possibilities that are irrelevant to you.

What’s this about a $50 will?

I was recently asked by an employer organization (they provide legal benefits to the employees of different companies) to do a ‘Simple Will’ for one of their members for $50. There was some provision that if I looked at his ‘questionnaire’ that they provided him, I could decide that a ‘Simple Will’ was not appropriate and work with him at a discount off of my normal rate.

I asked what a ‘Simple Will’ was and informed them that I could not imagine doing a will for $50 – for anyone, but they had already told me that this individual owned multiple properties and had enough resources to make the legal process of probate complicated upon his death.

They never got back to me, but this has gotten me thinking about what they possibly could have wanted me to do. My guess is that they sent him a form asking what he wanted, presumably who he wanted to give assets to and whom he wanted as personal representative/executor, and they must have expected me to create a simple fill-in-the-blanks will for him, probably without EVER even speaking to him. In fact, for $50, I suspect that any attorney willing to do it isn’t even looking at the questionnaire, but rather asking staff to create the document.

To do this, in my mind, would amount to malpractice.

Let me just be clear for a moment that I do provide Pro Bono legal services, in other words, free legal services for those who cannot afford my fees. I treat these cases the same I would a paying client, spending time to get to know them and their circumstances so that they have a plan that will work for them.

But that was not the request.

Why would I be unwilling to take his word for what he wanted based on a questionnaire? Because I have no information that he understands the consequences of what would happen upon his death based on what he wrote on the questionnaire. I do not know what is important to him. I do not know that he has considered various options and determined this meets his needs. I do not know if he has planned for a period of incapacity. I would not have enough information to do my job correctly.

It may be that he has researched this information extensively and knows exactly what he wants and wishes to take advantage of this workplace program to complete his will rather than using drafting software for a few hundred dollars online. But this is unlikely, and I am unwilling to take the risk.

Do you want to learn more, to schedule a meeting, and even to learn how you can get this initial planning meeting for free? Schedule a time for Liz to call you here, email Liz@lizsmithlaw.com, or call us at 907-312-5436.

There’s nothing like a major change in the economic climate to make you rethink your day job. “Business as usual” currently means a large element of uncertainty about what the future holds for your working life. Whether you’ve lost your job, had your hours cut, or have seen these things happen to people you know, your feeling of security has likely taken a hit. And, maybe that can be a good thing, something that calls you to start taking action.

Last week, I talked about how now is the perfect time for you to look at  all the resources available to you, and to consider what you can do to serve the world with under-utilized gifts, skills, and talents. By doing this, you have the potential to take full control over your income, and your family’s long-term security.

You also may have noticed a growing trend that existed even before the coronavirus pandemic hit—more and more people are opting out of the traditional 9 to 5 and becoming “solopreneurs,” either by becoming a freelancer or starting a business.

As a freelancer, you would draw on the talents you’ve used as an employee, or even other skills you’ve developed outside the scope of your day job, to help support other people’s businesses. And, once you see it going well, you may decide to start a business of your own.

There are unlimited possibilities, and the way we live and work in today’s world means there’s never been a better time to get started. Here’s why.

We Have the Technology

For a solopreneur, working from home is the norm, and software companies are only helping that trend along. New tech tools exist that make it easier and easier for people to use their own computers for what would normally be done in an office environment. There are as many project management tools, to do lists, calendar apps, cloud storage tools, and industry-specific software programs, as there are preferred ways of doing work. A lot of these tools have free options, and you can scale up your technology according to how much your business is growing.

Plus, as we become more connected digitally, it’s quicker and easier to coordinate teams online. That means you can coordinate with your clients and contractors to have meetings, share documents, and pay and get paid more easily.

Be True to Yourself

There are plenty of reasons to shift from being an employee to being your own boss. It’s impossible to completely agree with the way someone does business. Sometimes that just has to do with paid time off policies, or just not hitting it off with the person in the cubicle next to yours. But sometimes it has to do with larger issues than that. Maybe you just don’t want to work somewhere that you don’t feel in sync with the mission.

When you work for yourself, you have the freedom to choose who you work with, and what values you choose to uphold. And chances are, when you’re doing work you care about, you’ll be a whole lot happier.

