Before Agreeing to Serve as Trustee, Carefully Consider the Duties and Obligations Involved—Part 1

If a friend or family member has asked you to serve as trustee for their trust upon their death, you should feel honored—this means they consider you among the most honest, reliable, and responsible people they know.

However, being a trustee is not only a great honor, it’s also a major responsibility. The job can entail a wide array of complex duties, and you’re both ethically and legally required to effectively execute those functions or face significant liability. Given this, agreeing to serve as trustee is a decision that shouldn’t be made lightly, and you should thoroughly understand exactly what the role requires before giving your answer.

Of course, a trustee’s responsibility can vary enormously depending on the size of the estate, the type of trust involved, and the trust’s specific terms and instructions. But every trust comes with a few core requirements, and here we’ll highlight some of the key responsibilities.

That said, one of the first things to note about serving as trustee is that the job does NOT require you to be an expert in law, finance, taxes, or any other field related to trust administration. In fact, trustees are not just allowed to seek outside assistance from professionals in these fields, they’re highly encouraged to, and funding to pay for such services will be set aside for this in the trust.

To this end, don’t let the complicated nature of a trustee’s role scare you off. Indeed, there are numerous professionals and entities that specialize in trust administration, and people with no experience with these tasks successfully handle the role all of the time. And besides, depending on who nominated you, declining to serve may not be a realistic or practical option.

Adhere to the trust’s terms
Every trust is unique, and a trustee’s obligations and powers depend largely on what the trust creator, or grantor, allows for, so you should first carefully review the trust’s terms. The trust document outlines all the specific duties you’ll be required to fulfill as well as the appropriate timelines and discretion you’ll have for fulfilling these tasks.
Depending on the size of the estate and the types of assets held by the trust, your responsibilities as trustee can vary greatly. Some trusts are relatively straightforward, with few assets and beneficiaries, so the entire job can be completed within a few weeks or months. Others, especially those containing numerous assets and minor-aged beneficiaries, can take decades to completely fulfill. To ensure you understand exactly what a particular trust’s terms require of you as trustee, consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®.

Act in the best interests of the beneficiaries
Trustees have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the named beneficiaries at all times, and they must not use the position for personal gain. Moreover, they cannot commingle their own funds and assets with those of the trust, nor may they profit from the position beyond the fees set aside to pay for the trusteeship.

If the trust involves multiple beneficiaries, the trustee must balance any competing interests between the various beneficiaries in an impartial and objective manner for the benefit of them all. In some cases, grantors try to prevent conflicts between beneficiaries by including very specific instructions about how and when assets should be distributed, and if so, you must follow these directions exactly as spelled out.
However, some trusts leave asset distribution decisions up to the trustee’s discretion. If so, when deciding how to make distributions, the trustee must carefully evaluate each beneficiary’s current needs, future needs, other sources of income, as well as the potential impact the distribution might have on the other beneficiaries. Such duties should be taken very seriously, as beneficiaries can take legal action against trustees if they can prove he or she violated their fiduciary duties and/or mismanaged the trust.

Invest trust assets prudently
Many trusts contain interest-bearing securities and other investment vehicles. If so, the trustee is responsible not only for protecting and managing these assets, they’re also obligated to make them productive—which typically means selling and/or investing assets to generate income.

In doing so, the trustee must exercise reasonable care, skill, and caution when investing trust assets, otherwise known as the “prudent investor” rule. The trustee should always consider the specific purposes, terms, distribution requirements, and other aspects of the trust when meeting this standard.

Trustees must invest prudently and diversify investments appropriately to ensure they’re in the best interests of all beneficiaries. Given this, trustees are forbidden from investing trust assets in overly speculative or high-risk stocks and/or other investment vehicles. Unless specifically spelled out in the trust terms, it will be up to the trustee’s discretion to determine the investment strategies that are best suited for the trust’s goals and beneficiaries. If so, you should hire a financial advisor familiar with trusts to help guide you.

Given the unpredictable nature of the economy, it’s important to point out that poor performance of trust investments alone isn’t enough to prove a trustee breached his or her duties to invest prudently. Provided the trustee can show the underlying investment strategies were sound and reasonable, the mere fact that the investments lost money doesn’t make them legally liable.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series explaining the scope of powers and duties that come with serving as trustee.

This article is a service of Amy Hsiao, Personal Family Lawyer®. 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 at (858) 386-0998 to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Donate Appreciated Assets to Charity Instead of Selling Outright For Tax and Income Benefits Using a Charitable Remainder Trust

If you have highly appreciated assets like stock and real estate you want to sell, it may make sense to use a charitable remainder trust (CRT) to avoid income and estate taxes—all while creating a lifetime income stream for yourself or your family AND supporting your favorite charity.

A CRT is a “split-interest” trust, meaning it provides financial benefits to both the charity and a non-charitable beneficiary. With CRTs, the non-charitable beneficiary—you, your child, spouse, or another heir—receives annual income from the trust, and whatever assets “remain” at the end of the donor’s lifetime (or a fixed period up to 20 years), pass to the named charity(ties).

