Naming Godparents Does Not Create Legal Guardians

As we start this holiday season, it’s a great time to think about the love of our families. I hope you are blessed this holiday season and will have the opportunity to make many wonderful memories with loved ones.

As a parent, my top priority, of course, was the well-being and future of my children. I am sure that is one of your top priorities as well. You plan for your children’s future, their education, their health, and their happiness.

Godparents

Often, this planning includes the tradition of choosing godparents to guide and mentor your children if something happens to you. A godparent is traditionally someone you name to watch over your child and help them live according to your morals and values. Godparents are meant to be mentors and role models, guiding your child in matters of faith, morality, and character. The role of a godparent is deeply rooted in religious and cultural traditions.

While selecting godparents may be a meaningful tradition, it’s important to understand that naming a godparent is not the same thing as naming a legal guardian for your children. To put it bluntly, even if your child has godparents, if something happens to you, your children could end up in the care of strangers, child protective services, or in the long-term care of someone you would never want raising your children.

Legal Guardians

Naming a legal guardian for your child is a formal, legal process. A legal guardian is someone who has the legal authority to make decisions on behalf of your child, especially if you, as the parent, are unable to do so. This could occur due to your passing, incapacity, or even a temporary situation where you are not available to provide care or make important legal, financial, healthcare, or education decisions for your child. The responsibilities of a legal guardian encompass every area of your child’s life that you would normally manage as a parent. This includes everything from feeding and clothing your child to deciding where they go to school, attending parent-teacher meetings, and which extracurricular activities they participate in. Legal guardianship also includes the decisions about where your child lives and what medical treatment they should or should not receive.

Why Naming Godparents Isn’t Enough

While godparents may be deeply caring and involved in your child’s life, they have no legal authority to make decisions for your child unless they are officially appointed as legal guardians by the court. That means that until that happens (if it happens), your child’s godparents are not legally able to make any decisions for your children, including their basic care needs, education, and medical care.

Without a legal guardian designation (and, ideally, more than one) in writing and signed with the formalities of a Will, godparents may find themselves in an expensive court battle over custody rights, and they may not even be named as the legal guardians of your children at all. In fact, the court could name someone you would never want raising your kids as their legal guardian.

Life-long Legal Protection for Kids

If you’ve already chosen people you trust to serve as lifelong role models and spiritual guardians for your children as their godparents, why not give those people the legal authority to truly perform those duties if something happens to you?

But don’t stop there. The best way to keep your children safe and secure is to create a comprehensive protection plan that keeps your children in the care of the people you choose, no matter what. Ensure your children are protected. Ensure that the authorities know who to contact in an emergency and who can authorize prompt medical care. Make sure your children are never placed in protective custody – even for a minute.

Women Think Differently

Here’s the Scoop: Why, As Women, We Need to Plan

Ladies, whether we want to admit it or not, most of us, at some point, will find ourselves in an unforeseen situation with the rest of the family looking to us for direction. When this occasion arises, it is best to be prepared and have a plan laid out for whatever the circumstances are. I can’t tell you how many times I have worked with a woman left holding the bag after something happened to their spouse, parent, sibling, etc. This is why planning now could be the best gift you give to future-you.

  • Outliving Our Partners: Whether we like it or not, most women will outlive their partners. That means, ultimately, we will be making all the financial decisions. We need to be ready to take over when that happens, and, in the long run, it will benefit you to be proactive about it. The good news is we can begin together today. I encourage you to sit down and learn the various investments you have. Come up with a plan to provide a safe future for you and your loved ones, and ensure that you put in the effort and forethought now before you have to do it later.
  • Many Changes Occur When You Least Expect: Life can change from what you thought it would look like in the blink of an eye. Divorce, for example, is just one of those changes where friends say, “I never thought it would happen to me!” A sudden injury, disease, or disability are other changes that are hard to predict. When your life experiences change, your estate plan must also reflect these developments.
  • Health First: Health risks for women are much more likely to occur. Cancer and heart disease are equal opportunity risks. If your health declines, you will be thankful for a Healthcare Power of Attorney that sets forth your choices and specific directions. This is an easy step to take now that you will be highly grateful for later.
  • Modern Families: More than ever before, families today are blended families. Blended families can bring challenges and complexity because many moving parts and relationships must be considered. Thorough planning now will ensure that everyone is taken care of later, no matter what. If you die before your children’s step-parent, make sure your children still get what was important that you wanted them to have.
  • Likely Caregiver: Many of us will have no choice but to step up and become caregivers. This is an uncomfortable truth for many women regarding their spouses. Consider and plan for the possibility before it happens. Having this conversation now will also ease any tough decisions or discussions that will need to be had if the situation arises.
  • Boss Ladies: As you build your business, there are ways to protect yourself from the threat of liability. Now that you’re a Boss Lady let’s ensure your business legacy is secure and thriving by having the proper documents in order.
  • Single and Rocking It: Estate Plans aren’t just for married folks! If you are single and never tied the knot, it’s crucial to have an estate plan that lets those left behind know the choices you want made when you can’t make your own decisions and after you are gone. Your loved ones will thank you for making these decisions now, so they are not left guessing your wishes.

