Mind The Gap(s)

Did you know that August is “National Make-A-Will Month?” If you have already prepared your will, congratulations! You have taken the first step in the estate planning process. Also, you are in the minority according to Caring.com’s 2022 Wills and Estate Planning Study, which found only 33% of Americans have created their will. Where I see the most significant gaps in people’s knowledge is that they don’t understand what a will does not do. With this in mind, let’s look at three things that having a will —WILL NOT— do for you and your loved ones regarding estate planning.

Here are a few examples of what a will does not do.

  1. As a parent, your most important role in life is to protect your children now and in the future. Most people think naming a guardian for their children in their will is sufficient. What they don’t realize is that your will only comes into effect when you die. By naming guardians for your minor children in your will, that ONLY works to name a guardian if you are dead. A will is not effective to name guardians if you are temporarily unavailable because you were in an accident or are hospitalized, and it leaves your children vulnerable to being taken into child services and the care of strangers if something happens to you. Unfortunately, this gap may exist in your estate plan even if you’ve worked with another lawyer to create your will. Why? Because many lawyers have not been trained on what’s necessary to ensure the well-being and care of minor children if your children need care and you are alive but unable to look after your children. That is why we offer a comprehensive system we call our Children’s Protection Plan, included with every estate plan we prepare for families with children.
  2. Having a will, does not keep your assets or your loved ones out of court. In fact, your will is the one document that tells the judge what you want and will become a public record in the probate process, where your will takes center stage. Unbeknownst to most people, a will only allows you to provide for the distribution of certain types of assets—typically, a will only covers assets owned solely in your name. Many other types of assets are not covered or affected by your will at all. I commonly see people who think that “all” of their assets have been planned for under their will, only to be (unpleasantly) surprised to find out this is not the case and that their planning is full of gaps.
  3. A will does not leave you or your loved ones in charge. A will leaves the local probate judge in charge. Court rules will dictate the process by which your assets will be managed, how creditors are notified, the timing of when all debts and claims are settled and paid (including your final income taxes), and finally, hopefully no more than 9 months later (but it can be longer) how your remaining assets are distributed.

As you can see here, having a will in place is a small but important first step in your estate plan. What is even more important is knowing what a will does and does not do as it has some gaps. But that doesn’t mean you should go without one. Without a will, you would have no say in who inherits your assets when you die, and everything you own is left up to the laws in the state where you are a legal resident. But even worse, your loved ones that survive will be the ones who must clean up the mess you’ve left behind. You should see your will as an important first step in the estate planning process—one that works best when integrated with a variety of other legal vehicles, such as trusts, powers of attorney, and advanced healthcare directives.

What More Can We Learn from the Tiger King’s Estate Planning Mistakes Part #2

Anyone who has seen the hit Netflix documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness can attest that it’s one of the most outlandish stories to come out in a year full of outlandish stories. Outlandish is a nice word for how I really feel about the show.

Over seven episodes, Tiger King provides several shocking, real-life examples of how estate planning can go horribly wrong if it’s undertaken without trusted legal guidance.

A Tale of Two Wills

In part one of this newsletter series, we focused on the estate planning mistakes made by Don Lewis, the late husband of Carole Baskin. Don, a multi-millionaire who helped Carole build the Big Cat Rescue, mysteriously disappeared in 1997. Following Don’s disappearance, Carole produced a copy of Don’s will and power of attorney, which named Carole as his executor in his will and his agent in his power of attorney.

In his will, Don left Carole nearly his entire estate—estimated to be worth $6 million—while leaving his three adult daughters from a previous marriage with just 10% of his assets. However, Don’s daughters claimed the documents Carole produced were fraudulent and contended that their father was getting ready to divorce Carole. Due to the impending split, Don created a will that left his daughters the bulk of his estate, while largely disinheriting Carole. Yet, because Don created this will on his own without the assistance of a lawyer, he failed to make and distribute copies of his plan to his daughters—or anyone else.

Although this is as far into the story as Tiger King gets—and where we left off in part one—more facts have come to light since the documentary aired that make the story even more scandalous, while also offering us additional estate planning lessons.

The Plot Thickens

After seeing the documentary this year, Chad Chronister, the third Hillsborough County Sheriff in office since Don vanished, reviewed the old case files and assigned new deputies to investigate his disappearance. In June 2020, after enlisting the help of two handwriting experts, the sheriff declared the will produced by Carole as “100% a forgery.”

This was something Don’s daughters always suspected, but were unable to successfully prove on their own due to a lack of financial resources. After Carole first filed her copy of Don’s Will and power of attorney with the court in September 1997 (a month following his disappearance), Don’s daughters challenged those documents in court as forgeries.

Court documents show that in November 1997, Don’s daughters hired a handwriting expert to examine their father’s signatures on the planning documents Carole produced. The expert concluded that the signatures were forged, noting that they had likely been traced from Don and Carole’s marriage certificate.

But Carole hired two of her own handwriting experts that concluded the signatures on Don’s documents were genuine. At the time, Don’s daughters said they didn’t have the money to continue to fight Carole over the forgery issue, so they chose not to further challenge the documents, and the court sided with Carole.

However, given the new proof of forgery, can Don’s daughters further challenge Carole in court in an attempt to recover their rightful share of his assets? Sadly, it looks highly unlikely at this late date.

The Clock Is Always Ticking

Under Florida law, the general statute of limitations for legally challenging a will is four years from the date the will was filed, which expired in 2001. And while Florida’s general statute of limitations for challenging a will can sometimes be extended for up to 12 years in cases of fraud, that term expired in 2009.

On the criminal side, both the sheriff and Florida Attorney General noted that the five-year statute of limitations for prosecuting Carole for forgery has also run. In Florida, there’s no statute of limitations for murder, and the sheriff said they were pursuing new leads as of July. So, there’s a chance that Carole could be convicted on a charge related to Don’s death, and if so, she would be forced to give up all of the assets she inherited from him. (Colorado’s statute of limitations for murder is 10 years, interestingly enough, so Carole would be home free. I share that with you to emphasize how each state’s laws can be so different, which is why we emphasize that your estate plan be reviewed when you move to a different state.)

