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Rob, His Family, and the Tree

Protect your assets - prepare an estate plan

Most people contemplating divorce don’t consider the sad reality that one of the parties may die while going through the process. When this does happen it results in chaos for the survivors. I’ve witnessed this several times during my practice, but one of the most poignant was early in my law career. I represented a young man with three children who rode a motorcycle to work every night. Rob worked the night shift as a machine technician at a local trade school. He was responsible for the necessary cleaning and repair of the machines that were used each day by the teachers and students. During the day, Rob happily packed lunches, took the children to school, and attended school functions.

He was married to a woman who wasn’t very interested in marriage or family. She was home at night while the kids were asleep, but spent that time entertaining various married boyfriends. During the day, she also had a very active social life. When the decision to divorce was made, she agreed that most of the property should be put in trust for the children, and that Rob would have physical custody. She also agreed to accommodate Rob’s work schedule by continuing to care for the children at night while they slept. But before we could finalize the divorce, Rob lost his life in a motorcycle accident on his way to work one night when he was cut off by a drunk driver and hit a tree.

Rob was a great father but he failed to prepare an estate plan. Despite my advice that he prepare an interim estate plan during the divorce process, he chose to wait – he believed that he had plenty of time. He had not taken his wife’s name off of his life insurance. She was the sole beneficiary. He had not taken her off his retirement and pension plan. She was still the joint tenant on the real estate, the vehicles, the bank accounts, free to use and spend everything any way she pleased.

Most of us act like we’re going to live forever, or like we can predict our death. We deny the truth. Statistics show that only half the lawyers who are married and have children also have an estate plan! That’s among a population that should be most informed and knowledgeable about the need. I do not know the statistics for the general public, but I know that most people have not made even the most basic arrangements for the allocation of their estate.

Don’t make the kind of mistake Rob made. His wife, not his children, inherited everything. Nothing was set aside to provide for the children and she probably squandered it all as she continued the self-indulgent lifestyle that ended her marriage. Act now to ensure that your assets are protected and go to the right people. We are here to assist and support you. We can help you set up a plan, or make any changes that need to be made to an existing plan. Please let us know how we can help.

Best wishes,

Ronald M. Supancic, CFLS

January Newsletter

Dear Friends of the Law Collaborative,

It is a New Year and also a good time to review your legal affairs. Here are a few things you should think about for 2010 and beyond.

1) Review your licenses. Which ones will expire in the coming year? Mark on your new calendar the date when the license will expire and place a tickler note several weeks before the expiration date so that you have plenty of time to file for a renewal.

2) Review your life insurance. Life insurance goes directly to the beneficiary named on the policy. It does not go through your will unless you have the policy made payable to yourself. Life insurance is, however, part of your estate when it comes to paying death taxes.

3) Review your liability policies. For most people, their liability policies are their home and auto insurance policies. These policies are important because they will pay for a lawyer to defend you if you are sued.

4) Powers of Attorney: Most lawyers recommend that every adult have a durable power of attorney which will allow someone to act on their behalf if they become incapacitated. These are very dangerous documents because they give the person named total access to your assets. They are very important documents because if you become sick, they provide your family with an easy and inexpensive way of taking care of your affairs.

5) Minor Children: If you have minor children, you need to provide for their care if you get sick, are in an accident or die. Make sure your children and other responsible people in your family know where the children are supposed to go if something happens to you. Each year you should review your choice of guardian. Is that choice still a good choice?

6) Wills and trusts: Wills and trusts, when used properly, are not substitutes for each other. They are different tools used in estate planning. One very good reason to have a will is to name a guardian for your minor children. The courts will generally honor your wishes. You can also create a testamentary trust within your will to manage any money you leave for your minor children. Once your children are grown, you should change your will to reflect the change in your circumstances.

7) Elder law is a specialty. Things that elder law planners have you do are not the same as the things that tax planners will have you do. In tax planning they will tell you that you may make gifts of up to $11,000 per year to as many individuals as you want without tax consequences. That is true. Unfortunately the Medicaid rules are not the same. In many places (the rules vary slightly from state to sate) any sum of money you give away within five years of a nursing home placement will trigger a penalty.

8) Charities:  While you are reviewing your estate plan, think about supporting those charities and organizations that have been important to you. Gifts to charities are deducted from your gross estate.

9) The point is, plan ahead for yourself and your family.

We hope that this short checklist is helpful to you.  It is not all inclusive but covers the most significant points.

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Happy New Year,
Ron Supancic and Robert Borsky

The attorneys and staff of The Law Collaborative join with me to wish you all Joy and Peace in the New Year.

* A free phone consultation will provide you with general legal information. Legal information is not the same as legal advice – the application of law to an individuals specific circumstances. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, for specific advice on your situation, I will be pleased to provide legal advice after you accept and sign my retainer agreement.

For more information, please visit our website at: www.ronslaw.com and www.thelawcollaborative.com. Or click here:www.divorcemagazine.com/CA/pro/supancic.shtml

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