Estate planning is NOT a form you borrow from a friend. Estate planning is NOT taking chances with online services that warn this is “not legal advice” and “we are not your lawyer.” You are unique. Your family is unique. What you own and what you’ve built is unique. What you leave behind when you exit will be unique. Estate planning is about protecting you and your loved ones with a plan tailored to you and your life. Today is the day to start planning for your future and the probabilities and possibilities.

Let’s chat about crafting a unique plan for you and your legacy. Don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss your specific needs. You can call to schedule an appointment at 719-434-0000.

Adulting 101

In today’s rapidly changing world, young adults often find themselves navigating a multitude of responsibilities and decisions as they embark on their journeys toward independence. While estate planning might seem like a topic more relevant to older generations, it holds a crucial significance for young adults as well. The truth is unforeseen circumstances can affect anyone at any stage of life, underscoring the importance of having essential estate planning documents in place. These documents provide a sense of security and control over one’s future and offer a practical way to ensure that one’s wishes are honored in situations that may involve medical emergencies, financial uncertainties, or unexpected life events. As such, young adults (and their parents) increasingly recognize the value of establishing these foundational legal instruments early on to safeguard their well-being and protect their assets.

What legal documents do your young adults need when they turn 18?

It’s great that you’re considering legal documents for a young adult at 18. At this point, individuals become legal adults and have certain rights and responsibilities. Some essential legal documents for a young adult to consider include:

1. Healthcare Power of Attorney: This document designates someone to make medical decisions on their behalf if they are unable to do so themselves.

2. Durable Power of Attorney: This grants someone the authority to manage their financial affairs if they become incapacitated.

3. Living Will: Also known as an advance directive, a living will outlines their preferences for medical treatment and end-of-life care.

4. Last Will and Testament: While typically associated with older adults, it’s never too early to create a will to outline how they want their assets distributed in case of their passing.

5. HIPAA Authorization: This allows healthcare providers to share medical information with designated individuals.

6. Digital Assets: As technology becomes more integral to our lives, it’s important to consider what should happen to their online accounts and digital property after their passing.

Some additional legal documents to consider include:

7. Rental Agreement: If they’re moving out of their parent’s home or living independently, a rental agreement can help outline their responsibilities as a tenant.

8. Bank Account Documents: If they’re opening a bank account, they will likely need identification documents and possibly a parent or guardian’s signature if they’re under 18.

10. Student Loan Agreements: If they’re pursuing higher education and taking out loans, they should be aware of the terms and conditions of their loans.

Remember, legal requirements can vary from state to state, which is why it’s a good idea to consult with an attorney when your young adult is ready to set up their first estate plan.

Why do parents want to have their 18-year-old child’s legal documents in order?

Parents often want to ensure that their 18-year-old child has their legal documents in order for several important reasons:

1. Healthcare Decisions: Legal documents like a Healthcare Power of Attorney and a Living Will can allow parents to make medical decisions on their child’s behalf if they cannot do so themselves. This becomes crucial in case of accidents, emergencies, or medical situations where the young adult cannot communicate their wishes.

2. Financial Management: With a Durable Power of Attorney, parents can manage their child’s financial affairs if the child becomes incapacitated. This can be especially helpful when the young adult is away at college or living independently and needs assistance with financial matters.

3. Peace of Mind: Parents naturally worry about their children’s well-being. Knowing that their child has taken steps to address important legal matters can provide parents with peace of mind, knowing that their child’s interests are protected even if they are not directly involved in every decision.

4. Asset Distribution: While it might not be pleasant to think about, having a Last Will and Testament ensures that the young adult’s assets are distributed according to their wishes in case of their passing. This can help prevent confusion, disputes, and potential legal issues among family members.

