If you have children, you know that being a parent is both rewarding and challenging. During the course of your child’s life, you have stepped into the role of doctor, counselor, friend and comforter. But one of the biggest roles you will play during your child’s life is that of teacher. The lessons you teach your children in childhood will be remembered and applied into adulthood.
Three timeless lessons you probably taught your children are: take care of yourself, share and share alike, and clean up after yourself.
At the time, you probably did not teach these lessons thinking they would someday apply to Estate Planning, but these three childhood lessons are just as relevant now as they were then.
Lesson #1: “Take care of yourself” in the adult world means, “Create Powers of Attorney and Advance Directives.”
You taught your children how to take care of themselves when you taught them how to eat, bathe, brush their teeth and tie their shoes. But you can still teach your adult child how to take care of themselves, even if they become incapacitated due to illness or injury. Should that occur, someone would have to step in and care for them, and it probably won’t be you. Especially if you are a senior, you may lack the financial or physical resources to take care of your adult child.
What you can do is teach your adult children to care for themselves by creating their own Estate Plan.
For example, a Power of Attorney for Health Care and Durable Power of Attorney for Finances are the two documents that legally specify who will be responsible for being the voice and sometimes the decision-maker for the adult child who cannot make their own medical and financial decisions.
A third document known as a Living Will tells your adult child’s physicians whether they want to be artificially prolonged on life support and if so, under what conditions and for how long. The Living Will – along with the person designated as their Health Care and Financial Powers of Attorney – ensures their voice is heard on life-and-death issues, even when their physical voice is silent.
As a parent, reminding your adult child to “take care of yourself” is still timely and important advice, now more than ever.
Lesson #2: “Share and share alike” in the adult world means, “Self-Direct Your Assets.”
When your children were young, you taught them to share, whether it was toys, food or clothes. The decision to share was forced upon them by YOU, the parent, as you taught them the lesson of generosity.
As they matured, your child chose FOR THEMSELVES the people or charities with whom they wanted to share their possessions.
Now that your adult child has been making their own decisions for most of their life, the thought of someone else again dictating with whom they can share their possessions is far from appealing. How can they prevent that?
There are only two options: the adult child makes the decision NOW with whom they will share their possessions when they no longer need them, or the probate court will step in and do it according to state law after they pass.
There are at least four ways in which your adult child can share their possessions with someone of their choosing.
1) A Beneficiary Designation is a vitally important document to ensure that money stored in life insurance policies, retirement accounts, investments, etc. is received by the person(s) your adult child wants to have it upon their passing. It is a very simple document that is provided by the person setting up the account. The important thing is to keep it current! When life circumstances change – such as through different employment, a divorce or the death of a named beneficiary – the Beneficiary Designation must be updated. Otherwise, there is a good chance this document will become forgotten or irrelevant.
2) Similarly, a person can receive all the funds in your adult child’s bank account(s) upon their passing with a Payable On Death form, which is available from their bank. The person they designate to receive the funds in their bank account(s) simply gives a certified copy of the death certificate to the bank, along with proof of identity. Once the paperwork clears the normal bank channels, the Payable On Death designee will receive all the funds in the designated account without the need to go through probate.
3) A third variation on this theme is a Transfer on Death Deed that can designate one or more persons to receive your adult child’s home upon their passing without having to go through probate. While your child is alive, they still retain title and ownership of their residence, but the TOD designee assumes ownership after their passing. A Transfer on Death deed must be
signed, notarized and recorded with the County Recorder while your child is still living.
Lesson #3: “Clean up after yourself” in the adult world means, “Make a Will or Create a Trust.”
When your children were young, their room was likely awash in toys, clothes, shoes and memorabilia strewn about. Now the “stuff” your child has accumulated takes the form of money, residences, vehicles, watercraft, jewelry, royalties or patents, collections of guns, stamps or vinyl records, pets, books, golf clubs, lawn mowers, tools and clothes for all seasons.
In addition to these physical objects, they have also accumulated an online presence through such things as social media, email, and online retail shopping sites. Since you can’t pick up these things and make their life all nice and tidy as you once did, your adult child must make provisions for cleaning up after themselves NOW, while they still can.
Creating a Will or a Trust does exactly that. These legal documents make provisions for the people, assets and possessions that your adult child is responsible for. For instance, a Will designates who will raise their minor children or care for a dependent adult if they are unable to do so. A Trust is created to provide for a seamless transfer of assets from your adult child to their heirs. Whether a Will or a Trust is right for your adult child will be
determined in consultation with an Estate Planning attorney. But either document will fulfill your teaching of “Clean up after yourself.”
What You Are Teaching Now
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” Your best teaching will be by example, so if you have not yet created your own Estate Plan, doing so would show your adult children that you live by the maxims you taught them in childhood. We are here to help you AND your adult children take care of yourself, share and share alike and clean up after yourself — and we won’t even throw tantrums when you ask us to do it.
Give us a call to see how we can help.