How a CRT works

You work with us to set up a CRT by naming a trustee, an income beneficiary, and a charitable beneficiary. The trustee will sell, manage, and invest the trust’s assets to produce income that’s paid to you or another beneficiary.

The trustee can be yourself, a charity, another person, or a third-party entity. However, the trustee is not only responsible for seeing that your wishes are carried out properly, but also for managing the trust assets in accordance with complex state and federal laws, so be sure the trustee is well familiar with trust administration.

With the CRT set up, you transfer your appreciated assets into the trust, and the trustee sells it. Normally, this would generate capital gains taxes, but instead, you get a charitable deduction for the donation and face no capital gains when the assets are sold.

Once the appreciated assets are sold, the proceeds (which haven’t been taxed) are invested to produce income. As long as it remains in the trust, the income isn’t subject to taxes, so you’re earning even more on pre-tax dollars.

Income options

You have two options for how the trust income is paid out. You can receive an annual fixed payment using a “charitable remainder annuity trust (CRAT).” With this option, your income will not change, regardless of the trust’s investment performance.

Or you can be paid a fixed percentage of the trust’s assets using a “charitable remainder unitrust (CRUT),” whereby the payouts fluctuate depending on the trust’s investment performance and value.

 Tax benefits

Right off the bat, as mentioned above, you can take an income tax deduction within the year the trust was created for the value of your donation—limited to 30% of adjusted gross income. You can carry over any excess into subsequent tax returns for up to five years.

And again, profits from appreciated assets sold by the trustee aren’t subject to capital gains taxes while they’re in the trust. Plus, when the trust assets finally pass to the charity, that donation won’t be subject to estate taxes.

You will pay income tax on income from the CRT at the time it’s distributed. Whether that tax is capital gains or ordinary income depends on where the income came from—distributions of principal are tax free.

 If you have highly appreciated assets you’d like to sell while minimizing tax impact, maximizing income, and benefiting charity, consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, so we can find the best planning options for you.

This article is a service of Amy Hsiao, Personal Family Lawyer®. 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 at (858) 386-0998 to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Appoint a Guardian to Keep Your Kids In Safe Hands At All Times

Probably every parent who has watched the news lately has felt the heartbreak  over what’s happening to immigrant families at the border due to the Trump administration’s immigration regulations.

As you likely know, the administration’s new “zero-tolerance” policy has led to the separation of more than 2,300 children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border between May and June 2018 alone.

Putting politics aside, with horror stories of toddlers being ripped from their mothers’ arms and audio recordings of children crying and begging for their parents, we imagine it would be hard for anyone with their own kids not to be disturbed.

What’s more, perhaps these events have got you thinking about how it would be for your children to be taken into custody of strangers. And if not, let this be the moment you willingly feel the fear and decide to use your privilege of being able to make choices on behalf of your children to ensure their well-being and care by the people you want no matter what happens.

It can happen to your family
Even though most people think that something like that could never happen to their family, they’re totally wrong. While your kids almost certainly won’t be taken into custody by U.S. border agents, your children could be taken into the care of strangers if something happens to you—even if your family or friends are on the scene.

But you can do something to protect your children and ensure they’re always in the care of people you know, love, and trust. If you use this atrocity against families to take action on behalf of your own kids—instead of merely feeling numbness and paralysis over not knowing what to do—these events can inspire you to do the things you know you must in order to properly take care of your family.

Understand the risk
While it may seem like a long shot, the consequences are serious enough that you must consider the real possibility of what could happen and ensure you’ve taken right actions to protect your loved ones. Let’s say you and your spouse have gone out to dinner together and left the kids with a babysitter. But on the way home, you’re in a car accident. The police will get to your house, find your children home with a babysitter, and have no choice but to take your kids into the care of the authorities (strangers) until they can figure out what to do.

This is the case even if you have friends or family living nearby. If you haven’t left proper legal documentation, the authorities have no option but to call child protective services—that is, unless you’ve legally given them an alternative. This is true, for example, even if you have named godparents. You must give the authorities a legal basis for keeping your children with the close friends or family you designate.

Without your action, when the babysitter answers the door, she’s in complete shock and willing to stay with your kids while the authorities find a relative to take them. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the legal authority to care for the children—even temporarily—so the police have no choice but to call child protective services. These authorities will take your children into custody until they can locate and/or appoint the proper guardian.

Alternatively, maybe you have plenty of family, who’d want to take custody of your children if something were to happen to you. Perhaps some of them even live close by, so the authorities could locate them easily. It may be that even more than one family member would want to take custody of your children (and the financial resources you’re leaving behind for them).