Florida, like most states, has a “slayer statute” that prevents anyone “who unlawfully and intentionally kills or participates in procuring the death of the decedent” from benefiting from their will (Yes, Colorado also has a “slayer statute”). Yet even if that were to happen, it’s unlikely that Don’s daughters would be able to recover anything close to what they would be entitled to, especially since Carole has had control of Don’s assets for nearly two decades already.

Given these new facts, what actions should have been taken to prevent such an epic tragedy from occurring? This leads us to our second lesson:

Lesson Two: To avoid putting your loved ones through the unnecessary trauma and expense of litigating potential conflicts over your estate after something happens to you (and it’s too late), invest the time and money now to get planning in place with a lawyer.

Although Don was quite wealthy, according to almost everyone who knew him, he never came across as such. In fact, he was a notorious penny pincher, who reportedly was even willing to go “dumpster diving” if it meant he could save a dollar or two. In light of this, Don undoubtedly thought that he could save time and money by creating his own planning documents without consulting a lawyer.

Yet as we can see, trying to cut corners and save a few bucks by taking the DIY route with your planning documents is a huge mistake. Indeed, the potential consequences and costs to your loved ones can ultimately far exceed whatever minor savings in time and money you hoped to achieve by not enlisting the assistance of an attorney. As we pointed out last week, if Don had created his estate plan with the support of an experienced estate planning lawyer, none of this would have happened.

And that same lesson applies here as well, particularly in light of these new facts. Had Don worked with a trusted lawyer to create, maintain, and update his plan, Carole would have been unable to pass off forged documents supposedly created by Don in 1996. And that’s because his lawyers, loved ones, and the court would all have certified copies of Don’s most recent plan, rendering any previous versions invalid.

The reason you spend the time and money upfront to hire an attorney to put a proper plan in place is to prevent your loved ones from ever needing to hire their own lawyer down the road. Once something happens to you, whether it’s your eventual death or in the event of your incapacity, it’s too late—you must act now. By working with us, your local estate planning lawyer, we can plan ahead to predict and prevent any potential for conflict that might arise over your estate, and we can also help ensure that there won’t be any legal grounds for your plan to be successfully contested.

Moreover, we can also ensure that your loved ones, along with anyone who might have reason to dispute your plan, are fully aware of the reasons and intentions behind every choice you made in your plan—and they learn about these choices while you’re still around. In fact, we often recommend holding a family meeting (which we can facilitate) to go over everything with all impacted parties.

Contact us today to ensure your plan works exactly as intended, and your family isn’t subjected to a nightmare scenario like the one Don’s daughters experienced and are still dealing with to this day.

But what about Joe?

Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about Carole’s tabloid-headlining legal battle with Mr. Tiger King himself, Joe Exotic. We’ll explore the highlights of their epic feud—and offer more estate planning lessons based on it—in our third and final article in this series in the next two weeks.


This article is a service of Cris Carter Law. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 to $750 session at no charge.

Tiger King – Estate Planning Mistakes Part #1

You would have to be on another planet to have not heard of the hit Netflix documentary Tiger King that came out in the spring of 2020. I did not watch it, but I heard a lot of hype about it as millions of Americans tuned in. Why was it so popular? You got me. The only reason I can come up with for its viewer popularity is the outlandish stories of big cats (tigers, lions, etc.), murder-for-hire, polygamy, and a missing millionaire.

Recently, I started to watch the show myself. Notice I said started to watch. That’s right – I only started to watch it to see what all the hype was about. Now before you become tempted to watch it, be forewarned that I would rate it “R” and this isn’t the type of show that I would recommend watching. WHY? Because it is akin to a bad soap opera. The only redeeming quality that I could find is that the series actually does allow for some lessons of what not to do in estate planning. So, in the name of education, let’s look at the real-life examples of estate planning gone wrong, as we wade through the Tiger King characters and see what disasters could have been avoided with proper planning.

The Feud

While the documentary’s dastardly, twisted plot is far too complicated to fully summarize, it focuses primarily on the bitter rivalry between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin, who are both owners and breeders of big cats. Joe, the self-professed “Tiger King,” whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, runs a roadside zoo in Oklahoma filled with more than a hundred tigers, lions, and other assorted animals.

Carole is the owner of Big Cat Rescue, a Florida-based sanctuary for big cats rescued from captivity. As an avid animal rights activist, Carole goes on a public crusade against Joe, seeking to have his zoo shut down, claiming that he exploits, abuses, and kills the animals under his care. In retaliation, Joe launches an extensive media campaign of his own against Carole, in which he accuses her of murdering her late husband, millionaire Don Lewis, and feeding his remains to her tigers. The feud between Joe and Carole goes on for decades, and it ultimately peaks after Carole wins a million-dollar trademark infringement lawsuit against Joe.

The legal fees and impending judgment from the lawsuit nearly bankrupt Joe, eventually pushing him to hire someone to kill Carole. However, instead of killing Carole, the individual Joe hires goes to the FBI and informs them of Joe’s murderous plot. Joe is ultimately arrested for hiring a hitman to kill Carole, along with multiple animal abuse charges, and he’s sentenced to 22 years in federal prison.

Although the clash between Joe and Carole takes center stage and exposes key estate planning concerns related to business ownership and asset protection, the most egregious planning errors are made by Carol’s late husband Don Lewis. In fact, the full extent of duplicity and damage related to these mistakes isn’t even uncovered by the documentary, and have only recently come to light following renewed public interest in the case sparked by the show. You gotta love a cold case mystery!

So let’s look first at the tragic results that Don’s poor planning yields for him and his loved ones.

The Missing Millionaire

Don, a fellow big-cat enthusiast who helped Baskin start Big Cat Rescue, mysteriously disappeared in 1997 and hasn’t been seen since. After Carole had Don declared legally dead in 2002, Carole produced a copy of Don’s Will that named her as Executor and left nearly all of Don’s entire estate to Carol. Yes, that’s right; an estimated $6 million dollars. Don’s daughters from a previous marriage were left with just 10% of his assets. However, the planning documents Carole produced were deemed suspicious by multiple people who were close to Don for a number of reasons. Don’s daughters and his first wife claim that Don and Carole were having serious marital problems before he disappeared, and that Don was planning to divorce Carole. As evidence of this, we learn that Don sought a restraining order against Carole just two months before he vanished, in which he alleges Carole threatened to kill him. A judge denied the restraining order, saying there was “no immediate threat of violence.”

