Appoint a Guardian to Keep Your Kids In Safe Hands At All Times

 

Every parent who’s watched the news lately has felt the heartbreak over what’s happening to immigrant families at the border. Between May and June 2018, more than 2,300 kids have been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Think of the horror of kids crying and begging for their parents. What would it be like for your own kids to be taken into the custody of strangers?

Let this be the moment that you place your own fears aside and take a look at the privilege you have of being able to make choices on behalf of your kids to ensure their well-being and care by the people you want, no matter what happens.

It can happen to your family.

Even though most people think that something like that could never happen to their family, they’re totally wrong. While your kids almost certainly won’t be taken into custody by U.S. border agents, your kids could be taken into the care of strangers if something happens to you—even if your family or friends are on the scene.

But you can do something to protect your kids and ensure they’re always in the care of people you know, love, and trust. Take action on behalf of your own kids—instead of merely feeling numbness and paralysis over not knowing what to do—these events can inspire you to do the things you know you must in order to properly take care of your family.

Understand the risk.

While it may seem like a long shot, the consequences are serious enough that you must consider the real possibility of what could happen and ensure you’ve taken right actions to protect your loved ones. Let’s say you and your spouse have gone out to dinner together and left the kids with a babysitter. But on the way home, you’re in a car accident. The police will get to your house, find your kids home with a babysitter, and have no choice but to take your kids into the care of the authorities (strangers) until they can figure out what to do.

This is the case even if you have friends or family living nearby. If you haven’t left proper legal documentation, the authorities have no option but to call child protective services—that is, unless you’ve legally given them an alternative. This is true, for example, even if you have named godparents. You must give the authorities a legal basis for keeping your kids with the close friends or family you designate.

Without your action, when the babysitter answers the door, she’s in complete shock and willing to stay with your kids while the authorities find a relative to take them. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the legal authority to care for the kids—even temporarily—so the police have no choice but to call child protective services. These authorities will take your kids into custody until they can locate and/or appoint the proper guardian.

Maybe you have plenty of family who’d want to take custody of your kids if something were to happen to you. Maybe some of them even live close by, so the authorities could easily find them. Maybe more than one family member would want to take custody of your kids (and the financial resources you’re leaving behind for them).

We’ve seen what happens when well-meaning family members—who think they’d be the best choice as caretaker for their young relatives—go to battle in the name of love. It isn’t pretty. In such a situation, it takes years of legal fighting, making lawyers wealthy, while the kids are stuck in the middle. In almost every case, each side fighting for the care of the kids feels certain they’re doing what the parents would’ve wanted and what’s best for the kids.

Know your options and your responsibility.

The sad thing is, this all can be completely (and very easily) prevented. However, to ensure your kids are never taken into the care of strangers—or put in the middle of a family conflict—you must take action now. Please do not leave this to chance. You have the privilege to be able to guarantee that your kids are never taken into the care of strangers—or into the care of anyone you would not choose—but you must take action now to exercise that privilege.

Maybe you think this could never happen to your family because your family would never fight over your kids or because you’ve named close friends as godparents. But why take that risk, when it’s so easy to do the right thing by the people you love more than anything?

And if you think you’ve already done the right thing because you have a will that names legal guardians for your kids, think again. We’ve found that in most cases, even parents who worked with a lawyer to name legal guardians have made at least one of six common mistakes that leave their kids at risk.

These mistakes are made because unfortunately, most lawyers do not know what’s necessary for planning and ensuring the well-being and care of minor kids.

Attorney Myrna Serrano Setty has been trained on legal planning for the unique needs of families with minor kids at home. If you’ve already created a will, Myrna can help you identify whether you’ve made any of the six common mistakes that could leave your kids at risk. If you have not yet taken any action, Myrna can help you take the first steps and make the very best decisions for the people you love.

Here’s how to get started.
Call us at (813) 514-2946 to book a comprehensive Planning Session.

You might think that such a thing could never happen to your family, but in these scary times, you can never be too safe.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she helps you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why Myrna’s firm offers a 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 Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session for free.

Talking to Your Kids About School Violence

 

 

 

 

On February 14, 2018, there was another mass shooting at a school, this time in Parkland, Florida. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families devastated by this tragedy. As we struggle to cope with this tragedy, we need to figure out how to talk about this with our kids. Parents can help their kids feel safe (or safer) by establishing a sense of normalcy and security and by talking to them about their fears. At some point, our kids are going to learn about what happened, and we need to be prepared to talk about it.