We’ve seen what happens when well-meaning family members—who think they’d be the best choice as caretaker for their young relatives—go to battle in the name of love. It isn’t pretty. In such a situation, it takes years of legal fighting, making lawyers wealthy, while the children are stuck in the middle. In almost every case, each side fighting for the care of the children feels certain they’re doing what the parents would’ve wanted and what’s best for the children.
Know your options and your responsibility

The sad thing is, this all can be completely (and very easily) prevented. However, to ensure your children are never taken into the care of strangers—or put in the middle of a family conflict—you must take action now. Please do not leave this to chance. You have the privilege to be able to guarantee that your children are never taken into the care of strangers—or into the care of anyone you would not choose—but you must take action now to exercise that privilege.

Perhaps you believe this could never happen to your family because your family would never fight over your children or because you’ve named close friends as godparents. But why take that risk, when it’s so easy to do the right thing by the people you love more than anything?

And if you think you’ve already done the right thing because you have a will that names legal guardians for your children, think again. We’ve found that in most cases, even parents who worked with a lawyer to name legal guardians have made at least one of six common mistakes that leave their children at risk.

These mistakes are made because unfortunately, most lawyers do not know what’s necessary for planning and ensuring the well-being and care of minor children.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’ve been trained by the author of the best-selling book, Wear Clean Underwear!: A Fast, Fun, Friendly, and Essential Guide to Legal Planning for Busy Parents, on legal planning for the unique needs of families with minor children at home. If you’ve already created a will, we can help you identify whether you’ve made any of the six common mistakes that could leave your children at risk. If you have not yet taken any action, we can help you take the first steps and make the very best decisions for the people you love.

Here’s how to get started

⇒ If you haven’t yet taken any action at all, we’ve created an easy-to-use website, where you can take the first steps to create legal documents naming long-term guardians for your children (the people you would want raising your kids if you could not do so) absolutely free. Do it here now: http://sdprotectmykids.com/

Afterward, call us for a comprehensive Family Wealth Planning Session to look at what else you may want to have in place to ensure the well-being and care of your children no matter what.

⇒ If you’ve already named long-term guardians in a will on your own or with a lawyer, we’ll review your existing legal documents and waive our normal $950 legal documents review fee to identify whether you’ve made any of the 6 common mistakes that could leave your children at risk. To activate this offer, simply call our office at 858-386-0998. Tell us you’d like your existing plan reviewed, and you want to activate our “keep the children safe” special, and my team will waive the $950 plan-review fee.

Whatever your situation, you should take action now using one of our above services to make certain that your children are never taken into the care of strangers. You might think that such a thing could never happen to your family, but in these scary times, you can never be too safe.

This article is a service of Amy Hsiao, Personal Family Lawyer®. 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 at (858) 386-0998 to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Create a Special Needs Trust to Protect the Financial Future of Your Child with Special Needs

It always surprises me to hear parents who have a child with special needs tell me that they were not aware of what they needed to do to ensure the future well-being and care of their child is properly handled. Or sometimes, they tell me they didn’t know they needed to do anything at all.

If that’s you, and you have a child with special needs at home, this article is for you. And if you have friends or family who have a child with special needs, please share this article with them.

Every parent who has a child with special needs must understand what’s needed to provide for the emotional, physical, and financial needs of their child, if and when something happens to them.

Naming guardians
Of course, the first and most critical step in ensuring the well-being and care of your child with special needs’ future is to name both short and long-term legal guardians to take custody of and care of your child, in the event of your death or incapacity. And as you well know, this responsibility doesn’t end at age 18, if your child will not grow into an adult who can independently care for him or herself.

While we understand this lifetime responsibility probably feels overwhelming, we’ve been told repeatedly by parents that naming legal guardians in writing and knowing their child will be cared for in the way they want, by the people they want, creates immense relief.

We frequently build in plans where the named guardians are properly instructed—and even incentivized—to give your child the same care you provide. For example, we’ve created plans whereby the named guardian is compensated for taking the child to dinner and the movies weekly, or doing something similar if this is something the child used to enjoy doing with his or her parents.

But without written instructions (and perhaps compensation) built into the plan, fun activities like this can often go by the wayside when you’re no longer available. For guidance on selecting legal guardians and properly instructing them to provide your child with special needs the same level of care and attention you do, consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®.

Beyond naming a guardian, you’ll  also need to provide financial resources to allow your child to live out his or her life in the manner you desire. This is where things can get tricky for children with special needs. In fact, it may seem like a “Catch-22” situation. You want to leave your child enough money to afford the support they need to live a comfortable life. Yet, if you leave money directly to a person with special needs, you risk disqualifying him or her for government benefits.

Special Needs Trusts
Fortunately, the government allows assets to be held in what’s known as a “special needs trust” to provide supplemental financial resources for a physically, mentally, or developmentally disabled child without affecting his or her eligibility for public healthcare and income assistance benefits.

However, the rules for such trusts are complicated and can vary greatly between different states, so you should work with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® in order to create a comprehensive special needs trust that’s properly structured and appropriate for your child’s specific situation.