Don’s daughters also claim that around the time the restraining order was filed, their father created a Will that left the vast majority of his estate to them, and he did so in order to minimize any claims Carole might have to his property should he pass away. Additionally, Don’s administrative assistant, Anne McQueen, said that before he disappeared, Don gave her an envelope containing his new Will and a power of attorney document, in which he named Anne as his executor and power of attorney agent, not Carole. Anne said Don told her to take the envelope to the police if anything should happen to him. According to Anne, the envelope with Don’s planning documents was kept in a lock box in Don’s office, but she claims Carole broke into the office and took the documents 10 days after he disappeared. At the time, Anne was being interviewed by detectives when she received a call from the alarm company, letting her know that the alarm in Don’s office had been triggered.

When police arrived, they found Carole removing files from the trailer that served as Don’s office. She was being helped by her father and Don’s handyman. The handyman had cut the locks, and according to Anne, this was because Carole didn’t have a key. Later that day, Carole had the entire trailer hauled to the grounds of the big cat sanctuary. Anne told detectives that Carole removed the trailer and its contents in order to destroy his planning documents stored in the lockbox. From there, Anne believes Carole forged the will and power of attorney she ultimately presented to the court.

Carole vehemently denied all of these claims. In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Carole said she moved the office trailer because her father claimed he saw Anne removing files from it a day earlier. She also insisted she never threatened Don’s life, and that he disappeared on one of his many trips to Costa Rica. She further claims that Don sought to disinherit his children in his Will, and it was only at Carole’s suggestion that Don left them anything at all.

Although law enforcement investigated Don’s disappearance from Tampa to Costa Rica, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said the investigation failed to uncover any physical evidence, only a conflicting series of stories and dead ends. In light of this, Don’s estate passed through probate in 2002, and his assets were distributed according to the terms of the will Carole presented, leaving Carole with the bulk of his $6-million estate, and leaving Don’s daughters with just a small fraction of his assets.

Just goes to show you that truth is stranger than fiction. While there’s always more to the story, let’s first look at the planning mistakes Don made and how they could have been easily prevented.

Lesson 1: Always work with an experienced estate planning lawyer when creating or updating your planning documents, especially if you have a blended family.

If Don’s children and assistant are correct and Don actually created a will that left his daughters the bulk of his estate and disinherited Carole, it appears he did so without the assistance of an attorney. Big Mistake Number One. We all know that there are numerous do-it-yourself (DIY) estate planning websites that allow you to create various planning documents within a matter of minutes for relatively little expense. Well, when you do a DIY estate plan instead of using the services of a trusted advisor to guide you and your family, the documents can easily disappear or be changed. In the end—and when it’s too late to do anything about it, taking the DIY route can cost your family far more than not creating any plan at all.

Even people who think their particular planning situation is simple, that turns out to almost never be the case. As we know, there are a number of complications inherent to DIY estate plans that can cause them to be ruled invalid by a court, while also creating unnecessary conflict and expense for the very people you are trying to protect with your plan.

And while it’s always a good idea to have a lawyer help you create your planning documents, this is exponentially true when you have a blended family like Don’s. Blended families from a second (or more) marriage, with children from a prior marriage, create an inherent risk of dispute because of the conflicting interests. The more wealth there is, the greater the conflict becomes. The risk for conflict is significantly increased if you are seeking to disinherit or favor one part of your family over another, as Don was claimed to have done with Carole. In fact, in Florida, the law prevents one spouse from completely disinheriting the other in their estate plan, so unless Don was aware of this fact when he cut Carole out of his will, she would still be entitled to one-third of his assets upon his death, no matter what his will stipulated. Remember that each state’s laws are different. That is why having an attorney licensed in the state where you reside is so important. It is near impossible when you create your own plan, even with the help of a DIY service, that you can consider and plan ahead to avoid all the potential legal and family conflicts that could arise. As an attorney, we are not only specially trained to predict and prevent such conflicts, but our unique planning process can actually help create connections among your loved ones and bring your family closer together. In fact, this is our special sauce.

Finally, as we saw with Don, if your loved ones can’t find your planning documents—whether that is because they were misplaced or stolen—it’s as if they never existed in the first place. Yet, if Don had enlisted the support of an experienced planning professional like us, his documents would have been safeguarded from being lost, stolen, or destroyed. When we create or update a plan for our clients, it’s standard practice to not only keep current copies of your estate plan in our office, but to provide those loved ones with the latest updated copies. And we make sure that you discard older versions laying around.

If you’ve yet to create a plan, have DIY documents you aren’t sure about, or have a plan created with another lawyer’s help that hasn’t been reviewed in more than a year, meet with us. We can ensure that your plan will remain safe and work exactly as you intended if something should happen to you.

In two weeks, we’ll continue with part two in this series on estate planning lessons you can learn from the Netflix documentary Tiger King.


This article is a service of Cris Carter Law. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this session valued between $500 to $750, at no charge.

Once Your Kids Are 18, Make Sure They Sign These Documents

When your child hits their teenage years, you know they are in for a very emotional, difficult period of growth as they learn to navigate the world as a budding young adult. While estate planning is probably one of the last things your teenage kids are thinking about, when they turn 18, it should be their (and your) number-one priority – especially in light of the risk COVID-19 represents. Here’s why: at 18, they become legal adults in the eyes of the law, so you no longer have the authority to make decisions regarding their healthcare, nor will you have access to their financial accounts if something happens to them. Suddenly, all the problems a teen faces are very small in comparison to the ones they face as a young adult.

With you no longer in charge, your now-young adult would be extremely vulnerable if they became incapacitated by COVID-19 or another malady and lost their ability to make decisions about their own medical care. Since we know that putting a plan in place could literally save their lives, if your kids are already 18 or about to hit that milestone, it’s crucial that you all sit down and discuss what kind of documents they will need. 

Medical Power of Attorney

medical power of attorney is an advance directive that allows your child to grant you (or someone else) the legal authority to make healthcare decisions on their behalf in the event they become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions for themselves. 

For example, a medical power of attorney would allow you to make decisions about your child’s medical treatment if he or she is in a car accident, or is hospitalized with COVID-19.  

