Check your Beneficiary Designations

Stick this chore under the heading “As adult as adulting can get.” You’re doing great at adulting if you have a retirement plan, life insurance, investments accounts, bank accounts, and the like. Checking the beneficiaries periodically is part of the package, though, so if you haven’t done it in a few years, it’s time.

Circumstances change, and even if you think you know who you named as beneficiaries, you’d be surprised how many folks check and find out its someone they forgot they had named, or thought they had already changed. If your retirement plans (401(k)s, 403(b)s, or IRAs, etc) are held or managed through your employer, they can probably help you find your designations. If they can’t find your designations, contact the company (or agency, if it is a state sponsored plan) and ask.

While your plans will go to your probate estate if there are no beneficiary designations or if they cannot be located, this is a more cumbersome and expensive process than having a beneficiary designation. There can also be unfavorable tax implications if the account passes through a probate estate, so it is worth the time to make sure you have and update beneficiaries. And while you’re at it, make sure you get a copy of the designation page to keep with your will so that your representative will have an easier time taking care of things.

Life insurance polices may also need to have beneficiaries updated periodically. A payout to a named beneficiary is typically much faster than having a policy distributed through your estate.

And finally, call your banks and check for beneficiary designations on all your accounts. It is fairly common for the paperwork provided upon opening an account to include a question about beneficiaries, and many people don’t even remember that they did this when opening their accounts. So take a look and make any updates needed.

If you need to do estate planning, or update a plan you did a while ago, we can help. To find out more, contact us at 833-RED-BOOT (833-733-2668) or legal@parkercounsel.com

Covid, Ghost, and Planning

You may be sick of the word “unprecedented,” (I know we are!) but the truth is this year has been like no other. If you haven’t before, you probably have been confronted with the reality that our lives and all the safeguards we have gathered around us are fragile and impermanent. Knowing how much our special needs kids depend on us will make you either freeze with fear or go into high gear trying to prepare for every contingency. If, like so many of our recent clients, this past year has caused you to think more than usual about making sure your “affairs” are in order, we have some suggestions for things to be thinking about.

  • If you have an estate plan, get it out and look it over. Make sure it still fits your family’s needs.
  • If it took you a while to find your estate plan, pick a good place to keep it from now on and let your trusted family members know where you keep it. Make a note in your calendar for a year from now to go look at it again, and tell yourself in that calendar entry where it is.
  • Touch base with the people you have named as executor, trustee, agents in your powers of attorney, and any backup people you have named. Ask if they have any questions about what their duties are and what they should do when you pass. Your older and adult children especially want to know what you have planned – read one sibling’s perspective here. 
  • If you haven’t done your estate plan yet, take some time to think about what you want to do. We’ve posted some light hearted articles analyzing how famous movie deaths have been affected by estate planning choices. Seeing how estate planning can have consequences for your family might get your planning juices going. BatmanCinderellaGhost, Harry Potter
  • Compile or update the non-legal information about your special needs child. If you suddenly come down with a severe fever and have to isolate and can’t communicate, will your child’s substitute caretakers have easy access to information about emergency numbers, medication, and daily care? Create a binder or accessible computer file with the information that will be needed quickly in a pinch.

Although estate planning may seem overwhelming, our attorneys can guide you through the process and provide ideas drawn from real life to help you put a plan in place and help you keep it up to date with your own changing circumstances. We’re here when you need us.

Peace.

Cinderella’s Dad Could Have Prevented the Whole Thing

Cinderella lost her mother when she was very young.  Her father remarried in an attempt to create a family for Cinderella, wedding a woman with two daughters of her own.  Apparently things were hunky dory when when dad was alive, but sadly, he also died when Cinderella was still a young girl.  At that point the step-mother became the step-mother that all step-mothers since have tried to disassociate themselves from.

What went wrong?

Cinderella’s dad, believing his second wife to be a loving mother to his daughter, left all his fortune in her control and his daughter in her care. However, step-mom prioritized her biological daughters and was imprudent with the money, leaving the family in less fortunate circumstances than they had been.  In order to conserve the money that was left, Cinderella was turned into the family housekeeper, cook, and all around caretaker, while the step-sisters and their mother were pampered with what remained of the inherited money.

Cinderella’s dad may not have been able to know what would happen after his death, but he could have made far better preparations for his family, and his daughter in particular, that would have minimized the unexpected turn in his wife’s behavior.  While step-mothers do not always turn on their step-children, they do sometimes run into other circumstances that can thwart a deceased parent’s intent.  Severe illness, serious accidents, drug addictions, mental illness, early onset dementia, and other things can derail even the kindest step-parents.  The desire to protect against unknown events is a great reason to set up safeguards in your estate plan when it comes to providing for minors or disabled children. 

A better choice

Instead of leaving everything in the unfettered control and discretion of his second wife, Cinderella’s dad should have considered having a separate trust set up for his daughter, to be used solely for her needs or accumulated and given to her when she reached majority.  This would have prevented the step-mother from diverting all the funds away from Cinderella, or given Cinderella a remedy if the step-mother failed to meet her fiduciary duties as trustee. He could have even had a trustee other than the step-mother, to provide an additional point of view in the care of his daughter.

With better planning on her dad’s part, Cinderella may have been able to see more choices for her future than merely securing a rich prince to care for her needs.  After all, not everyone can get a prince, so we need to give our children the means to go forward on their own.

Planning matters. Blended families need extra special planning. When you are ready, give us a call at 833-Red-Boot (833-733-2668), email legal@parkercounsel.com , or make an appointment here to talk about your needs.