Setting up the trust
Funds from a special needs trust cannot be distributed directly to a beneficiary and must be disbursed to a third-party who’s responsible for administering the trust. Given this, when you initially set up the trust, you’ll likely be both the “grantor” (trust creator) and “trustee” (the person responsible for managing the trust), and your child with special needs is the trust’s “beneficiary.”

You’ll then name the person you want responsible for administering the trust’s funds once you’re no longer able to as “successor trustee.” To avoid conflicts of interest, overburdening the named guardian with too much responsibility, and provide checks and balances, it can sometimes be best to name someone other than your child’s guardian as trustee.

As the parent, you serve as the trustee until you die or become incapacitated, at which time the successor trustee takes over. Each person who serves as trustee is legally required to follow the trust’s terms and use its funds and property for the benefit of the individual with special needs.

And in all cases, you should name a series of successor trustees, which can even be a bank, trust company, or other professional fiduciary, as backups to your primary named trustee.

Placing money and property into a special needs trust
There are two ways to set up a special needs trust. In one situation, we build it into your revocable living trust, and it will arise, or spring up, upon your death. From there, assets that are held in your revocable living trust will be used to fund your child’s special needs trust.

In other cases, we can set up a special needs trust that acts as a vehicle for receiving and holding assets for your child now. This makes sense if you have parents or other relatives who want to give your child with special needs gifts sooner rather than later.

We’ll be dedicating a future article on the available estate planning options you can use to pass money to a special needs trust. Until then, consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® if you need guidance on the planning vehicles that are best suited for this purpose.

The trustee’s responsibilities
Once the trust is funded, it’s the trustee’s job to use its funds to support the beneficiary without jeopardizing eligibility for government benefits. To handle this properly, the trustee must have a thorough understanding of how eligibility for such benefits works and stay current with the law.  The trustee is also required to pay the beneficiary’s taxes, keep detailed records, invest trust property, and stay current with the beneficiary’s needs.

Given this huge responsibility, it’s often best that you name a legal or financial professional who’s familiar with the complexities of the law as trustee or co-trustee, so they can properly handle the duties and not jeopardize eligibility.

If you need help creating a special needs trust for your child, contact us as your Personal Family Lawyer ®. We can develop a sustainable living plan for your child with special needs that will provide her or him with the financial means they need to live a full life, while preserving their access to government benefits. Contact us today to get started.

This article is a service of Amy Hsiao, Personal Family Lawyer®. 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 at (858) 386-0998 to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Squabbles Between Alan Thicke’s Heirs Highlight the Importance of Properly Drafted and Updated Estate Planning

In the 1980s, the late actor Alan Thicke played the wise-but-hip father figure and psychiatrist Dr. Jason Seaver in the sitcom Growing Pains. Following Alan’s sudden death in December 2016, with his children and widow battling over his estate, one can only wonder what sage advice Dr. Seaver would have had for Thicke’s heirs.

Alan collapsed and died from a heart attack at age 69, while playing ice hockey with his youngest son, Carter. Unlike some celebrities, he had a fairly comprehensive estate plan. But with three marriages, three sons from two of those unions, and an estate worth an estimated $40 million, the planning is proving insufficient to stave off family feuding.

Stepmom vs. Stepchildren
Specifically, Alan’s two oldest sons—Robin and Brennan—have been fighting his third wife, Tanya Callau Thicke, for almost two years. The first petition filed in California Superior Court in May 2016 by Robin and Brennan—who are co-trustees of their late father’s estate—sought clarification of conflicting terms in Alan’s living trust and a prenuptial agreement he and Tanya signed before getting married in 2005.

At issue was the division of Alan’s $3.5 million ranch in Carpinteria, where he and Tanya lived. The prenup states that Tanya would get 25% of his net estate, including a five-acre parcel of the ranch property. However, the trust—last updated in 2016—doesn’t grant her any ownership of the ranch, only the right to live there provided she pays all of the expenses.

Robin and Brennan’s petition alleged that Tanya demanded a larger portion of Alan’s estate than she was allocated in the trust and that she planned to contest the validity of the prenuptial agreement.

Tanya claimed her stepsons’ legal claim was merely aimed at smearing her in the media, and she never had any intention of challenging the prenup. Other reports allege the petition was retaliation for Tanya’s refusal to allow the brothers to convert the ranch into a medical marijuana farm.

In September 2017, a judge rejected the sibling’s petition to block Tanya from challenging the prenup, finding there was no evidence she ever planned to take such action.

 A Breach of Duties?
More recently in May 2018, Tanya filed papers accusing Robin and Brennan of violating their fiduciary duties as co-trustees. She claims they’re spending the estate assets recklessly, failing to pay her share of the inheritance, unfairly saddling her with taxes and other expenses that are not her responsibility, and failing to keep her clearly informed about estate proceedings.

One of her specific complaints asserts the brothers refused to reimburse her for a monument she placed at Alan’s gravesite. This claim was exacerbated by reports that the older brother Robin was reimbursed $105,000 for an elaborate memorial party he threw the night before his father’s burial.