How do we do that? Here are some tips:

1.     Observe your child’s emotional state. Sometimes it takes a while for anxiety and depression to manifest itself. You know your child better than anyone. And don’t be afraid to seek professional help. 

2.     Make time to talk. Let your child’s questions guide you in how much information to provide. Sometimes it takes a while for them to express their feelings.

3.     Validate their feelings. Let them talk about their fears.

4.     Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate. For example, kids in early elementary need brief, simple information balanced with assurance that school personnel are there to protect them. Give simple reminders of school safety, like reminding them about school safety drills and locked doors.

5.     Review safety procedures at home and at school. This is a good chance to also review your family’s emergency procedures. For example, if something happened to you, who would the school contact? Who would have the legal authority to take care of your kids? What happens if you don’t live near family?

6.     Limit television viewing. We live in an era of the 24-hour news cycle. This can be overwhelming, even for adults.

7.     Explain that there’s a difference between reporting, tattling and gossiping. Encourage kids to talk to a trusted adult if they see or hear about something that may harm others.

8.     Explain that while there is no absolute guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen, you will try your best to keep them safe because you love them more than anything in this world.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty, who does more than just draft documents. She guides families through difficult topics, like estate planning, so they can protect what matters most. Myrna may be reached at (813) 514-2946 and info@serranosetty.com.

Estate Planning and Divorce: What You Need to Know

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If you are considering a divorce, it’s critical to understand the impact of your divorce on what would happen in the event of your incapacity or death, either during the divorce or after.

According to Stacy Perez, a Tampa, FL family law and divorce attorney, many courts are experiencing such a backlog, that “parties are waiting for months to get a first court date… sometimes cases may take over a year to finalize.” Until the Final Judgment is signed by the judge, without modifications to your estate planning, the soon to be ex-spouse may still have decision making authority even though there is a divorce pending. Let that sink in.

Unfortunately, most divorce lawyers don’t give much thought to incapacity or death, simply because they do not have training on these issues specifically and it doesn’t seem like a pressing issue when they’re advising you through your divorce. That’s why it’s important for you to seek our advice at the beginning of the divorce process.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. As soon as you file for divorce, automated “orders” go into effect that will limit what you can do with your assets during the divorce. Upon filing a petition for dissolution of marriage, courts issue automatic, boilerplate orders, limiting control over assets, including property, such as the home or money in bank accounts. That’s why it’s a good idea to talk to your divorce lawyer and your personal estate planning lawyer about these issues before you file for divorce.
  2. If you have already filed for divorce, you may want to revoke any existing powers of attorney and health care directives giving your soon to be ex-spouse control over your assets and your medical decision-making if you were to become incapacitated, as well as execute what we call a “divorce will,” which is a “temporary” will that would cover the disposition of your assets in the event of your death during your divorce. Again, talk to your divorce lawyer about these temporary documents that can be executed while you are in the divorce process, and then be sure he or she is coordinating with us on your behalf to get these documents prepared and signed.
  3. Once your divorce is final, and all assets are decided upon, be sure to update these “temporary” estate planning documents, to take into account your new reality.

There are many ways to get divorced. The traditional litigation/fight oriented divorce could require years of litigation, and is a division of assets based on legal rights, rather than your specific needs and desires.

Collaborative Divorce

Alternatively, there is a movement today towards “conscious uncoupling” in which you and your spouse collaboratively tailor the outcome of your divorce to meet each of your specific needs and desires, as well as the overall impact on your family. With this method, instead of having a judge make all the important decisions in your divorce, you can make decisions that are right for you. This is especially helpful when dealing with alimony and if children are involved.

Alimony Payments

Alimony, also called spousal support or spousal maintenance, is financial support paid to the non-income earning spouse during the divorce proceeding and after the judgment. Alimony can be paid in a number of ways, usually it is monthly, over a predetermined period of time. Durational payments carry the benefit of a steady income for the recipient, but can be modified under certain circumstances, leaving some uncertainty. It also leaves room for continued communication about what’s needed over the non-income earners life, as well as what’s possible over the lifetime of the income earning spouse.

Alimony Buyout

Because monthly payments (and a continuing relationship) aren’t right for every family, alimony can also be paid in a lump sum. This is also referred to as “alimony buyout.” Lump sum alimony either in the form of a cash buyout or a disproportionate property division is not subject to modification or termination, so it creates a finality to the relationship that isn’t there with a continuing monthly payment.