5. Privacy and Communication: Documents like HIPAA Authorization allow parents to access their child’s medical information and communicate with healthcare providers if necessary. This can be critical in situations where quick decisions need to be made about medical treatment.

6. Transition to Independence: As young adults transition to independence, having these legal documents in place empowers them to take control of their own lives while still having a safety net in case of unexpected events.

7. Avoiding Legal Complications: Without proper legal documentation, parents might face challenges in accessing their child’s medical or financial information, making decisions on their behalf, or managing their affairs if needed. These challenges can be avoided with the appropriate legal documents in place.

8. Educational and Employment Needs: Some legal documents, such as what is needed when signing rental agreements or managing student loans, might be necessary as young adults pursue higher education or enter the workforce.

By helping your young adult put their first estate plan in order, you, as a parent, demonstrate your support, care, and commitment to your child’s well-being and future. It teaches your young adult responsibility and becomes a great lesson that will benefit your child as they move through life. If you have any further questions about what legal documents your young adult might need, or you are ready to make some moves and start to get these in order, contact Cris Carter Law today.

My Pet Is My BFF!

If your BFF is a furry friend, you love and adore them; they are an important part of your life. So it only makes sense that you want the best for your pet even after you are gone. But estate planning for your beloved furry friend may be more complex than you think. When it comes to providing for your pet, it is important to know two things:

  • A pet is considered property under the law &
  • When someone receives your pet in your Will, they can do whatever they want with that property.

Your Will Doesn’t Cut It

Under the law, a pet is considered personal property, just like your money, furniture, and clothes. Because of this, you can’t leave money or possessions to your pet directly through your Will. If you leave money directly to your pet in your Will, the money will instead skip your pet and pass to the beneficiaries you named to receive the remainder of your possessions. And if you didn’t name anyone else, the court will give your possessions, including your pet, to your next of kin.

Worst of all, the person that receives your pet and any money left for the care of your pet in your Will, has absolutely no legal obligation to use that money for your pet’s care or even to keep your pet at all.

A Will Provides No Guarantees

For Their FutureBecause you can’t leave money to your pet directly, your first thought might be to leave your pet and money for its care to someone you trust through your Will instead. This option is not likely to work.

That’s because the person you name as the beneficiary of your pet in your Will has no legal obligation to use the funds you leave for your pet’s care for that purpose. Even if you leave detailed instructions for your pet’s care, your beneficiary does not have to accept the responsibility of caring for your pet. Nothing stops them from changing their mind and abandoning your BFF.

You might think that the person you’d leave your pet to would love them and would never abandon them. (Ask the local shelter how often they see this happen). Even if your chosen person is committed to caring for your pet, it’s simply impossible to predict what circumstances might occur in the future that could make it impossible for them to provide for your pet for the rest of your pet’s life.

And a Will Isn’t Fast Enough

The other issue a Will creates for your pet is that a Will is required by law to go through the court process known as probate before any of your property can be distributed to the people you’ve named, and of course, it only operates in the event of your death, not your incapacity.

The probate process itself can take months (a minimum of 8 months on a good day) or even years to complete. During that time, your pet could be passed around between those who argue over who should care for it. In the worst-case scenario, no one may even think to check in on your pet regularly while the court process is unfolding.

Plus, a Will only goes into effect upon your death, so if you’re incapacitated by accident or illness, it would do nothing to protect your companion. This leaves your pet in limbo and vulnerable to being rehomed to someone you would not have chosen or wanted to care for your pet. In the worst scenario, your pet could be surrendered to a shelter by the time everything gets figured out.

Provide Long-Lasting Care for Your Pet Through a Pet Trust

In order to be completely confident that your pet is properly taken care of and that the money you leave for its care is used precisely as intended, ask us to help you create a Pet Trust.

By creating a Pet Trust, you can lay out detailed, legally binding rules for how your pet’s chosen caregiver (the trustee) can use the funds you leave for your furry friend. And unlike a Will, a Pet Trust will go into effect immediately in the event you become incapacitated or pass away.

Do Right By Your Pet

With a Pet Trust, all of the care decisions and financial distributions for your pet will happen in the privacy of our office in the event of your death or incapacity. Unlike a Will, a Pet Trust doesn’t go through probate, which means it goes into effect immediately if you become incapacitated or pass away. We’ll guide your decision-makers about how and why you made your decisions and how they need to care for your pet to receive distributions. And, while that may seem excessive for some, it is perfect for those clients who care so much about the well-being of their pets and want to ensure their pet gets plenty of tender loving care in the future.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation and ensure you’re doing right by your pet.