Tanya plans to file a lawsuit against the siblings if they don’t meet her demands. And her suit may have merit, as trustees owe a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of beneficiaries and account for all financial transactions related to the trust.

Lessons Learned
Though we’ll have to wait and see how Robin and Brennan react to Tanya’s latest claim and how the court rules, the case highlights several important estate planning issues.

First, second (or more) marriages with children from a prior marriage are always at risk of going down the road of conflict. If you are in such a marriage, it’s critical we plan in advance to ensure the people you love have the best chance of loving each other after your incapacity or death.

Even with a trust in place, it’s vital the document is regularly updated to ensure it’s current and doesn’t conflict with other legal agreements, like the prenup in this case. Please contact us now if your plan has not been reviewed or updated within the past year.

Finally, the case demonstrates that a trust won’t stay private if the heirs have a conflict that results in court proceedings. One of a trust’s key benefits is that it keeps the contents of the estate confidential. But if a dispute ends up in court, the estate documents can be made public, exposing not only your assets, but all of your family’s “dirty laundry” as well.

Proper estate planning can keep your family out of conflict, out of court, and out of the public eye. If you’re ready to create a comprehensive estate plan, contact us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to get started. If you already have a plan in place, we can review and update it to avoid similar conflicts.

This article is a service of Amy Hsiao, Personal Family Lawyer®. 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 at (858) 386-0998 to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

What You Should Know About Guardianship—In Case A Parent or Loved One Becomes Incapacitated

Whether through illness, injury, or other means, anyone can require a guardian to become appointed if they become mentally incapacitated. In such cases, if there is no estate planning in place (or insufficient planning) to keep family or other loved one’s out of court, a guardianship, or conservatorship as it is sometimes called, must be established via a court process in the county probate court.

Obtaining guardianship can be an extraordinarily challenging and expensive process. It begins with filing a petition in court for guardianship and requesting the court declare the incapacitated person incompetent. In some cases, these types of filings are made “ex parte”, or in secret, and a guardianship can be established before family or close friends even know what’s happening. In other cases, such a filing can result in a heated dispute between family members and/or friends, who may claim they’d be better suited for the role. Given this, things can get quite costly very quickly.
Of course, this assumes these matters haven’t already been decided through proper and up-to-date estate planning, including a valid durable power of attorney and advance health care directives, which are the best methods for ensuring this massive responsibility is handled as effectively as possible. Sadly, most people don’t think of the costly possibility of incapacity and therefore leave their families at risk.

If you do have a loved one who needs a guardian, here are some of the things you’ll need to know:

Who can be appointed as guardian?
Unless specified in a valid legal document, any family member or other interested person can petition for guardianship—even a close friend can do it if they prove they’re best suited for the position. That said, most courts give preference to the ward’s spouse or other close family members. In some cases, the guardian is required to post a bond, which typically requires good credit and some level of deposit to be held in the event of the guardian’s wrongdoing. This bond requirement often disqualifies friends and family, who either don’t have good credit or the resources to post a bond.

If a relative or friend is not willing—or capable—of serving, the court will appoint a professional guardian or public guardian. This is one of the ways that an estate can be drained extremely quickly. If you want to hear more about how this can happen, read this terrifying article about the way public and professional guardians are stealing from our elders.

When are guardians appointed?
A guardian will only be appointed if a court determines there is enough evidence to show a person is mentally incapacitated, such that they can no longer make legal, financial, and/or health-care decisions.

What are a guardian’s responsibilities?
Depending on the extent of the ward’s mental capacity, a court-appointed guardian can be given near complete control over a person’s life and finances. Some of the most common duties include:

  • Paying the ward’s bills
  • Determining where they live
  • Monitoring their residence and living conditions
  • Providing consent for medical treatments
  • Deciding how their finances are handled, including how their assets are invested and if any assets should be liquidated
  • Managing real estate and other tangible personal property
  • Keeping detailed records of all their expenditures and other financial transactions
  • Making end-of-life and other palliative-care decisions
  • Reporting to the court about the ward’s status at least annually

The extent of duties the guardian is responsible for is up to the court, and the guardian will not be allowed to act in areas the court has not authorized. Moreover, guardians are required to seek the ward’s preferences whenever possible—though ultimately, the decision about what action to take will be in the guardian’s hands.

The court can also divide out responsibilities to multiple parties. For example, one person may oversee the financial decisions, while another handles living arrangements and health-care decisions. What’s more, the court often requires detailed status reports, such as financial accounting, at regular intervals or whenever important decisions are made, such as the sale of assets.

Are guardians compensated?
Yes, guardians are entitled to reasonable compensation for their services based on the ward’s financial ability to pay. The appointed guardian is paid directly from the ward’s estate. In most cases, the compensation must be approved by the court ahead of time, and the guardian must carefully account for all of their services, the time spent on tasks on behalf of the ward, and any associated out-of-pocket expenses.