Without a medical power of attorney in place, if your child has a serious illness or injury that requires hospitalization and you need access to their medical records to make decisions about their treatment, you’d have to petition the court to become their legal guardian. While a parent is typically the court’s first choice for guardian, the guardianship process can be both slow and expensive

And due to HIPAA laws, once your child becomes 18, no one—not even parents—is legally authorized to access his or her medical records without prior written permission. But a properly drafted medical power of attorney will include a signed HIPAA authorization, so you can immediately access their medical records to make informed decisions about their healthcare.   

Living Will or Advanced Health Care Directives

While a medical power of attorney allows you to make healthcare decisions on your child’s behalf during their incapacity, a living will is an advance directive that provides specific guidance about how your child’s medical decisions should be made, particularly at the end of life. 

For example, your child’s living will would detail whether they want life support removed, should they ever require it. In addition to documenting how your child wants their medical care managed, a living will can also include instructions about who should be able to visit them in the hospital and even what kind of food they should be fed.  

This is especially vital if your child has specific dietary preferences. For example, if he or she is a vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or takes specific supplements, these things should be noted in their living will. It’s also important if you don’t know all of their friends or who they would want to be part of their medical decision-making if they are unable to make decisions for themselves.

Additionally, remember to speak with your child about the unique medical scenarios related to COVID-19, particularly in regards to intubation, ventilators, and experimental medications. How such treatment options can be addressed in a living will can be found in our previous post: COVID-19 Highlights Critical Need for Advance Healthcare Directives. 

Durable Financial Power of Attorney 

Should your child become incapacitated, you may also need access and be able to manage their finances. This requires your child to grant you durable financial power of attorney

Durable financial power of attorney gives you the authority to manage their financial and legal matters, such as paying their tuition, applying for student loans, managing their bank accounts, and collecting government benefits. Without this document, you’ll have to petition the court for such authority. 

Peace of Mind 

As parents, it’s normal to experience anxiety as your child grows up and becomes an adult, and with the pandemic still raging, these fears have undoubtedly intensified. While you can’t totally prevent your child from an unforeseen illness or injury, with us, you can at least rest assured that if your child ever does need your help, you’ll have the legal authority to provide it. Contact us today to get started.  

___________

This article is a service of Cris Carter Law. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 to $750 session at no charge. 

The Need For a “Go-Bag” Is Even More Important During a Pandemic

In the event of an emergency, the most important thing on our mind is keeping our family and loved ones safe from immediate harm. After we know our loved ones are safe, then we think about the multitude of other things needed, such as food, shelter, water, and other necessities of daily life.

Anyone that knows me, knows that I lived in Florida most of my life and raised my family in Florida. Hurricane preparedness was a way of life. Every year as summer approached, families were ready to flee if a hurricane was heading our way. When I moved to Colorado, I quickly discovered that with a wildfire, often times you didn’t get as much advanced notice, so emergency preparedness became even more important. I quickly learned that it is vital to stay prepared and have supplies packed in the event that you and your family have to leave at a moment’s notice.

The concept of the “go-bag” originated with the US military. All military personnel are required to keep essential survival items sufficient for at least three days, packed and ready to go. We need to be just as prepared. When you have just minutes to evacuate, you won’t have time to think about what you should pack to survive the days—or weeks—to come, so the time to prepare for your family’s safety is now.

This year, we are not only dealing with deadly wildfires in Colorado, hurricanes on the East and Gulf Coasts, and several devastating tornadoes and floods in the Midwest, but we are also still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is highly unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

Although most of the items you need in a go-bag remain the same across most scenarios, in light of the increased dangers posed by the pandemic, we decided to cover the supplies and documents you should have in your go-bag as we deal with COVID-19. Whether you are forced to temporarily relocate, require hospitalization, or are subject to quarantine, there are unique risks that we all must be prepared for.

The Go-Bag

Before we discuss the estate planning and other key documents you should include in your go-bag, here are some general supplies to include in your COVID-19 go-bag:

● Face masks and/or face coverings

● Hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol

● Lysol or other disinfectant sprays

● Disinfecting wipes

● Disposable gloves

Also, consider packing the following:

1) ID and other essential documents: Bring copies of your passport, driver’s license, and/or state ID card stored in a sealed Ziploc bag. Also consider packing the deed to your home, vehicle titles/registration, printed maps, and a recent family photo with faces clearly visible for easy identification.

2) Cash: Carry at least $250 in relatively small bills and keep it with your ID in a waterproof bag.

3) Shelter: A lightweight tent, along with Mylar emergency blankets can help keep you warm and dry.

4) Water and a water filter: You’ll need at least one gallon of water per person per day. Bring as much bottled water as possible, but also include a water purification straw and/or purification tablets, along with a steel container to boil water in.

5) A multi-tool: These modern-day Swiss Army knives come with a wide array of essential tools, from a knife and screwdriver to tweezers and a can opener.

6) First-aid kit and prescription medications: The likelihood of injury skyrockets in the wake of disasters. A first-aid kit, including any of your prescription medications and other life-sustaining medical supplies, is a necessity.

7) Light: Flashlights with extra batteries are great, but headlamps are even better because they are ultra-compact and leave your hands free.

8) An emergency whistle: Emergency whistles can alert rescue crews and help locate others in low-visibility conditions.

9) A solar-powered emergency radio and cellphone charger: Without power, you will need a way to stay in touch with the outside world. Today you can find devices that include a combination radio, cell-phone charger, and flashlight all in one, with the extra option of hand-cranked power to keep things charged even in the dark.

10) Sanitary items: Pack toilet paper, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, soap, as well as tampons and/or pads if needed.

11) Clothes: You only need enough clothes to keep you warm and comfortable for a few days. Don’t overpack! Stick to essentials like underwear, socks, extra shoes, a jacket, a poncho, a hat, and gloves. Tailor your clothing to the particular climate and region you live in. In colder locations, think about layers and bring heavier outerwear.

12) Food: Focus on high-protein, high-calorie foods that will give you the energy you need to live and get from point A to point B. The most recommended options include energy bars, MREs (Meals-Ready-to-Eat), freeze-dried survival food, and meal-replacement shakes.

When it comes to your estate plan, even if you have all of the necessary planning documents in place and updated, they won’t do you any good if your loved ones don’t know about them or can’t quickly locate them during an emergency. Without immediate access to your plan, if you become seriously ill or injured, medical and financial decisions can be dangerously delayed or be made by someone other than the people you would want.