Live the Life You Want

Another reason to be your own boss is to increase your flexibility. When you manage your own schedule, you don’t need someone else’s permission to go pick up your kids from school, workout in the middle of the day, or work on a project in the evening rather than the middle of the afternoon. You don’t have to worry about someone standing over your shoulder and dictating how you should approach a project you’re working on.

In the same way that more technical tools are emerging to meet the new economy, so are new modes of health care. Medical, dental, and other individualized and family plans just for gig workers are becoming common. Whereas it used to be very expensive and difficult for independent contractors to get affordable insurance, the barriers are starting to lower.

Scale Your Income

On one hand, the idea of not having a steady paycheck could be nerve-wracking. But on the other, it could open doors to greater wealth and full control, when you’ve made the transition from employee to freelancer or even business owner, wisely. When you work for yourself, you are no longer limited to earning the amount of money that your company says you should. You can raise your rates as your value increases in the marketplace. You can work more hours, or less. You can charge fees that make sense to you and that your best clients will be happy to pay. As you learn more, and your contracting skills and confidence grow, you’ll realize that you’re the only one who can limit the amount of money you make.

A steady job is not necessarily a sure thing. If you’re in a place of transition with your life and career, it could be the right time to take the leap and begin working for yourself, and then even becoming the boss you always wish you had. Just make sure you consult a trusted legal professional before you make your final decision. We’re happy to help lay out everything that you need to consider when you want to go solo.

This article is a service of Elizabeth J. Smith, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Life & Legacy Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Life & Legacy Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Maybe you, like many of us, have been raised to think that the safest way to live in the working world is to have a good career and a steady paycheck. This financial crisis is challenging that framework for many people. Even if you had a steady job, and even if you still have one, by now you’ve learned how easy it is for that security to disappear overnight.

A recession can reveal all of our negative thoughts and internal monologues about money. A sad, yet common, attitude is for us to see money as a scarce resource, and income as something that’s outside of our control. Thinking or talking about money can trigger feelings of guilt and shame in many people.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The truth is, money is a tool that you can access and multiply, independent of anyone else’s permission. And even if you do have anxieties that keep you from seeing how money can be a positive part of your life, that can change.

Other people may react to this period of uncertainty with the same, old-fashioned advice: live within your means and keep 3–6 months’ worth of income in an emergency fund. If you have a secure job that pays you well, and that you enjoy, this is great advice. But, if that’s not what is true for you, you may be looking at this time as a great opportunity to make a shift and create your own financial security.

Consider this: what if you weren’t relying on a check from your boss (or the unemployment office, as the case may be)?

What if a shift in mindset could change your relationship with money, and set you on track to secure you against economic highs and lows in a way you never even dreamed possible? Or, maybe you have been dreaming about it, but don’t know how or where to start to move it all forward.

A financial crisis doesn’t have to be a crisis for you or your family. In fact, this could be the perfect time to access the wealth of resources currently available to fund your next level of growth. It’s a time to invest in yourself, and to learn to use your gifts, skills, and talents to serve others in a big way. That way, you won’t have to depend on anyone else, including your job, corporations, or the government, to sustain you.

Whether or not you have a day job, see this moment as a wake-up call. It’s time for you to take stock of your greatest resource—yourself. What can you do that other people can’t? What can you give that other people need? Start exploring the resources within you, and you’ll realize that you’ve found your way of contributing value to the world.

Everyone has something to offer, and that offering goes far beyond just the products or services you give your potential clients. If you use your talents to become a higher earner, you can establish yourself as a leader in your community, and affect change in areas that you care about. You can contribute to the growth of your local economy by employing people, and be part of what helps pull the larger economy out of the rut that it may be in.

Even in the lowest of times, even in recessions, there have been many, many people who were able to forge their own paths and grow their wealth through entrepreneurship. You can be one of them.

Things have been tough for our lives and livelihoods, it’s true, but we shouldn’t let this moment go by without considering what we can learn from it. I hope that you are learning about how to be prepared for an emergency when it comes to your savings, investments, and income, but not necessarily in the way we’ve been taught in the past.

As we go into this brave new world, the most important thing you can have is a high-value skill that is needed and wanted, no matter what. The next step is to create the systems and structures to offer that skill in a way that you can rely upon, no matter the ups and downs of the economy. This is a lesson that will benefit you, and that you can encourage in your family and friends, and serve as an example for your children—raising a new generation of economic and community leaders.