Given the huge level of responsibility and loss of control that comes with guardianship, the best course of action would be to get proper and updated estate planning in place ahead of time to ensure that if you or anyone you love becomes incapacitated, you can stay out of the court process altogether if possible.

Contact us as your neighborhood Personal Family Lawyer® to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session—first for yourself—and then for the people you love before something happens to make it too late to plan. If it’s already too late and you’re reading this article because you need assistance petitioning a court for guardianship, contact us now to mitigate the risks, hassles, and expense.

This article is a service of Amy Hsiao, Personal Family Lawyer®. 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 at (858) 386-0998 to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Safeguard Your Cryptocurrency Assets With Estate Planning

One of the biggest appeals of cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin, is that it is decentralized, unregulated, and anonymous. There are no financial institutions controlling it, and unless you tell someone you own digital currency, it remains a secret.

When it comes to estate planning, however, that kind of secrecy can be disastrous. In fact, without the appropriate planning protections in place, all of your crypto wealth will disappear the moment you die or become incapacitated, leaving your family with absolutely no way to recover it.

Indeed, we’re facing a potential crisis whereby millions—perhaps billions—of dollars’ worth of family wealth could potentially vanish into thin air unless you take action to protect your digital assets with estate planning. Fortunately, putting the appropriate safeguards in place is a fairly simple process for a Personal Family Lawyer® experienced with cryptocurrency.

The first step in securing your crypto assets is to let your heirs know you own it. This can be done by including your digital currency in your net-worth statement listing all of your assets and liabilities. Along with the amount of cryptocurrency you own, you should also include detailed instructions about where it’s located and how to find the instructions to access it. But you want those instructions to be kept in an absolutely secure location because anyone who has them can take your cryptocurrency.

Even if your heirs know you own cryptocurrency, they won’t be able to access it unless they know the encrypted passcodes needed to unlock your account. Indeed, there are numerous stories of crypto owners losing their own passcodes and then being so desperate to recover or remember them that they dug through trash cans and even hired hypnotists.

The best way to secure your passcodes is by storing them in a digital wallet. The safest option is a “cold” wallet, or one that is not connected to the internet and thus cannot be hacked. Cold wallets include USB drives as well as “paper” wallets, which are simply the passcodes printed on paper—and ideally stored in a fireproof safe.

But as with the existence of your crypto assets, the only way these wallets are of any use to your heirs is for them to know where they are and how to access them in the event of your incapacity or death. So make sure these instructions are included in your estate plan and your Personal Family Lawyer® knows about the assets and where to locate the instructions on how to access them.

Just as it would be foolish to store your money in a secret safe and not tell anybody where it is or give them the combination to open it, it’s just as foolhardy not to take the appropriate steps to protect your cryptocurrency through proper estate planning.

Since digital currency is such a recent phenomenon, not all estate planning attorneys are familiar with it, but with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, you can rest assured we have the knowledge and experience to help you safeguard your digital wealth just as effectively as all of your other assets.

This article is a service of Amy Hsiao, Personal Family Lawyer®. 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 at (858) 386-0998 today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

6 Steps to Select and Name the Right Guardians for Your Children—Part 2

Last week, we shared the first part of our series on selecting and naming the right guardians for your children. If you haven’t read it yet, you can do so here. Here in part two, we discuss the final three steps in the process.

4. Narrow candidate list, and rank your choices

When you’ve come up with all of the potential candidates for guardian, narrow down the list to your top five people. There’s no guarantee that your ideal candidate(s) will be willing to serve as guardian, so having more than one or two is a practical necessity.

To aide in this process, you should consider things, such as who really loves your children and who do your kids really get along with? Will this person be physically, mentally, and emotionally able to raise your kids to adulthood? The most important thing is to choose SOMEONE, even if you aren’t 100% sure about them, since you can always select a new guardian later.

Then rank your choices from top choice down to last. Again, backups are critical in case your first choice cannot serve.

5. Sit down with top candidates and discuss what’s involved

When it comes to asking someone to be your child’s guardian, you need to provide crystal-clear guidance about what’s involved. The discussion should cover all of your expectations about how you want your kids raised. Speak openly about finances, discipline, education, spirituality, and any needs that are unique to your children.
Once the discussion is complete, give them a few days to carefully consider the choice, even if they seem immediately gung-ho about doing it. Depending on the age of your kids, this could be a more than decade-long commitment. If they don’t carefully think it over, the responsibility can easily turn into resentment.

6. Legally document your plan

It’s essential to legally document your choice as soon as possible. Verbal commitments mean nothing in the eyes of the law. This is especially true when you name a friend over a family member.

For a quick and easy way to legally document your plan, visit our free website shown below. The entire process takes only 15-20 minutes, so you can immediately get this urgent matter taken care of.

⇒ Visit our website to go through these steps and create legal documents naming guardians for the long-term care of your children, absolutely free. Do it here now: https://protectmykids.family/
After you’ve used our website to name your legal guardians, you can then work with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to create a more comprehensive plan that includes all of the necessary legal documents to ensure the well-being of your children and the assets you’re leaving behind, no matter what happens.