The need for your plan to be easily accessible is particularly urgent during the pandemic. Due to the highly contagious nature of COVID, there’s a good chance your family members will not be allowed to accompany you if you are hospitalized or forced to quarantine. For these reasons, adding your estate plan and other important documents to your go-bag is a must.

While all of your estate planning documents should be included in your go-bag, having your medical power of attorney and advanced healthcare directives readily accessible is especially vital for medical emergencies. Without these documents, doctors and other healthcare professionals won’t know your wishes for treatment or which of your loved ones should help them make decisions.

At the same time, you should review and update your medical power of attorney and advanced healthcare directives to address the unique medical scenarios and treatments related to COVID-19. The specifics of what this entails can be found here: COVID-19 Highlights Critical Need for Advanced Healthcare Directives.

Copies of your health insurance or Medicare card, along with a summary of your medical history should also be included in your go-bag. In your medical history, you’ll want to mention any chronic underlying medical conditions and illnesses, as well as list all prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and/or supplements you are currently taking—and don’t forget to list any known allergies.

You may also want to have your financial power of attorney and inventory of assets on hand so that your loved ones would know what you have, where it is, and how to access it in the event you become incapacitated. If you have not yet created an inventory of your assets or the other legal documents you’d need, this may be a valuable next step for you to ensure you have everything you need in place for the ones you love.

As noted before, including your ID and other essential personal documents in your go-bag should be a top priority. Among these items, you should also include contact information for your primary care doctor and other medical providers, as well as listing your emergency contacts, particularly your agents for both medical and financial power of attorney.

Make sure your loved ones know about your go-bag, and where to find it. You might even want to keep the bag near your home’s primary exit, so it’s there for you or someone else to grab on the way out the door. To make it as portable as possible, download your plan and other essential documents to a thumb drive you can carry in your go-bag and upload additional copies to the cloud.

Safeguard your belongings—and memories

While protecting your family’s health, safety, and well-being is the primary purpose of packing a go-bag, you should also take steps to prevent the financial devastation that can result from having your home and other property destroyed in a disaster. Obviously, having the appropriate levels of insurance coverage in place is your first task—and we can help with this.

But to make sure the insurance companies fully reimburse you for what you stand to lose, you should also take video and photos of all your belongings. We recommend walking through each room of your home, opening all cabinet and closet doors, along with desk and dresser drawers, to record everything stored inside. Such visual documentation can not only ensure you can replace your assets but that your insurance claim is processed as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Of course, not all of your belongings can be replaced, so you should take additional precautions to safeguard your most precious sentimental items—photo albums, home videos, old letters, family histories, and treasured cards from the past. Since you won’t have the time or space to bring these items with you in your go-bag, you should make digital copies of these keepsakes and store them in the cloud.

Keenly aware of the priceless value these items represent, we believe safely storing your sentimental things online is so important we offer this as a service to all of our clients. Be sure to ask us how we can help you preserve your family’s precious mementos.

Planning Ahead is Key

Given the chaotic times we’re living in, it’s no wonder people are experiencing increasing levels of fear, anxiety, and confusion. Although it’s not possible to totally prevent you or your loved ones from experiencing injury, illness, or death, putting proactive planning strategies in place can significantly minimize the suffering and conflict that can result if something tragic does occur. We can help ensure you’ve taken every conceivable precaution to protect your family and assets from today’s growing litany of threats. Contact us today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session™.

__________

This article is a service of Cris Carter Law, the attorney with heart. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge.

Your “Blended” Family Is Likely Headed to Court Unless You Do This

Family is the most important priority to a great majority of people – whether that includes full or step-siblings, birth parents or adoptive, or family you have chosen for yourself. Because it is so important, many of us want to make sure our families are taken care of after we are gone. For those of us who don’t have a nuclear family, however, which is made up of a mom, a dad, and full siblings, protecting and taking care of your family can be a little more complex.

If you have a blended family and you do not plan for what happens to your assets if you are incapacitated or gone, you are almost certainly guaranteeing hurt feelings, conflict, and maybe even a long, drawn out court battle.

So let’s start with an explanation of what a blended family is and whether you have one. If you have stepchildren, or children from a prior marriage, or other people you consider “kin” who are not considered legal relatives in the eyes of the law, you’ve got a blended family.

Bottom line: if you have a blended family, you need an estate plan, and not just a will you created for yourself online, or a trust that isn’t intentionally designed to keep your family out of court and out of conflict. Period. End of story. Unless you are okay with setting your loved ones up for unnecessary heartache, confusion, and pain when something happens to you, you need a well-structured estate plan.

What Will the Law Do?

Blended Families, once considered ‘non-traditional’ families are swiftly becoming the norm. Currently 52% of married couples (or unmarried couples who live together) have a stepkin relationship of some kind, and 4 in 10 new marriages involve remarriage. So, clearly, this is no longer ‘non-traditional’ but quite traditional, though our laws about what happens if you become incapacitated or die are still very much based on the traditional nuclear family.

Every state has different provisions for what happens when you become incapacitated or die, and the laws of the state where you become incapacitated or die may or may not match your wishes.

For example, in Colorado, if you are survived by a spouse, your surviving spouse would only receive a part of your estate if you have living children (or parents!), and your living children or parents would receive the rest. And the amount your spouse receives is variable based on the number and ages of your children.

In contrast, in California, all community property assets would go to your surviving spouse, and separate property assets would be distributed partially to a surviving spouse and partially to your children, in amounts depending on the number of surviving children.

In Texas, it can get very complex, depending on whether your assets are separate or community, and whether you have children from the marriage, no children from the marriage, or living parents or siblings.

These are examples to show you that where you die can significantly change the outcome for your family and for your assets, and it may not result in the outcome you want for your loved ones, especially if you have a blended family situation.

So, here’s what you do to make sure that things do go the way you want: call us and schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session. While the session is normally $500, if you do some homework ahead of time (homework that’s going to make sure your family can find everything you have if and when you become incapacitated or die), we’ll waive the Family Wealth Planning Session fee for you, and spend two hours getting to know you, your family dynamics, and your assets, and teach you about the law here in our county and how it would impact your family and your assets in the event of your incapacity or death, so you can ensure that things go the way you want for the people you love.