Lesson Learned? Or Not?

You probably read recently that Len Goodman, the long-time judge on “Dancing With the Stars,” died. Len was a sage in the world of dance and was known for his wry and witty humor. It’s too early to tell if he left his loved ones holding the bag or if he had his affairs in order. It never ceases to amaze me the number of people with the time and resources to plan well for the eventuality of their death and fail to have a plan in place.

We all know that we are definitely going to leave this world. We all know that having a plan in place is essential. It’s perplexing that so many people fail to have an estate plan in place or whose plan is outdated and won’t work for their family now.

Earlier this year, Stephen Laurel Boss, also known as “tWitch,” died. TWitch wasn’t familiar to me, but he was to millions of others who knew him as an American DJ, hip-hop dancer, choreographer, television producer, and actor whose personality lit up the stage on So You Think You Can Dance. He was also a producer and frequent guest host on The Ellen Degeneres Show and co-hosted the TV show Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings alongside his wife and fellow dancer, Allison Holkers.

tWitch and Allison shared a seemingly happy life together in Los Angeles, California, where they were raising their three children, ages 3, 7, and 14. Sadly, on December 13, 2022, tWitch died by suicide at the age of 40. His death came as a complete shock to loved ones who reported the star seemed happy in the weeks leading up to his death.

Boss died without a Will or Trust in place, meaning his wife, Allison Holker, has the task of petitioning the California court system to release Boss’ share of their assets to her. Allison, his widow, will need to wait months before she can formally take possession of the property her husband owned with her, as well as property held in his name alone, including his share of his production company, royalties, and his personal investment account.

Do you know how many people have plenty of notice of their death and fail to protect their families? Celebs and regular people like you and I just fail to do what it takes and leave their loved ones to handle details that they are ill-equipped to handle.

Unnecessary Court Involvement in a Time of Grief

Now, mind you, this happened in California. However, the process that one has to go through in most states is strikingly similar. In order to have access to her late husband’s assets, Allison, his widow, will have to make a public filing in the Probate Court by filing a petition, which asks the court to transfer ownership of a deceased spouse’s property to her as the surviving spouse. Hopefully, there will not be any difficulty in proving that they were legally married at the time of his death.

While the probate court has become more efficient in recent years, the court’s involvement nonetheless delays a spouse’s ability to access the assets of a loved one that has passed – a hurdle no one wants to deal with in the wake of a devastating loss. In addition, the court probate process is entirely public, meaning that the specific assets that loved ones are trying to access are made part of the public record. When your financial affairs become part of the public record, they become available for anyone to discover.

This isn’t just a problem for the wealthy. Even if you own a modest estate at your death, your family will need to go through the probate court process to transfer ownership of your assets if you don’t have an estate plan in place.

How to Prevent This From Happening to Your Loved Ones

When someone dies without an estate plan in place, the probate court’s involvement can be a lengthy and public affair. At a minimum, in Colorado, you can expect the probate process to last at least six months and oftentimes as long as eighteen months or more. How long it will take depends on many variables that we cannot necessarily predict before death. The sad part is that court involvement can be completely avoided IF the couple had created a revocable living trust to hold their family’s assets. If they had, the widow would have had immediate access to all of the couple’s assets upon death, eliminating the need to petition a court or wait for its approval before accessing the funds that rightly belong to her.

A Trust would have also kept the family’s finances private. With a Trust, only the person in charge of managing the Trust assets (the Trustee) and the Trust’s direct beneficiaries need to know how the assets in a Trust are used. There is also no court-imposed timeline on the Trustee for taking care of your final matters (with the exception of some tax elections), so your family can move at the pace that’s right for them when the time comes to put your final affairs in order.

The privacy that a trust provides also helps to eliminate potential family conflict because only the parties directly involved in the Trust will know what the Trust says. If issues between family members arise over the contents of the Trust, the Trust will lay out all of your wishes in detail so that all family members are on the same page and understand your wishes for the ones you’ve left behind.

Guidance for You and the Ones You Love

When you create a revocable living Trust at our firm, we ensure your loved ones have someone to turn to for guidance and support during times of uncertainty. No one expects the sudden loss of a loved one, but when it happens, your world is shaken. Even the simplest tasks can feel overwhelming, let alone the work involved in wrapping up a loved one’s affairs.

That’s why we welcome you to meet with us to discuss your wishes for when you die or if you become incapacitated. If you’re ready to start the estate planning process, contact us today for a complimentary 15-minute discovery call.