We are in a time when your best investment is in your resourcefulness, and your creativity, and your community. Bring these together, and your family can rely on you and what you’ve created, and you can trust that your children will be great, no matter what.

If you need help figuring out your next step, please call us, and we can help.

With the risks still posed by COVID-19, we all need to face the possibility that we could get sick, even if we take great care of ourselves through good nutrition, sleep, and exercise. And even if you don’t need to be hospitalized, if you do experience symptoms and test positive, you might have to stay quarantined for enough time that you’d lose income. These risks highlight the need for everyone, regardless of their age or current state of health, to consider some form of disability insurance coverage.

You might think you don’t need disability insurance, especially if you’re young and in good health. Hopefully, you’re right. Unfortunately, though, becoming disabled can happen to anyone at any time. This isn’t specific to coronavirus either; it has always been true.

The Americans with Disabilities Act has detailed specifics on what a disability is, but the most basic definition is that an individual has “A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.” That can apply to a car-accident or other injury, or a debilitating illness documented by a doctor, including mental illness.

The sad fact is that, according to the US government’s statistics, one in four 20-year-olds become disabled before reaching retirement age. That makes it all the more important that you consider how to protect yourself with insurance.

And this is very important: you must get the actual insurance before something happens. If you’re already sick, you can’t buy disability insurance to make up for lost income.

So now is the time to make a plan. Here’s some information to get you started.

What Qualifies You for Benefits (And What Doesn’t)

Let’s get clear on one thing that applies to the coronavirus pandemic: only medical quarantine qualifies you for disability benefits. That means only medical self-quarantine related to COVID-19, which is verified by a doctor, will qualify you. Socially quarantining to decrease your chance of contracting the virus in the first place won’t qualify you for your disability insurance benefits. Disability insurance also won’t cover you if you lose income or health insurance because your employer has closed or laid you off.

Also, disability insurance is not the same as health insurance. Though your failed health is the reason you’d get access to your disability insurance in the first place, disability insurance will not cover your medical bills. Disability benefits are basically to help you pay housing and food costs. But in a time when you’re dealing with disability, it’s good to have those bills covered while you are focused on healing and self-care.

There are two different types of disability insurance, and knowing the difference will help you save a lot of time.

Short-Term Disability Insurance

Short-term disability insurance normally lasts around 3–6 months, sometimes up to a year or two years. It covers about 60–70% of whatever your salary is. The premiums you pay are often higher than long term coverage, ranging from 1–3% of your annual income. So for someone making $50k a year, it would range between $60 to $125 every month. The percentage depends on what kind of health risks the insurance company determines you have. If you smoke, for instance, the premium will probably be higher, just like with many health insurance policies. If you have a risky job, such as dealing with heavy machinery, premiums will likely be higher as well. A major upside, though, is that payouts usually happen within two weeks, which can be a huge relief in an emergency.

Financial expert Dave Ramsey points out that, because of the higher premiums and shorter span of coverage time, you might want to consider building up a solid emergency fund with 3–6 months of expenses instead. You can consider that personal short-term disability coverage that you don’t have to pay premiums on. But if you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck and can’t foresee saving that much (like 80% of American workers, according to CNBC), and your employer doesn’t offer short-term disability insurance, it is something you may want to consider buying yourself.

Long-Term Disability Insurance

This is the type of insurance that is most important to get, no matter what. This is the type that will last through a long recovery or treatment period. Look for a “non-cancellable insurance policy”, which will keep the insurance company from being able to cancel your policy if you have any health changes.

Long-term disability insurance may pay you benefits for a few years or until your disability ends. Most policies cover 40–60% of your salary, but ones that pay up to 70% do exist, and you should try to find one. These policies also cost 1–3% of your yearly income, but they tend to be on the lower side than short-term. A major difference between the two forms of insurance is that it can take up to 6 months to see a payout. This means that it’s not the best option for covering costs if you have to go into medical quarantine for COVID-19.

We recommend that, even if you decide to pass on short-term disability in favor of emergency fund savings (or if your employee already covers it), you should definitely consider a long-term policy to protect your earnings. Remember, though, it will only pay a percentage of the income you’d be taking in otherwise. Make sure you also have health insurance and as much savings as you can get to protect yourself as well.

The pandemic is causing us to consider a lot of things that we may not have before, even if maybe we should have.