Even within “traditional” families, aka married parents with families, I want to emphasize that having a full plan is the best way to provide for your loved ones. However, with “blended” families, carefully considered estate plans are even more vital to avoid the massive misunderstanding and conflict that comes with faulty or incomplete plans, and often result in having your assets tied up in court instead of going to the people you want to receive them.

Disputes Between Spouse and Children from Previous Marriage

One of the most common problems that arises in a blended family is that the children from a prior marriage and the surviving spouse end up in conflict. This one is sadly common. Unless a comprehensive plan has been created, it could be very easy for your surviving spouse to cut your kids out completely.

When you’re considering all of these factors for the people you love, it’s important to have a lawyer who can help you look at the reality of what will happen if you become incapacitated or when you die. With the complexities of modern families, it’s better to know than to leave it to the law or a court to provide. That way, not only do the people you love get the assets that you want them to receive, but you may also be saving them from years of legal conflict. Just give us a call and we’ll help you review your options.

__________

This article is a service of Cris Carter Law, the attorney with heart. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge.

How to Avoid the Need for a Prenuptial Agreement

Despite the current COVID-19 reality we live in, so many happy couples have tied the knot this year. Social media has been flooded with beautiful pictures of small, intimate ceremonies, handsome grooms and gorgeous brides, and some wedding parties sporting matching masks.

If you’re counting down the days to your wedding, you may be thinking about the flowers you want to have decorate your aisle, or the food you would like to cater to your guests – divorce is probably the last thing you and your fiancé are or want to be thinking about. And yet, you might be rightfully concerned about what would happen to your assets in the event of a divorce—or your death. You may also be worried that suggesting a prenuptial agreement could hurt your future spouse by making him or her feel as if you don’t trust them, thereby creating friction before the marriage even begins.

While such concerns are valid, you should know that prenups aren’t your only option for shielding your assets from these scenarios. With a well-designed estate plan, for example, you can structure your assets in such a way to keep what you have safe, provide for your future spouse in the event of your death, and also protect your assets in the event of a divorce. In this way, you can avoid having the prenup conversation all together.

We do recommend talking with your future spouse about your assets, what would happen in the event of your death, and also making plans in advance so you can feel confident that any children from a prior marriage (or an expected inheritance) are well-planned for no matter what happens. In the following article, we will discuss the pros and cons of prenuptial agreements.

Prenup Pros

Sets clear financial expectations: For many couples, not openly discussing money and the partnership’s financial expectations can lead to big problems down the road. In fact, money problems are one of the leading reasons that marriages end, right up there with infidelity. A well-counseled prenuptial agreement and communication between both spouses could be an opportunity to start your marriage with complete transparency and clearly establish the financial and property rights of each spouse should a divorce occur or in the event of the death of either spouse.

Helps protect your separate assets: If you have any tangible or intangible assets you are bringing into the marriage that you don’t want to risk losing, a prenuptial agreement can help shield that property from divorce proceedings or from a future “elective share” of a spouse upon your death. This can be vital if you have significant assets like a business, real estate, intellectual property, vehicles, or family heirlooms. And, if you know you’ll want to ensure your assets go to children from a prior marriage, a prenuptial agreement can protect those assets for your children.

Helps prevent a lengthy, contentious, and expensive divorce: Divorce is never fun and can often be both emotionally and financially painful, but putting a prenuptial agreement in place could make it less so. Clearly establishing the financial and property rights of each spouse when the relationship is at its most loving—and putting those parameters in a legally-binding document—can greatly reduce the chances of you two battling it out in court later if your marriage doesn’t work out. A long, expensive court battle is the last thing you need when dealing with the painful emotions and often-hefty legal fees associated with a divorce.

Helps prevent disputes over debt: Not everyone is equal in their ability to manage their money. As mentioned earlier, disagreements over finances are a frequent reason marriages fail. Therefore, it could be a good idea to use a prenup to identify who is responsible for taking care of specific debts and liabilities. You don’t want to be stuck paying for your ex-spouse’s credit card debt when you had nothing to do with racking it up.

Prenup Cons

It’s not exactly a romantic gesture: No matter how untrue this assumption may be, people often perceive creating a prenuptial agreement as expecting the marriage to fail or that it indicates a lack of trust. Such concerns should be respected and addressed as tactfully as possible. But the reality is marriage involves lots of issues that aren’t romantic, and dealing with such delicate matters up front could bring the two of you closer (or expose hidden red flags), regardless of whether an agreement is actually created or not.

Whatever you do, don’t wait to have the discussion until right before the ceremony. It’s not only extremely rude, but it could lead a court to invalidate an agreement put in place at the last minute as being created with undue pressure.

It might not be necessary: What a prenuptial agreement can cover depends on what kind of assets you have and where you live. Given this, existing divorce laws might already split your assets up in a way you think is fair. For example, in community-property states, the court will divide the property you and your spouse acquired during the marriage in an equal 50/50 split, while each spouse gets to keep his or her separate property. If you have questions about this, we can talk about how the laws apply to you and your particular asset profile.

It can’t resolve issues of child custody, support, or visitation: It’s important to note that prenups can’t address certain issues related to children and divorce. For example, though prenups can help ensure your children from a prior marriage are able to inherit assets you want to leave them, these agreements cannot be used to address child support, custody, or visitation rights. Those issues must be resolved by the court, so a prenup would be useless if that’s what you’re hoping to achieve.

It may require two lawyers to be valid: Prenuptial agreements may be invalidated if both parties are not represented by independent legal counsel. And depending on the lawyers you each work with, lawyers who are not well-experienced with counseling, care, and conflict resolution can inadvertently escalate or intensify conflicts, rather than supporting you and your future spouse to get on the same page.

Alternative Options

If you plan ahead, certain estate planning vehicles can be used to protect your assets from divorce settlements and ensure that assets pass to your children from a prior marriage in the event of a divorce. There are different types of trusts, for instance, that can be set up to allow you to protect assets for yourself in the event of a divorce, and for your children in the event of your incapacity or death.

Meet with us for additional help deciding whether a prenuptial agreement is the right choice for you and to discuss other estate planning alternatives that could achieve similar protections.

______________

This article is a service of Cris Carter Law, the attorney with heart. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge.

