Every once in a while, Congress gets things right, as they did in 2008 by declaring National Estate Planning Awareness Week, October 19– 25, 2015. This is another great way to honor my father, who would be celebrating his 94th birthday on October 19th. It is estimated that 56% of Americans do not have any form of estate plan or critical decision-making documents in place, such as a Durable Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, HIPAA Authorization, Directive to Physicians, or Guardian for Minor Children. BE AWARE – BE INFORMED.
September 27, 2008.
Whereas it is estimated that over 120,000,000 Americans do not have up-to-date estate plans to protect themselves or their families in the event of sickness, accidents, or untimely death;
Whereas a 2004 Roper poll commissioned by the American Institute for Certified Public Accountants found that two-thirds of Americans over age 65 believe they lack the knowledge necessary to adequately plan for retirement, and nearly one half of all Americans are unfamiliar with basic retirement tools, such as a 401(k) plan;
Whereas careful estate planning can greatly assist Americans in preserving assets built over a lifetime for the benefit of family, heirs, or charities;
Whereas estate planning involves many considerations, including safekeeping of important documents, documentation of assets, operation of law in the various States, preparation of legal instruments, insurance, availability of trust arrangements, charitable giving, inter vivos care of the benefactor, and other important factors;
Whereas estate planning encourages timely decisions about the method of holding title to certain assets, the designation of beneficiaries, and the possible transfer of assets during the life of the benefactor;
Whereas many Americans are unaware that lack of estate planning and `financial illiteracy' may cause their assets to be disposed of to unintended parties by default through the complex process of probate;
Whereas alternatives to disposition of assets after death, such as planned gift-giving, may accomplish a benefactor's goal of providing for his or her family and favorite charities;
Whereas careful planning can prevent family members or other beneficiaries from being subjected to complex legal and administrative processes requiring significant expenditure of time, and greatly reduce confusion or even animosity among family members or other heirs upon the death of a loved one;
Whereas important considerations as to donation of organs and use of life support functions may be made through the estate planning process;
Whereas the implementation of an estate plan starts with sound education and planning, and then may require the proper drafting and execution of appropriate legal documents, including wills, trusts, and durable powers of attorney for health care;
Whereas the third week of October should be designated as `National Estate Planning Awareness Week'; and
Whereas the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils, representing over 28,000 estate planning professionals, together with the Universal Press Syndicate, the largest independent newspaper syndicate in the world, are prepared to provide such educational information to the public in a focused manner during National Estate Planning Awareness Week:
Now, therefore be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives —
The person whom you select as a guardian of your minor children may change as circumstances and “life events” change. If you have healthy grandparents they may be your first choice, with a sibling or close friend evolving into the best selection in later years.
If the selection of a guardian is not an obvious choice for both spouses, below are a few considerations to guide you in making an informed decision. It is important to make a decision NOW and avoid potential family discord– updating your selection can be easily done in the future. (Texas Probate Code Section 677)
It is OK if you DO NOT select a family member. Relatives may be geographically distant, don’t know your children well, have different values, have health concerns, or simply not be ready to raise your children. Although relatives may feel a moral obligation, their selection may not be in the best interests of your children.
Are they geographically close to you? As your children get older it may be better for them to stay in the same school, keep the same friends, and be in a familiar and nurturing social environment. Sending a 10 year old child to live on Uncle Ned’s farm in Nebraska might be an emotional shock to someone who has lived in Dallas for many years. However, your brother or sister living in California may be a more natural fit than an irresponsible sibling living in Texas.
Do your children and the prospective guardian know each other well? For younger children the emphasis may be more on how well the guardian knows and interacts with your children. The association may be through school, church, or long time friends. For older children you may wish to seek their input. (NOTE: A child over the age of twelve (12) may choose their own guardian in some circumstances.(Texas Probate Code Section 680)
Do they have other children the same age? Selecting a guardian who is single or never had children can create an enormous burden or life style change for that person. If your children have cousins that are close in age, their aunt or uncle could be the perfect selection. Or, your children may have grown up with and attend school with close friends whose family would accept your children into their family very easily.
Do they share your same world view, education values, religious preferences, interests in sports, or other lifestyle considerations? When possible, you want to minimize the cultural, emotional, and lifestyle changes for your children. If your son or daughter is active in sports or music, or if raising your children in a particular faith tradition is important, you may want to select a guardian that will support those interests.
Would your guardian need to purchase a larger house? The financial responsibility of supporting your children is primarily yours, but you may want to consider the immediate impact on your guardian in your overall plan. You may wish to have the guardian move into your home or assist in purchasing a larger home for the guardian, to accommodate their expanded family. Life insurance is often a good bridge to the financial security.
© Will Morris, JD, LLM 2014