If you do decide on continuing monthly payments versus a lump sum alimony payment, it’s critical to ensure that those payments would be able to continue in the event of incapacity or death of the spouse paying alimony, and you need to follow up and confirm that those payments are considered in the ex-spouse’s estate planning documents.  Life insurance can be used to guarantee that the support continues, should the unthinkable occur. If you need any recommendations for local, trusted insurance and financial advisors, let us know.

If you decide on a lump sum alimony, be sure to update your estate planning to reflect the new assets you now will have titled in your own name. We can discuss trust planning options to ensure those assets stay out of Court, if and when anything happens to you.

If you’re not already a client, call us at (813) 514-2946 to schedule a Life and Legacy Planning Session to get you squared away when it comes to your property and protecting your loved ones. If you are already a client and considering divorce, please contact us so we can help you consider your options and find the right lawyer or lawyers to support you during the divorce process.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she helps you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why she offers a Life and Legacy Planning Session during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make the best choices for the people you love. Call Myrna at (813) 514-2946 to get started today.

Thank you to attorney Stacy Perez, one of our local family law and divorce resources, for her contributions to this article and for lending her support to individuals going through divorce. For more information about family law matters and dignified divorce, contact Stacy Perez  at (813) 514-2925 and https://www.facebook.com/dignifieddivorceflorida/

Families, don’t put off your estate planning any longer.

What would happen to your kids if something happened to you? This story will break your heart.

On a summer vacation in 2006, Casey and Melanie Barber took a road trip with their three boys, ages 3, 5 and 8. A tire defect caused a blow out and there was a horrific accident that left both parents dead. Miraculously, all three boys survived.

The Barbers had never legally documented who they wished to be guardian for their children. In the aftermath of the accident, through the grief and confusion, there was a contentious court battle over the boys and their inheritance. Multiple family members came forward claiming they were best suited to care for the three boys. Not only was the well being of the boys a stake, so was their inheritance, and ultimately the proceeds from a wrongful death lawsuit (a jury ultimately awarded $14.4 million). Things got so ugly that at one point the boys ended up in foster care. The court battle lasted over a year, involved at least nine lawyers and cost thousands and thousands of dollars.

Ultimately, the court did appoint a guardian to raise the boys. Was it who Casey and Melanie would have chosen to raise their boys? We’ll never know because Casey and Melanie never documented their wishes.

It doesn’t have to be that way for your family.

Like many parents with young kids at home, the Barbers didn’t put a plan together that would have protected their children from that ugly court battle.  Many of us parents have so many questions about estate planning and feel so overwhelmed at the thought of someone else raising our kids, that we procrastinate. We’re so busy taking care of our kids, working to make a living, and spending quality family time, that we may feel like we can’t afford to spend any extra time or money on ourselves, let alone for estate planning.

I know how that feels. I’m a mom of 2 little girls. My husband and I both have demanding jobs. Every day, we have to figure out kid pick-up and drop off at different schools, what chores need to be done…on top of stuff like soccer practice, piano lessons, and the occasional date night.

The most important thing that any parent can do is name a guardian for their kids. Most people don’t realize that if the parents don’t name a guardian to raise your kids if something happens to you, the court will do that for you. And it may not be who you would have wanted.

Parents need to speak to a good estate planning attorney who understands the needs of young families. That attorney needs to be able to offer advice for how to best provide for your children and design a customized plan that meets your needs.

Estate planning doesn’t have to be hard or intimidating. We need to make time for this. Our kids are worth it. Call Myrna today at (813) 514-2946 for an appointment.

Holidays and Estate Planning: A Winning Combination

The Holidays are the best time to discuss important family estate plans with your aging parents.

Hang in there with me. I’m sure some of you are thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

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It’s a winning combination: many of us take a break from work and we’ve carved out time to see our siblings, our parents and extended family. Estate planning is about helping our families navigate some of life’s toughest transitions, not just about death. Learn how to make the most of your opportunity this time of year to talk about things that will have lasting benefits.

Here are some tips:

  1. Treat this as a family meeting. Ban cell phones from the room, get someone to watch the kids and make sure any stragglers are included through a conference call or video conference.
  2. Start with the basics and work your way up. With aging parents, ask about their health and if they need help talking to the doctor or pharmacist.  How do they feel about driving?
  3. Ask them where they store their important documents? Their Will, Power of Attorney, life insurance, birth certificates, etc? Is there an inventory of personal information and financial records?
  4. Who will serve as the financial backup person to the parents? Will it be one of the children, or a trusted third party?
  5. Check in with your parents emotional well being. Are you visiting enough? How can you incorporate technology to stay close? For example, FaceTime or video chat?