COVID-19 Highlights Critical Need for Advance Healthcare Directives

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the country, doctors across the nation are joining lawyers in urging Americans to create the proper estate planning documents, so medical providers can better coordinate an individual’s care should they become hospitalized with the virus.

For many people, this can seem like a daunting task to choose how and what they want for medical treatment if something were to happen to them, and who they would want to make those decisions on their behalf. As there are so many unknowns, it can be hard to think about this subject and decide how you want to be taken care of – which is why we are here to help walk you through creating advance healthcare directives for you and your family.

The most critical planning tools for this purpose are the medical power of attorney and a living will, which are advance healthcare directives that work together to describe your wishes for medical treatment and end-of-life care in the event you are unable to express your own wishes. In light of COVID-19, even those who have already created these documents should revisit them to ensure they are up-to-date and address specific scenarios related to the coronavirus.

While all adults over age 18 should put these documents in place as soon as possible, if you are over age 60 or have a chronic underlying health condition, the need is particularly urgent. Contact us right away if you or anyone in your family needs these documents created. We are here to help you and your loved ones stay protected during this time.

Advance Directives

A medical power of attorney is an advance directive that allows you to name a person, known as your “agent”, to make healthcare decisions for you if you’re incapacitated and unable to make those decisions yourself. For example, if you are hospitalized with COVID-19 and need to be placed in a medically induced coma, this person would have the legal authority to advise doctors about your subsequent medical care.

If you become incapacitated without a medical power of attorney, physicians will generally look to someone in your family to make these decisions for you. If there is no dispute between your family members, that may work. However, if there is a dispute or if no family can be located, they may ask the court to appoint a legal guardian to be the decision-maker. In either case, the person given this responsibility could be someone you may not want to have power over such life or death decisions—and that’s why having medical power of attorney is so important.

While a medical power of attorney names who can make health-care decisions in the event of your incapacity, a living will explains how your care should be handled, particularly at the end of life. For example, if you should become seriously ill and unable to manage your own treatment, a living will can guide your agent to make medical decisions on your behalf.

These decisions could include if and when you want life support removed, and whether you would want hydration and nutrition if that was the only thing keeping you alive. To ensure your medical treatment is handled in exactly the way you want and prevent your family from undergoing needless stress and conflict during an already trying time, it is vital that you document what you want in a living will.

Keep Your Directives Updated

Even if you’ve already created advanced directives, now is the perfect time to review the documents to ensure they still match your wishes and circumstances. For instance, is the agent named in your medical power of attorney still the individual you would want to make these decisions? Has your health changed in ways that might affect your living will’s instructions? Are your values and wishes regarding end-of-life still the same?

What’s more, whether you are creating new documents or updating your old ones, you should keep COVID-19 in mind. The highly contagious and life-threatening nature of the coronavirus is something medical providers have never dealt with before, and it has strained our nation’s healthcare system to the breaking point. It is in your best interest to protect yourself now, before you or one of your family members gets sick.

Coronavirus Considerations

In light of COVID-19, there are a few unique circumstances you need to be aware of when drafting these documents to ensure all of the potential scenarios related to the coronavirus and its treatment have been properly addressed.

1. Don’t do it yourself: While you can find a wide selection of generic, advance-directive documents online, you shouldn’t trust these do-it-yourself forms to adequately address such critical decisions. This is especially true during the ongoing pandemic when doctors are constantly tasked with making highly difficult and uncertain decisions for patients suffering from this deadly new virus.

When it comes to your medical treatment and end-of-life care, you have unique needs and wishes that just can’t be anticipated by fill-in-the-blank documents. To ensure your directives are specifically tailored to suit your unique situation, you must work with experienced planning professionals like us to create—or at the very least, review—your medical power of attorney and living will.

2. Open lines of communication: Because COVID-19 is so contagious, family members of those who’ve contracted the virus are often not allowed to accompany them to the hospital. This means your agent likely won’t be there in person to make your treatment decisions. While most advance directives give your agent broad authority to communicate with your medical providers, the documents may not explicitly authorize certain types of remote communication that have become necessary with the COVID-19 crisis.

To remedy this, you may want to consider adding language to your directives expressly authorizing your agent to give directions by phone, Zoom, email, Skype, FaceTime, and other methods. To facilitate this communication, you should bring copies of your directives with you to the hospital to give your doctors, and ensure your agent (and any alternate agents named) have updated copies on-hand as well.

We can guide you to make informed, educated, and empowered choices to protect yourself and the ones you love most – especially in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Contact us today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.

__________

This article is a service of Cris Carter Law, LLC. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge.

Three Unique Ways to Handle the Guilt Inherent in Being a Parent

If you’re a parent, you may feel even more guilt than usual. If so, you are definitely not alone. Currently, the burden is on you to both carry on with your work and manage your child’s full-time care and education. Two full-time jobs that you’re trying to do by yourself, likely without teachers or care providers to help you.

If you are like most parents, you were probably struggling with guilt even before the virus. You simply can’t make it to every award ceremony or recital, and you might not have as much time to play with your kids or help them with their homework as you’d like. Those feelings of guilt may now be compounded by all the additional responsibilities you’ve had to take on in a short space of time.

Take a deep breath, and let me let you off the hook here for a minute. I have no doubt you are doing the best you can, and your kids see it, and know it too, even when they are being ungrateful pains in the rear.

I’ve got a few ideas about how to shift the guilt. They’re a little unconventional, but I invite you to give them a try and then message me to let me know how they went. We love hearing from you.

Let’s start with one thing that is fully within your control, can help to alleviate feelings that you are not doing enough, and that you can get handled easily, for free, right now – name legal guardians for your kids, so the people you want will take care of them, if anything happens to you.

Quality Time By Doing Nothing

While you’re probably already spending a significant amount of time with your kids, it may not be very high quality. But you may be too tired or overwhelmed to plan big activities, or the things you used to do for “quality time” may not be available.

So, what’s a parent to do?

Nothing.

Yes, you read that right, nothing. If you can take 15 minutes or so out of your day and do nothing with your child, it could be the best 15 minutes you spend with them, and with yourself, all day. Maybe you’ll even be able to stretch it to 30, 45 or 60 minutes of nothing. It’s truly one of the best gifts you can give to your kids, and the best part is you don’t have to do anything.