It brings to mind something a colleague of mine shared. One unremarkable weekend, she left her small children with a babysitter and headed out to enjoy dinner at a restaurant with her husband. But as she sat there, a thought crept into her head that she couldn’t let go.

What would happen to her kids, she thought, if she and her husband got into a car accident on the way home?

And even though my colleague is an estate planning lawyer herself, and she had a will at home naming guardians for her kids, she didn’t have a definite and clear answer that provided the comfort she wanted. Her will was in a vault, and her named legal guardians lived thousands of miles away.  It was that thought that spurred her to take action, not only for her own family, but to create tools and resources for others as well.

If you’d like to read the book she wrote as a result of her own discoveries, it’s called “Wear Clean Underwear: A Fast, Fun, Friendly—and Essential—Guide to Legal Planning for Busy Parents” and it’s the best-selling book on legal planning for families. We’d love to send it to you as our gift. Simply email us at liz@lizsmtihlaw.com or call us at 907-312-5436 and ask for your copy, and we’ll send it your way, free.

One thing you’ll discover in the book is that even naming a legal guardian in your will is often not enough to keep your kids out of the care of strangers, or someone you wouldn’t want, if something happens to you.

Chances of COVID-19 Infection in the Family

If you are young and healthy, it might be hard to imagine that you won’t be there to care for your kids. But if the COVID-19 pandemic is showing us anything, it’s that even a healthy person can contract a serious illness that leaves them incapacitated and unable to care for their children.

If there is more than one adult in the house, that may alleviate  some of your worry. While naming  legal guardians for your kids may feel especially urgent for a single parent, parents with partners aren’t off the hook. You should take precautions though, especially since there are high infection rates among people who live in the same household.

A professor at the University of Florida has found a more than 19% chance that someone else in the household of a person infected with COVID-19 will also contract the disease. Researchers estimate the average incubation time is about four days and could be infectious for up to two weeks. That means it’s not outside the realm of possibility that you and your partner could both contract the illness, possibly at the same time.

An Easy Way to Find Guardians for Your Children

Even if you never contract COVID-19, you are of course still human, and vulnerable to accidents and other dangers that could separate you from your kids—either temporarily or permanently.

Last week, we referred to one way to handle parental guilt: naming temporary and permanent legal guardians for your children. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to give you a guilt trip right now! But I am encouraging you to take action if you haven’t already, and I’m going to show you a very easy (and free!) tool to use to get you started.

Go to this website right now and name guardians for your children in a legal document, and then have it reviewed by us. When we review your legal document (or your will if you already have one), we can discuss who would care for your children in the immediate term if something happens to you, even on a short-term basis. 

And, if you are having a difficult time deciding who to name as legal guardians for your children, we can even help you make the right decisions.

Officially answering the question of who will care for your kids if you can’t—even for a short time—is one of the best things you can do right now. It is a real, concrete way you can protect your kids during this scary period of time. We’ve made it as easy as possible for you to get it done quickly, so you can have peace of mind that your kids’ future is secure no matter what happens.

If you need help with the process, please do give us a call and we’ll be glad to walk you through it.

If you’re a parent, you may feel even more guilty than usual.  If so, you are definitely not alone. Currently, the burden is on you to both carry on with your work and manage your child’s full-time care and education. Two full-time jobs that you’re trying to do by yourself, likely without teachers or care providers to help you.

If you are like most parents, you were probably struggling with guilt even before the virus. You simply can’t make it to every award ceremony or recital, and you might not have as much time to play with your kids or help them with their homework as you’d like. Those feelings of guilt may now be compounded by all the additional responsibilities you’ve had to take on in a short space of time.

Take a deep breath, and let me let you off the hook here for a minute. I have no doubt you are doing the best you can, and your kids see it, and know it too, even when they are being ungrateful pains in the rear.

I’ve got a few ideas about how to shift the guilt. They’re a little unconventional, but I invite you to give them a try and then message me to let me know how they went. We love hearing from you.

Let’s start with one thing that is fully within your control, can help to alleviate feelings that you are not doing enough, and that you can get handled easily, for free, right now— name legal guardians for your kids, so the people you want will take care of them, if anything happens to you.