These tips will help you and your siblings understand where your parents are in terms of estate planning, and what kind of help they, and you, need.

Blended Families, Avoid This $100,000 Mistake.

Picture this: At Thanksgiving, you have your eye on that last piece of pie. You can practically taste it. As you reach for it, someone else grabs it and there’s a tug of war. Do you share it? Does one of you give up and find another dessert? Does someone intervene and decide for you? Are you in a family that will laugh this off? Or is there some drama?

When the stakes are high and there’s money and property involved, the resulting conflict is enough to ruin anyone’s appetite.

Picture this: You’re in a blended family where there’s Mom, Step-Dad, and Mom’s kids from her first marriage. Mom dies without a Will. Step-Dad is distraught, but takes comfort in knowing that the house is almost paid off. There’s about $200,000 of equity. Mom always meant to put Step-Dad on the deed, but never got around to it. Unfortunately for Step-Dad, the “default setting” that is set by Florida law is for him to only inherit half of his wife’s estate. The step-kids inherit the other half.

Step-Dad has 3 options if he wants to keep living in the home.

Option 1: Take a life estate in the home and at his death, the house goes to the step-kids.
Option 2: Take a one half undivided interest in the home as a tenant in common with the step-kids. (The step-kids could force a sale if they wanted to.)
Option 3: Buy out the step-kids’ half share.

Everyone’s upset and relationships are strained. Will the step-kids sign over their interest to Step-Dad for free? Will it take $100,000 to buy out the step-kids? With a thoughtful estate plan, this blended family could have avoided this mess and saved $100,000, plus court costs and lawyers’ fees.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents. She can help you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and your loved ones. That’s why she offers a Life and Legacy Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling Myrna’s office today at (813) 514-2946 to schedule a Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge.

When Duty Calls: Navigating the Sandwich Generation with Ease

The average age of parents raising children in the US continues to rise, leaving many middle-aged Americans in a category commonly referred to as the “sandwich” generation.

This growing population of adults are often still raising kids at home when they become responsible for the care of their own aging parents. The stress and financial strain of managing taking care of both your children and your parents can become overwhelming. The following tips can help make this challenging life stage easier to manage, and more enjoyable for everyone.

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Assess the Financial Situation

Taking time to thoroughly understand the complete financial picture of your home is important when you step into a role of responsibility for your aging parent. You can prepare for all possibilities, and avoid surprises, by working with a professional to consider how your role in the care of your parent will affect the plans you are making for your family’s financial future. Take advantage of our Life and Legacy Planning Sessions, a comprehensive planning process encompassing your concerns and needs.

Plan Ahead

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying that, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Planning for your family’s future means preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. As you navigate helping your aging parent with their own important Estate Planning decisions, take time to make sure your own estate wishes are taken care of too, so that you can focus on the present knowing the future is taken care of.

Be sure to include:

  • Medical power of attorney – appoints a person to make medical decisions if you are unable to do so
  • Durable power of attorney – designates a person to make financial decisions if you are unable to do so
  • Living will – expresses your wishes for end of life decisions
  • Will – carries out your wishes in the event of your death
  • Kids Protection Plan – designates a legal guardian for your minor children in the event of your incapacitation or death

Pay Attention to Red Flags

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Even if your aging parent is still quite capable, work together to get a handle on their financial situation, and be on the lookout for signs that anything is falling through the cracks. Common red flags are:

  • Frequent calls from creditors
  • Forgetfulness when it comes to bills and deadlines
  • Unopened mail

Utilize professional legal and financial support when necessary and communicate clearly so everyone knows who is responsible for what.

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Practice Good Self Care

Stress is one of the most common consequences of caring for two generations at once. Balancing the responsibilities of raising children and caring for aging parents with good self-care and “me time” is vital over the long-haul. Remember that adequate rest and good nutrition will provide you with the extra energy you’ll need when times get tough. Most importantly, remember that you don’t have to do it alone! As your attorney, I am ready to assist you when duty calls.