With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, you’ll have a trusted advisor who can help you navigate all of the legal, insurance, financial, and tax issues involved with estate planning. Indeed, we can put a plan in place that not only protects and provides for your children, but your entire family.

This article is a service of Amy Hsiao, Personal Family Lawyer®. 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 at (858) 386-0998 to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

6 Steps to Select and Name the Right Guardians for Your Children—Part 1

One of your most important responsibilities as a parent is to select and legally document guardians for your children. This doesn’t mean just naming godparents or trusting the grandparents will step in if necessary. It means consciously deciding who would raise your children if you cannot. And then it means legally documenting your choices and making sure the people you’ve chosen know what to do if they’re ever called upon.

However, most people have no idea how to even start this process, much less create a legally binding plan. Because of this, many parents simply never get around to doing it. And those who do often make one of several common mistakes—even if they’ve worked with a lawyer.
Why? Because most lawyers haven’t been trained properly to help parents with this vital issue.

As a result, unless you’ve worked with us or another trained Personal Family Lawyer®, it’s likely your children are extremely vulnerable to being taken out of your home and placed in the care of strangers. This might be temporary, while the authorities figure out what to do, or they could end up being raised to adulthood by someone you’d never choose.
Even if you don’t have any minor children at home, please consider sharing this article with any friends or family who do—it’s that important. While it’s rare for something to happen to both parents of a minor child, it does occur, and the consequences are simply too severe to not take a few simple steps to select and legally name guardians the right way.
To help with this process, we’ve outlined some basic steps to select and name a legal guardian. Regardless of whether you own any other assets or wealth, it’s vital to complete this process immediately, so you know that who you care about most—your kids—will be cared for the way you want, no matter what.

We’ve even created an easy-to-use website, where you can go through these steps to create legal documents naming guardians for the long-term care of your children, absolutely free. Do it here now: http://sdprotectmykids.com/

1.Define your ideal candidate

The first step in selecting a guardian is to come up with a list outlining the qualities and attributes you and your partner value most when it comes to the long-term care of your children. The list can mirror your own parenting philosophy and style, as well as list the qualities that would make up your absolute “dream” guardian.

In addition to qualities like parental values, discipline style, religious/spiritual background, kindness, and honesty, you also need to consider more practical matters. Is the person young enough and physically capable of raising your kids to adulthood? Do they have a family of their own, and if so, would adding your kids to the mix be too much?

Geography should also come into play—do they live nearby, and if not, would it be a major hardship to relocate your children? Is their home in a location you would feel comfortable having your kids grow up in?

One thing you may think you should consider is financial stability, and that’s a frequent misconception. However, the people you name as legal guardians for your children are the people making decisions for their healthcare and their education, but they don’t need to be the ones managing your children’s financial needs.

Ideally, you’ll leave behind ample financial resources for your children and the people raising them. You can do this by establishing a trust for those resources and naming a financial guardian, or trustee, to oversee them. Please contact us for help with that, as there are many options to consider.

2. Make a list of candidates

Based on those parenting qualities, start compiling a list of people in your life who match your ideals. Be sure to consider not only family, but also close friends.

Though you may feel obligated to choose a family member, this decision is about what’s best for your children’s future, not trying to protect someone’s feelings. And if you’re having trouble coming up with enough suitable candidates, try coming up with people who you would definitely NOT want as guardians, and work backwards from there.

Or consider the person a judge would likely select if you didn’t make your own choice and whether there are any other people you’d prefer to raise your children.

3. Select first responders (temporary guardians)
In addition to legally naming long-term guardians, you also need to choose someone in your local area to be a “first responder,” or temporary guardian. This is someone who lives near you and who’s willing to immediately go to your children during a time of crisis and take care of them until the long-term guardian is notified and appointed by the court pursuant to your long-term guardianship nomination.

If your children are in the care of someone like a babysitter without legal authority to have custody of them, the police will have no choice but to call Child Protective Services and take your children into the care of the authorities. From there, you children could be placed in the care of strangers until your named long-term guardian shows up, or until the court decides on an appropriate guardian.
This is an area where plans that only name a legal guardian through a Will typically fail. Beyond naming just a long-term guardian, you need a short-term, temporary guardian who’s named as the first responder and knows exactly what to do if something happens to you.

Once you’ve chosen your long-term guardian, it’s imperative that all temporary caretakers know exactly how to contact them. This precaution is not just about your death—it also covers your incapacity and any other situation when you’re unable to return home for a lengthy period of time.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on selecting and naming the right guardians for your kids.
This article is a service of Amy Hsiao, Personal Family Lawyer®. 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 at (858) 386-0998 to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Estate Planning Mistakes Seniors (Including You or Your Parents) Can’t Afford to Make

Estate planning really should be considered as soon as you acquire your first asset, have a child, or step into adulthood in any truly meaningful way. And yet many of us put it off for far too long, leaving ourselves and our families at risk of getting stuck in the court system in the event of an unexpected accident, illness, or injury.