Name Legal Guardians

If you have not already legally documented who you would want to raise your children, if you could not finish doing it yourself for any reason, start here right now and name legal guardians using this free website I have for you to get it done. It’s free. It’s easy. And the site guides you through who to choose and creates a document for you. The tools on this site are really valuable, however, in some states, including Alaska, you must name guardians in your will to be legally binding. Check out the free tools I have made available for you, and take the first step in documenting your wishes. Then let’s get you taken care of with a will if you do not already have one. (And if you already have guardians named, these resources will take you many steps further than your will does by naming temporary guardians if necessary, and much more!).

Legally documenting your choices for who you want to take care of your kids if you can’t is a great first step to getting legal planning in place for the people you love. (Yes, I said “choices” because you want to name at least one person with two alternates.) And, doing so can provide you with a lot of relief, if you have not taken care of this yet for your kids.

After you are done, contact us for a no-charge review of the documents, and we’ll guide you to the next step in ensuring the well-being and care of your kids (and your assets), if something happens to you.

If the parents get sick with COVID-19, this is one of the most important things you can do for your kids right now, and we’re making it as easy as possible for you to get started with it.

So that’s one way we can support you to remove some of that mom or pop guilt you may have. And, here’s another…

Quality TIme Doing…Nothing

While you’re probably already spending a significant amount of time with your kids, it may not be very high quality.

But you may be too tired or overwhelmed to plan big activities, or the things you used to do for “quality time” may not be available.

So, what’s a parent to do?
Nothing.

Yes, you read that right, nothing.

If you can take 15 minutes or so out of your day and do nothing with your child, it could be the best 15 minutes you spend with them, and with yourself, all day. Maybe you’ll even be able to stretch it to 30, 45 or 60 minutes of nothing.

It’s truly one of the best gifts you can give to your kids, and the best part is you don’t have to do anything.

We hope this idea provides some relief from the guilt. You don’t have to DO as much as you think. Mostly, your kids really just want to know you are there, and will give them your full attention, without screens, even if they aren’t paying attention to you.

Talk About It

If you’re on an emotional roller-coaster right now, your kids are probably having some similar struggles. This is an opportunity to connect with them, and a good time to show them a little vulnerability of your own. Remember how important sharing words of love and comfort can be, both to them and to you.

A friend of mine has three kids ranging from eight to fourteen, and she recently told me a story about a very special conversation with one of her children.

After my friend had spent a few weeks juggling school, work responsibilities, and a million other household duties, she was feeling worn out and discouraged.

Then she took a quiet moment to just sit around and talk with her tween daughter and share some of what was going on for her, that it was hard, and how she was making it through. Out of the blue, to my friend’s surprise and gratitude, her child gave her a big hug and said, “You do so much to take care of us all the time. That must be so hard. Thank you.”

This special moment filled my friend’s heart, and it has gotten her through some tough days. And it never would have happened if she hadn’t taken a little time out to just talk with her kid, without a particular agenda.

Reach out for Support

If you have been feeling really alone and need support, reach out for help. Sometimes venting to your friends is enough, and chances are they’ll be able to relate! But if you are not getting the support you need, there are professionals who will communicate via phone and even text message. You can find local therapists and phone, video, and online therapists through Psychology Today’s directory.

Or, if family dynamics are rearing their head during these stressful times, and you want to keep your family out of court and conflict, give us a call to see how we can help.

Wills, trusts, health care directives, powers of attorney, and legal guardian nominations are on many of our hearts and minds as COVID-19 compels us to face our own fragility and mortality.

It’s not as if we didn’t know we would all die (or become incapacitated) one day, but within our current reality, that “one day” has become an ever more real possibility. And one way to feel more in control over what’s happening out there is to make sure we all have our legal affairs in order at home. That way, if it does happen now, our families aren’t left with a big mess to clean up while they are grieving.

If you are trying to get your financial house in order right now, you may be just getting some basic documents in place. You may even be doing it yourself.

If that’s the case, it’s very important for you to know that the cost of a failed plan can be very high for the people you love. Plus if your documents are not properly signed, they will not work—period. End of story. And if your documents don’t work, your family could be stuck in court or conflict, which is probably the exact thing you want to avoid by handling your estate planning now.

There are many ways that plans fail, but one of the worst ways we see is when someone starts a plan and doesn’t get it signed properly. You do not want this to happen to your family, trust me. If you care enough about estate planning, you will want to make sure your plan will work when your family needs it.