We hope this idea provides some relief from the guilt. You don’t have to do as much as you think. Mostly, your kids really just want to know you are there, and will give them your full attention, without screens, even if they aren’t paying attention to you.

Name Legal Guardians

If you have not already legally documented who you would want to raise your children, do it now. Legally documenting your choices for who you want to take care of your kids is a great first step to getting legal planning in place for the people you love. (Yes, I said “choices” because you want to name at least one person with two alternates.) And, doing so can provide you with a lot of relief, if you have not taken care of this yet for your kids.

So that’s one way to remove some of that mom or pop guilt you may have. And, here’s another…

Talk About It

If you’re on an emotional roller-coaster right now, your kids are probably having some similar struggles. This is an opportunity to connect with them, and a good time to show them a little vulnerability of your own. Remember how important sharing words of love and comfort can be, both to them and to you.

A friend of mine has three kids ranging from eight to fourteen, and she recently told me a story about a very special conversation with one of her children. After my friend had spent a few weeks juggling school, work responsibilities, and a million other household duties, she was feeling worn out and discouraged.

Then she took a quiet moment to just sit around and talk with her tween daughter and share some of what was going on for her, that it was hard, and how she was making it through. Out of the blue, to my friend’s surprise and gratitude, her child gave her a big hug and said, “You do so much to take care of us all the time. That must be so hard. Thank you.”

This special moment filled my friend’s heart, and it has gotten her through some tough days. And it never would have happened if she hadn’t taken a little time out to just talk with her kid, without a particular agenda.

Reach out for Support

If you have been feeling really alone and need support, reach out for help. Sometimes venting to your friends is enough, and chances are they’ll be able to relate! But if you are not getting the support you need, there are professionals who will communicate via phone and even text message. You can find local therapists and phone, video, and online therapists through Psychology Today’s directory.

Or, if family dynamics are rearing their head during these stressful times, and you want to keep your family out of court and conflict, your estate plan would go a long way towards relieving those stressors. Give us a call to see how we can help.

___________

This article is a service of Cris Carter Law. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge.

Should You (or Your Parents) Be in the Stock Market Right Now?

Investing in Yourself

The best investment you can make, is an investment in yourself. The more you learn, the more you’ll earn. – Warren Buffett

Investing in yourself means you are investing in your future. Spending time improving your knowledge, participating in trainings or webinars, being promoted at your job, growing your assets – all of these things can only serve to protect and help you build a better future for your family. One of the most important things you can do to build a better financial future is to invest your assets.

If you or your parents have a retirement account, or any investment accounts for that matter, now is the time to make sure you understand how these accounts are invested. While you may have handed over all of these decisions to a broker in the past, you can no longer afford to have someone else manage your investments without your input or understanding of exactly what you are investing in, how you are investing, and whether your investments align with your plans for the future.

My colleague shared a story that hit home with me, and it may for you as well.

After my colleague’s grandmother died, her grandmother’s retirement and investment accounts went directly to her mom, due to the estate planning they had set up. No court process. No intervention. No conflict. Great!

But my colleague’s mom had never looked at the investments in those accounts. She left them as they were for four years until finally, her daughters convinced her to look.

When they did look, they were mortified to find that, even though the investments should have been gaining with the bull market we’ve been in for the last many years, the accounts had actually decreased over the years from $100,000 to $60,000. If my colleague and her mom had looked at these accounts and re-allocated them when grandma died, this would not have been the case.

Fast forward to now, and the daughters think to look at mom’s retirement accounts with her, only to discover that mom has a 401k with $180,000 in it and it’s lost $17,000 over the last two weeks. Mom had picked her investments with the help of a friend many, many years before, and hadn’t looked at those investments since then. My colleague’s mom had chosen to mostly invest in high-growth ETFs, which may have been the right choice when she was building her retirement fund, but definitely is not the right choice given that she retires next year and will need to start making withdrawals to replace her income.

If their mom doesn’t get her money into safer investments now, her daughters could end up needing to support her for the rest of her life.

So, why am I sharing this story with you? Because now is the time for you to get connected to your investments, even if they are in a retirement account and invested through a broker or advisor. This is simply not the time to set it aside and forget it. It’s time to know what you have, and make intentional choices about how your resources and your parent’s resources are being used.

Now is the time to truly understand what you have, and how to use it wisely.

Educate Yourself

If you or your parents have a retirement account, and you are not intimately connected to how your assets are being invested, it’s time to get more involved. Log in to your retirement account or pull your last statement and look at your investments. Many brokerages select investment funds for their clients’ portfolios based on rates of growth. They’ll offer investment options based on a few tiers of growth and risk, and very often you have no idea what your assets are actually invested in.

Labels like “slow-growth” or “conservative” or “high-growth” or “income” aren’t enough to tell you exactly where your money is invested. What you want to do now is look at your statement and find the names of the funds chosen for you, and you can go from there to do your research. Look up each of the funds on sites like Yahoo Finance to see what you are investing in, and whether you understand these companies, believe in their future growth, and want to stay invested there.

If your investments are tied to an index, like the S&P, are you willing to keep betting on its growth? If not, now may be the time to make a shift. You may have some losses right now, so you’ll have to decide if you want to lock in and limit those losses (and potentially trade some future gains even) to get more connected to what you are investing in now.

Go through this process with your parents, too. The money they have invested in the stock market is part of your overall family wealth. If it’s not there to support them through their senior years, that financial responsibility will eventually fall to you. Having these conversations with them now can be difficult, but it’s important. And if you need help with this, please let us know, and we can support you as you raise these issues with them.

If you have a broker you work with, call them now, and ask to get on a video conference. Then, have them help you review each investment, why it’s been chosen, and whether there may be better or other options for you or your parents.

Here’s the key: make sure you understand the investments you have and don’t hang up the phone until you do. If your broker is using words you don’t understand, keep asking questions until you do understand.

If you need a referral to an advisor, or want us to sit down with you to help you look at what you have, give us a call.

With everything that is happening in the world—and with the volatility of the stock market and our current reality —knowing your options is vital to preserving the life and legacy your parents have worked to build. If you need help figuring out how to best preserve these assets, we are here and ready to support you.

__________

This article is a service of Cris Carter Law. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.