Once you (or your parents) reach senior status, you can no longer pretend that estate planning is something you can put off. The effects of aging become impossible to ignore, and the fact that you’re not going to live forever moves to the front of your mind.
While planning for your incapacity and death can be scary, it’s even more frightening to think of the potential tragedies that can arise if you and your family don’t have the right planning in place. More and more, the media is highlighting the reality that without proper planning, the elderly can lose everything, even if they have family looking after them.

At the senior stage of life, effective estate planning is urgent, both for you and the people you love. And if you aren’t a senior yet yourself but have senior parents, get your own planning handled, and then use that as a model to get your parents’ planning taken care of.

Here are a few of the most common errors seniors make when it comes to estate planning and how to fix them:

Not creating advance medical directives
In your senior years, health care matters become much more relevant and urgent. At this age, you can no longer afford to put off important decisions related to your medical needs.
Two of the most important considerations you face are how you want your medical care handled in the event you become incapacitated, and how you want medical care to be handled at the end of your life. Both of these situations can be addressed using advance medical directives, specifically a medical power of attorney and a living will.

Medical power of attorney allows you to name the person you want to make healthcare decisions for you if you’re incapacitated and unable to make decisions yourself.
You also want to make sure you have a living will, which provides guidelines for how your medical care should be handled, if you become unable to voice your wishes. In addition to guidelines about how you want your medical care handled, your living will may also include instructions on the type of food you want to be fed to you, as well as who should be able to visit you.

In order to ensure that your health care wishes are properly handled—even in the most dire circumstances—creating these advance directives is a must.
Relying only on a will
Many people, particularly older folks, believe that a will is the only estate planning tool they need. While wills are definitely one key aspect of estate planning, they come with some serious limitations:

  • Wills require your family to go through probate, which is open to the public and often expensive.
  • Wills don’t offer you any protection if you become incapacitated and unable to make legal and financial decisions.
  • Wills don’t cover jointly owned assets or those with beneficiary designations, such as life insurance policies.
  • Wills don’t shield assets from your creditors or those of your heirs.
  • Wills don’t provide protections or guidance for when and how your heirs take control of their inheritance.

Fortunately, all of the above areas can be effectively managed using a trust. However, some people are reluctant to use trusts because they’re unfamiliar with them and have been told a will is all they need.

What’s more, because until fairly recently trusts were primarily used by the ultra-wealthy, many believe they’re an extravagance they don’t need and can’t afford. But the truth is, people of all income levels and asset values can afford and benefit from trusts, which provide numerous protections unavailable through wills.

If you’re relying solely on a will for estate planning, you’re missing out on many valuable safeguards for your assets, while also guaranteeing your family will have to got to court when you die.

If you aren’t sure what you need, begin by contacting us for a Family Wealth Planning Session. Your Family Wealth Planning Session is custom-designed to your assets, your family, your wishes, and to educate you on the best way to reach your objectives for the people you love.

Not keeping your plan current

Far too often people prepare a will or trust when they’re young, put it into a drawer, and forget about it. But your estate plan is worthless if you don’t regularly update it when your assets, family situation, and/or the laws change.

We recommend you review your plan annually to make sure it’s up to date and immediately amend it following events like divorce, deaths, births, and inheritances. With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we have built-in processes to ensure these updates are made right away.

And when it comes to a trust, it’s not enough to simply list the assets you want it to cover. You have to transfer the legal title of certain assets—real estate, bank accounts, securities, brokerage accounts—to the trust, known as “funding” the trust, in order for them to be distributed properly.

While most lawyers will create a trust for you, few will ensure your assets are properly funded. But with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’ve got processes in place to keep track of your assets over life, make sure none are lost to your state’s Department of Unclaimed Property, and that you don’t inadvertently force your family into court because your plan wasn’t fully completed.

Not pre-planning funeral arrangements
Although most people don’t want to think about their own funerals, pre-planning these services is a key facet of estate planning, especially for seniors. By taking care of your funeral arrangements ahead of time, you not only eliminate the burden and expense for your family, you’re able to make your memorial ceremony more meaningful, as well.

In addition to basic wishes, such as whether you prefer to be buried or cremated, you can choose what kind of memorial service you want—simple, elaborate, or maybe none at all. Are there songs you want played? Prayers or poems recited? Do you have a specific burial plot or a spot where you want your ashes scattered?

Pre-planning these things can help relieve significant stress and sadness for your family, while ensuring your memory is honored exactly how you want.

If you’re already in your senior years, about to be, or have a parent who is, it’s critical that you take care of your estate planning immediately and avoid these common pitfalls. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’ll walk you step-by-step through the process, ensuring that you have everything in place to protect yourself, your assets, and your family. Contact us today to get started.

This article is a service of Amy Hsiao, Personal Family Lawyer®. 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 at (858) 386-0998 to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.