Estate Planning for the Modern Family
Did you get a chance to watch Modern Family this week? If not, you should definitely check it out- especially, if you’re a parent with kids. In the episode cleverly called “Someone to Care for Lily”, Cameron and Mitchell take on the daunting task of finding a guardian for Lily in the event that, God forbid, something should happen to them. As always, their nerves are racked as they attempt to secretly assess their families. As if the decision isn’t difficult enough, they witness Jay giving Manny a dose of tough love, Claire secretly taking Luke to a child psychologist to assess his development, and Haley and Alex getting into trouble at school.
As always, Modern Family did an excellent job at making a relatively serious topic into a very funny and lighthearted one. As an attorney, I try to take this approach with my clients as well when they come in to discuss their estate planning needs. The truth is, it’s an uncomfortable topic for many people. Not only is a couple faced with the the reality that there is a slight possibility that they may not always be around, but, there’s decisions to be made with respect to whose family or friends will be assigned as guardians or who will receive what. Some families will spend a few short minutes deciding, while others spend months. Then there are those families, who are in a state of denial and will continue to procrastinate on drafting these essential documents.
At the end of the day though, it’s my job to remind my clients, and you my readers, that estate planning is a very important tool for families. It will allow parents to retain control over uncontrollable events and circumstances. Additionally, it’s a very smart way to protect one’s assets from taxes and probate.
Another important thing to remember is that these documents are not set in stone. You always have the option of making changes to the documents. In fact, I always recommend that my clients revisit their estate plan to ensure that it continues to meet their needs, goals and objectives. For instance, you should revisit your estate plan if assets have been gained or lost, if there are new members to your family, or there have been changes in the law that can affect your estate plan. Of course, if you have never implemented an estate plan, now is also a good opportunity to initiate the process.
Don’t forget, estate planning is not all about who takes care of your loved ones if you should pass, or who gets what. You can create living trusts, educational trusts, and special needs trusts. It’s just a great way to maximize and protect the things you have worked so hard to attain.
Speaking of which, there is also a great misconception that Estate Planning is only for the rich. When discussing the importance of a good Revocable Living Trust with people, I often get the response that they are only for large estates. Not true. Revocable Living Trusts are for anyone who wants to avoid costly conservatorship and probate proceedings. In appropriate cases, people with small estates can benefit from a Revocable Living Trust. Of course, people with larger estates can benefit even more, but it doesn’t mean that there are no benefits for people with smaller estates.
On that note, I’d also like to discuss one other big misconception: People thinking that they can replace a lawyer with a computer kit or form from a document depot. What they fail to realize, however, is that they are hard to understand and properly utilize, they are not individualized, and they may not take local law into consideration. Therefore, they are likely to have unintended and potentially harmful results.
Finally, I want to leave those that are fearful of Estate Planning and all of the questions and not so happy thoughts it may bring to the table to take this with them: Think about auto insurance. You have it… You have it… and you never end up using it. But for some strange reason, the day your auto insurance lapses because you missed a payment, is the same day you get into an auto accident. So just try to tell yourself “I’ll just draft this to be on the safe side, but I’m sure I won’t be needing it now that I’ve actually done it.”
If the time does come that you and your Modern Family are ready to discuss Estate Planning, I would be more than happy to guide you through the way. I’m always here for you via telephone (323)580-5801 and e-mail at [email protected]