That means you need to make sure your legal documents are actually signed, and signed in the right way. Some legal documents require two witnesses and some require notarization; however, in today’s social-distancing reality, these signatures could be difficult to come by. Some states have allowed remote notarization, others have not. In Alaska, the legislature has allowed for remote signatures on wills, but there are strict requirements to follow. So much so, that I am not recommending it to clients unless there are extenuating circumstances.

While we understand you likely have a desire to get documents in place now, we also believe there is going to be a significant increase in conflict and litigation as a result of DIY estate planning documents. Let’s keep that from happening to the people you love. If you want to get your plan done the right way, contact us and let’s have a 15-minute conversation about your next steps.

Both wills and trusts are estate planning documents that can be used to pass your wealth and property to your loved ones upon your death. However, trusts come with some distinct advantages over wills that you should consider when creating your plan.

Here are four reasons you might want to consider creating a trust as added protection and convenience for those you love:

1. Avoidance of probate

One of the primary advantages a living trust has over a will is that a living trust does not have to go through probate. Probate is the court process through which assets not owned by a trust and not transferred automatically through beneficiary designation (for example) are distributed to your heirs upon your death.

During probate, the court oversees your will’s administration, ensuring your property is distributed according to your wishes, with automatic supervision to handle any disputes. Probate proceedings can drag out for months or even years, and your family will likely have to hire an attorney to represent them, which can result in costly legal fees that can drain your estate.

Bottom line: If your estate plan consists of a will alone, you are guaranteeing your family will have to go to court if you become incapacitated or when you die.


However, if your assets are titled properly in the name of your living trust, your family could avoid court altogether. In fact, assets held in a trust pass directly to your loved ones upon your death, without the need for any court intervention whatsoever. This can save your loved ones major time, money, and stress while dealing with the aftermath of your death.

2. Privacy
Probate is not only costly and time consuming, it’s also public. Once in probate, your will becomes part of the public record. This means anyone who’s interested can see the contents of your estate, who your beneficiaries are, as well as what and how much your loved ones inherit, making them tempting targets for frauds and scammers.

Using a living trust, the distribution of your assets can happen in the privacy of our office, so the contents and terms of your trust will remain completely private. The only instance in which your trust would become open to the public is if someone challenges the document in court.

3. A plan for incapacity

A will only governs the distribution of your assets upon your death. It offers zero protection if you become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions about your own medical, financial, and legal needs. If you become incapacitated with only a will in place, your family will have to petition the court to appoint a guardian to handle your affairs.

Like probate, guardianship proceedings can be extremely costly, time consuming, and emotional for your loved ones. And there’s always the possibility that the court could appoint a family member you’d never want making such critical decisions on your behalf. Or the court might even select a professional guardian, putting a total stranger in control of just about every aspect of your life.

With a living trust, however, you can include provisions that appoint someone of your choosing—not the court’s—to handle your assets if you’re unable to do so. Combined with a well-drafted medical power of attorney and living will, a trust can keep your family out of court and conflict in the event of your incapacity.

4. Enhanced control over asset distribution

Another advantage a trust has over just having a will is the level of control they offer you when it comes to distributing assets to your heirs. By using a trust, you can specify when and how your heirs will receive your assets after your death.

For example, you could stipulate in the trust’s terms that the assets can only be distributed upon certain life events, such as the completion of college or purchase of a home. Or you might spread out distribution of assets over your beneficiaries lifetime, releasing a percentage of the assets at different ages or life stages.

In this way, you can help prevent your beneficiaries from blowing through their inheritance all at once, and offer incentives for them to demonstrate responsible behavior. Plus, as long as the assets are held in trust, they’re protected from the beneficiaries’ creditors, lawsuits, and divorce, which is something else wills don’t provide.

If, for some reason, you do not want a living trust, you can use a testamentary trust to establish trusts in your will. A testamentary trust will not keep your family out of court, but it can allow you to control how and when your heirs receive your assets after your death.


An informed decision

The best way for you to determine whether or not your estate plan should include a living trust, a testamentary trust, or no trust at all is to meet with your Personal Family Lawyer® for a Life & Legacy Planning Session. During this process, we’ll take you through an analysis of your personal assets, your family dynamics, what’s most important to you, and what will happen for your loved ones when you become incapacitated or die.

Sitting down with your Personal Family Lawyer® to discuss your family’s planning needs will empower you to feel 100% confident that you have the right combination of planning solutions in place for your family’s unique circumstances. Schedule your appointment with Liz today to get started.