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.

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.

Brains & Gains: The Importance of Brain Health

In an increasingly fast-paced and demanding world, the significance of maintaining optimal brain health cannot be overstated. Often dubbed as the body’s most intricate and essential organ, the brain serves as the command center for every facet of our existence, from decision-making and problem-solving to emotions and memories. As research continues to uncover the intricate interplay between lifestyle choices, mental well-being, and cognitive function, the imperative of preserving and enhancing brain health becomes all the more evident. Nurturing our brain’s vitality through mindful practices and informed choices is paramount to leading a fulfilling and cognitively empowered life.

I have shared below six tips for helping maintain brain health in your day-to-day life. These are easy to practice and will help your overall health, not to mention help keep your brain in tip-top shape.

Make Family Communication All That it Can Be!

No relationship is immune to conflict. Sooner or later, you, your partner, your children, and others in a relationship with you are bound to not see eye-to-eye about something. Research shows it is how you handle communication with others that will determine both the health and success of your relationships. And we all want our relationships to be as healthy as possible, right? Check out the infographic below from The Gottman Institute. Perhaps you have never heard of The Gottman Institute. The Gottman Institute is a resource that I have followed for years and that I have found to have great value in helping me understand how to communicate with others more successfully. What I have learned from The Gottman Institute has benefitted me personally, professionally, and in every aspect of life, which is why I am sharing it with you. I encourage you to learn about The Four Horsemen. Even more important is learning how to avoid having The Four Horsemen be part of your communication patterns. You can access more information from The Gottman Institute here.

Better Together!

Today is a huge happy Tuesday for me, and I am beyond excited to share my joy. But first, for those who don’t know my story, let me share some bits and pieces with you.

I was raised in Florida, was educated in Florida, raised my family in Florida, and practiced law in Florida. Fifty years of life in Florida, and I never thought I would ever leave Florida.

As we know, life changes, and at the prospect of my grandchildren being born and raised in Colorado, Florida lost its hold on me. I happily moved to Colorado to assume my grandmotherly role and become CoCo (my grandmother name). What could be more perfect than a part-time position on Tuesdays and Thursdays where love, relationships, connection, stretching, and learning with the grandchildren was the reality? My life was beyond wonderful.

But, as we all know, sometimes life changes, and the unexpected happens. When my husband died, I hurt. Frankly, I had never experienced such a tremendous loss, and I didn’t think I could go on. However, there were others that were not willing to let me give up. With the love and support of my children, grandchildren, and many close friends in Colorado and Florida, life changed. It looked different, but it did go on. I developed a new rhythm because I had to. And two short years later (time pretty much stands still as you grieve the loss of someone you dreamed of living out your life with), my daughter and her family announced that they were moving to Dallas, Texas.

They were kind and invited me to move with them to Dallas. However, it just didn’t seem like I should tag along. So, I stayed put. And again, I grieved a loss. I hurt, and I was alone. I spent a lot of time in Dallas. I would go to Dallas for holidays, special occasions, and grandchildren’s events. A new rhythm developed. Not ideal, but the best I could make of it.

And it bears repeating that we all know that sometimes life changes and the unexpected happens. And so it does. I have been walking on cloud nine as my daughter and family announced at the end of last year that they were coming home to Fort Collins. And today is THE day that they arrive!!!!

This (grand)mother’s HEART is so full. Not much more to say than that. So let me leave you with words from Jack Johnson’s song, “Better Together:”

“Love is the answer, at least for most of the questions in my heart.

Like why are we here? And where do we go? And how come it’s so hard?

It’s not always easy, and sometimes life can be deceiving.

—- Well, it’s always better when we’re together.

Yeah, it’s always better when we’re together!”

Listen to the full song here.

5 Loving Things To Do For The Ones You Love

5 Loving Things To Do For The Ones You Love

It’s a new year, which means a new chance to do what you’ve been putting off until the time is right. That time is now. Here are 5 of the most loving things you can do for the people you love in the New Year because, at some point, you will become sick or die. And while we don’t like to think about it, the best way not to need to think about it is to plan well.  Then, you can put it out of your mind and live your life as if every day is your last.

The Five Most Loving Things You Can Do For The People You Love In The New Year:

1. Make a Plan. Having a will, a trust, a power of attorney, a health care directive, and, if you have kids, a Children’s Protection Plan is vitally important so you don’t leave your family in a mess and having to deal with an expensive court process overseen by a judge who doesn’t know (or really care) about you or your family. Without a plan in place, you are planning to fail! Don’t do that to your loved ones.

2. Write a letter or record a CD. Pass on what really matters to your family — your values, insights, stories, and experience — in written or recorded form so they can return to you long after you are gone. There are many ways you can save special memories for those you will leave behind one day.

3. Pay for and plan your funeral. Cremated or buried? Ashes or body where? Yes or no to a viewing? Make these decisions now and let your loved ones know, in writing, so they don’t have to worry and wonder. And have the payment arrangements for your funeral expenses handled so they don’t have to scramble and pay for the arrangements at a time when they are overwhelmed with grief.

4. Plan to pay no taxes. Will there be taxes on your estate, and if so, how will your heirs pay them? Meet with your personal and trusted attorney to be sure there are no surprises with estate taxes or other costs, especially if there’s insurance involved. You don’t have to be rich to think about this.

5. Get organized. Let loved ones know where they can find your legal documents, other important paperwork, and the key to your safe deposit box. Be sure to include all of your password information to access online accounts, including email, Facebook, and other regularly accessed computer programs.

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™.

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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.

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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.