Now is the perfect time to schedule a Life and Legacy Planning Session, where we’ll review your current financial situation in light of your future responsibilities. With our assistance, you’ll gain the confidence of knowing you’re making the most empowered, informed and educated legal and financial decisions for yourself and the ones you love.

The Pitfalls of DIY Wills: Buyer Beware

More than ever, DIY wills are becoming more common. It’s understandable that with resources like Google, many of us are turning to the internet for information and resources. However, many people don’t realize how risky it is to create DIY legal documents because simply put, we don’t know what we don’t know. Here’s what you need to know before you decide to create your own will or use an online service.

While online companies are making legal services more accessible, they’re also doing their customers a disservice, as evidenced in the recent case of In re Estate of Aldrich, heard in a Florida appeals court. Ms. Aldrich created her will using a downloaded template from E-Z Legal Forms without the advice and guidance of an estate lawyer. It appears, based on the forms she created herself, that she wished to leave specific assets to her sister, and then to her brother if her sister died before her. Her sister did die, but Ms.Aldrich, not realizing this would affect her own assets someday, did not properly update her will.

The assets specifically named in the will went to Ms. Aldrich’s brother, but the template she used did not include a residuary clause, which establishes where unnamed assets should go. As a result, the unnamed assets Ms. Aldrich acquired after she created her will passed under Florida’s intestacy laws and into the hands of her nieces, children of another pre-deceased sibling, instead of to her brother, as she seemed to have wanted.

Unfortunately, because she did not consult a lawyer, instead of leaving her brother her assets, Ms. Aldrich left him with a long, expensive, and otherwise unnecessary court battle. Services like E-Z Legal Forms do not provide personal legal advice or ongoing legal support. Had Ms. Aldrich worked with an estate lawyer to design and then update her plans, she would have left her brother an inheritance of love, rather than a nightmare of time, money and heartache.

This is an important lesson to learn because people too often create their will without having a lawyer review it and then forget to update it as loved ones pass on and new assets are acquired. In the end, their wishes aren’t honored because they weren’t clearly defined, leaving the matter in the hands of the probate court.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she helps folks make informed and empowered decisions about their life and death, for their sake and their loved ones. That’s why Myrna offers a Life and Legacy Planning Session, during which you’ll get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling her office today at (813) 514-2946 to schedule a Life and Legacy Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge. 

How to Protect Family Heirlooms From a Family Feud

The passing of family heirlooms from one generation to another should be a welcome and sacred tradition for families. Unfortunately, this process, if not done carefully, can cause long-lasting family rifts.

There are many stories of families that have split over a silver tea set, or family photo albums. In fact, you may be surprised to discover that far more family conflicts occur over cherished family mementos instead of money. If you don’t want that to happen in your family, here’s what you can do as part of your estate planning:

1. Add specific designations to your Will and/or Trust.

Typically, a Will or Trust will specify that all personal property goes to the “residue” and is split equally between all heirs. But you may want to get more specific with items that are already family heirlooms or that you want to become family heirlooms. All too often children will discover after Mom or Dad has passed that an item was promised to more than one person. This is why it is important to create a list of your family heirlooms, assign names to each item and share that list during a family gathering while you’re still alive and well. This list (formally called a personal property memorandum) can then be incorporated into your will or trust, so it becomes legally binding. It is also wise to take photos of those special items to help identify them.

2. Make it fun.

Indicate in your Will and/or Trust that you want your family to make it a game and “auction off” your special items.  Each family member can be given “credits” to use to “bid” on the items they want. Or you could suggest that items be chosen round-robin style with each family  member getting to make one choice (starting with youngest or oldest, as designated by you) before going back around for family member’s to make their second choice. Then, after all the picking is done, family members can trade amongst themselves.

3. Give it away during life.

One of the best ways to ensure your family doesn’t fight after you are gone is to give away family heirlooms during your lifetime. By doing this, you can create even more connection with the people you love.

4. Leave a recorded legacy.

We’ve found the best way to pass on more than just your money is to record a story associated with each one of your family heirlooms. Include where the heirloom came from, who you are passing it onto and the special significance it has to you.  This recording is likely to become the most valuable asset you can leave behind.

One of the main objectives of our law practice is to keep families out of court and out of conflict through thoughtful estate planning. This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she helps folks make informed and empowered decisions about their life and death, for their sake and their loved ones. That’s why Myrna offers a Life and Legacy Planning Session, during which you’ll get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling her office today at (813) 514-2946 to schedule a Life and Legacy Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge.