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When & How Often Should You Update Your Will?

Wills Trusts Special Needs Trust Attorney Jeyaram & Associates One of the biggest misperceptions about wills and trusts is that once they’re written they cannot be changed or that it’s difficult to change a will or trust.

This is not true.

Wills and trusts should be viewed as “organic” and “living” documents that can and should be updated as your life changes.

Nothing Stays The Same

We all know the adage “nothing stays the same” to be true. Our lives and circumstances always change – sometimes quickly or in ways that we never anticipated. These changes often impact decisions we’ve made in our will and trust, and as a result, we need to update and change our wills and trusts to reflect those changes.

Following is a sample list of life changes as to when you should update or change your will:

  • Addition of a child (ex. birth or adoption)
  • Death of someone named in the will (ex. guardian, trustee, spouse, child, etc.)
  • Divorce or marriage
  • Change of address
  • A minor turns 18
  • Retirement
  • Your property value significantly changes (decreases or increases)
  • Acquisition of significant assets or finances (ex. an inheritance)
  • Significant change in health (yours or someone named in the will or trust)
  • Prior to turning 701/2 years of age if you have an IRA, 401(k), or other qualified plan that requires you to begin taking distributions at age 701/2.

You Change Your Mind

Recently we had a client update their special needs trust to reflect changes in their relationship with an individual they listed a guardian. The individual initially listed as guardian was experiencing significant personal changes that resulted in estranged relations with the family. As a result, the client named a new guardian for his children.

Even if something as significant as the aforementioned doesn’t happen, you can always update or change individuals listed in your will or trust or how your assets should be allocated. Sometimes our opinions change or our needs change. As a result, it’s important to update your will or trust to reflect those changes.

Time & Changes In The Law

If you have a special needs trust in place, I always encourage clients to review them on an annual basis – especially the letter to guardians. The letter to guardians is the organic plan that details how to best care for a differently abled child if something suddenly happens to you. A lot can change in a year with a child – anything from new routines to new medical conditions to new favorite toys. This letter is the life line for guardians.

Updating your will or trust every 3 to 5 years is ideal. During that time, changes in estate planning laws may have occurred and your attorney can advise you accordingly.

Easy To Update

It’s important to never try to change or update your will or trust by simply crossing out or adding words or lines on the will. These edits invite confusion and could be challenged in court as to whether they are legally valid. As a result, it’s best to contact your attorney when you need to make updates.

While the initial will may take a bit of time to complete since you’re making important legal decisions to protect your family and asset, updating your will or trust is not as involved. Your attorney will prepare a new will for you to sign to revokes the earlier one.

We Can Help

We’ve helped hundreds of families create and update their wills to best reflect and protect their families and assets as their situations change. If you’re not sure how changes in your life will impact your will, just call us. That’s what we’re here for. I can be reached at DJ@JeyLaw.com or 678.325.3872.

Not Sure Who Should Be Your Child’s Guardian? Here Are Some Tips

Guardian, Special Needs Trusts, Attorney, Atlanta, GA Recently a family came in for a special needs trust consult and they were at a loss as to whom they should designate as their child’s guardian.

Although the wife had two sisters, neither of them lived close by; nor took an interest in their intellectually disabled niece. The husband also had a sister, but she didn’t have any children – and never wanted any.

Although both of the couple’s parents were eager to be guardians, the parents were of advanced age and in poor health. And as for extended relatives, well, they were extended and didn’t have any meaningful contact with their family.

It’s OK If The Guardian Is NOT Biologically Related

This scenario is more frequent than may you think. We often talk with families who do not have any biological family that can or want to serve as their special needs child’s guardian. And that’s OK.

You don’t want to designate individuals as guardians if they don’t want to be or do not have a meaningful relationship with your child.

“Our Chosen Family”

One of the things that my wife and I have learned through the years (and being in a similar situation as the couple that came to my office) is that you create what we call “Our Chosen Family.”

Our Chosen Family consists of people who WANT to be a part of our lives and enjoy spending time not only with us, but our special needs son. These are people who we’ve come to trust and love us as if they were our own biological family – and it’s these same people who we have chosen to be our children’s guardians.

Something to consider is that by taking the pressure off of your biological family, this may encourage them to remain engaged with your child. Many times biological family members want to help, but may not be in a position to assume guardianship.

Just because you do not choose someone as guardian, does not mean that they cannot be involved in your child’s life and/or be of assistance to the guardian.

There are several ways to keep non-guardians involved including informal roles like “God-parent” or more formal structures like Micro-Boards.

Things to Consider When Choosing A Guardian

When considering who to chose as your child’s guardian, here are some things to consider:

  • Does the potential guardian have a meaningful relationship with your child?
  • Would your child need to move to live with the guardian? How would this impact your child’s therapies or education?
  • Does the potential guardian have the energy and health to take care of your child?
  • Are they trustworthy and responsible?
  • Would the potential guardian continue to care for your child in a way that you want?
  • Most importantly, do they WANT to be a part of your family and be your child’s caregiver if something were to happen to you?

Also, something to keep in mind is that NO ONE will ever care for your child like you do. So it’s important to keep this in mind and be realistic when selecting a guardian.

We hope that our child will never need a guardian, but if they do, this person will need to quickly step in and make sure your child receives the love and care they need.

We Can Help You Decide

The story of the couple that came into my office has a happy ending.

After talking with them about their “Chosen Family,” the answer as to whom should be their daughter’s guardian was much easier and the person they selected gave them great peace of mind.

So even though the guardian they selected was not biologically related, the guardian was their “Chosen Family.”

If you’re struggling with who to designate as a guardian for your child, we can help. I can be reached at DJ@JeyLaw.com and 678.325.3872.

#SpecialNeedsTrusts #Guardians #ChosenFamily

Why You Want To Avoid Probate

Wills Trusts Estate Planning Attorney Avoid ProbateProbate

It’s a word we often hear when we’re talking about wills or special needs trusts – but what does it mean? And why does everyone tell you to avoid it at all possible costs?

Probate is the formal legal process that occurs after someone passes. Probate involves proving in court that a deceased person’s will is valid and it’s the process of distributing the deceased person’s property. If the deceased had a will, the legal process is usually straight forward with little room for dispute and can be handled by your family attorney.

However, when someone passes and they did not leave a will or trust in place, that’s when things can get complicated and costly, and to be honest, sometimes the probate process can get really ugly. Without a will, the court will appoint an administrator for your estate – this could be anyone – to gather and distribute someone’s assets according to law. Sound simple? Not so much, and here’s why.

It May Seem Unfair

The process of divvying up someone’s assets can be a lengthy and complex process. And ultimately, without a will in place, the end result dictated by law could seem unfair to the deceased’s family. Most people’s assumption on how everything will be divided under the law is usually wrong.

Many of my married clients that have children assume that when they pass, 100% their estate will go to their spouse and when that spouse passes everything will go to their kids. In Georgia, this is incorrect.

In Georgia, the estate is divided evenly between the spouse and the kids (with the spouses the share is no less than 1/3). If your kids are 18 years or older then they get their share outright and not in a trust! Every state has its own criteria of how assets should be distributed if someone passes without a will.

As a result, family members may feel short changed or even worse, they could end up empty handed. This is one of the reasons having a will in place is so important. Wills clearly spell out who should get what, when and how.

It Takes A LONG Time

Further, most probate cases take anywhere from 6 months to a few years. If there are questions or disputes about the estate – it can take even longer. As a result, the family or individuals who stand to inherit the assets will have to wait a long time until the issues are resolved.

This can be a challenge for spouses or loved ones who need that money to pay bills. This could leave them in a financial pinch. With a will, assets – including money in bank accounts – can be distributed relatively quickly.

It Can Be Expensive

Not only is it a lengthy process, but it can be a costly process for those left behind. Though costs will vary from state to state, according to the American Bar Association, probate and administrative fees are estimated to be 6% and 10% of a person’s estate.

That can be a bit of money – and that assessment is made on the gross estate – before any fees are taken out. So the final inheritance will be less than what the deceased had intended. So while we may feel like creating a will is expensive, not having one in place when we pass can be even more costly.

Personal Life Becomes Public Record

And it’s just not the financial cost. There are personal costs too. Without a will in place, the deceased’s assets and their life are reviewed by the courts. As a result, everything becomes a matter of public record. So anyone – yes anyone – including your nosy neighbor, can go to the courthouse and find out what and how much the deceased left behind. This includes any outstanding debts or liens.

During this time, long lost relatives or secret relations may be exposed. This could be embarrassing and devastating for some families. Further, there are investment advisors or real estate investors or other less-than-ethical individuals who will want to “help” the family when in reality they’re just after the deceased’s assets. Having a will or trust in place allows families to keep family matters private and out of unintended “eyes.”

Easier To Put A Plan Into Place Now

Finding the time to put a will or trust into place is often a low priority. However, it should be a top priority as the probate process can be long, cumbersome and expensive. By putting a plan into place today, you’re saving your loved ones a lot of time, expense and heartache.

We’ve helped hundreds of families put into place wills or trusts that best meet their needs and protect their loved ones. It’s a straight-forward questionnaire and we’ll guide you through the entire process. I can be reached at DJ@JeyLaw.com or 678.325.3872.

 

The Easiest New Year’s Resolution You Can Keep: Create A Will

Wills Trusts and Estates New Years ResolutionWith the holidays behind us, many of are making resolutions to eat better, exercise more, get more sleep and try to balance our work and personal lives in the new year.

However, one of the most important resolutions we can make is often left off our list – writing a will. Putting into place a will or estate plan is perhaps one of the easiest and fastest resolutions you can check off your list!

Who Needs A Will?

Everyone. No matter your age, financial situation, marital status or stage in life needs a will, trust, or estate plan. Estate planning will benefit your loved ones by ensuring that your assets are properly distributed the way you want – not the way a court decides.

Why Do You Need A Will?

  • If you have minor children and don’t have a legal plan in place when you place, a court will decide who will care for them.
  • You’ve worked hard for your assets. Think about who you would leave your assets to – family, friends, or charities.
  • A legal plan will save your family from worrying and avoid disputes about your wishes.
  • Without a plan, a court decides who gets what. Your loved ones could be left without what you wanted.

Too many times we’ve seen families dealing with the loss of a loved one also have to face unexpected financial hardship because a plan wasn’t in place. Their loved one’s assets were tied up in the courts. The families had to hire a lawyer to help them navigate the courts and probate process – adding to the financial hardship. All of these situations could have been avoided if a legal place had been put into place.

What’s The Process For Writing For A Will?

When you contact a law firm to help you write a will, an attorney will send you a questionnaire to complete. The list of questions will help you start thinking about how you want to secure your legacy and distribute your assets – whether it’s to family, friends, charities, your place of worship or community – it’s important that your wishes are documented in a legal plan.

The list includes standard questions about your assets (ex. checking and/or savings accounts, property, car, life insurance, etc.) as well your final wishes (Do you want to buried? If so where? Do you want to be cremated? Etc.).

It will also ask questions such as who do you want to execute your will, guardianship for your child/children, and wishes if you were to be come incapacitated. And don’t worry if you’re not quite sure what to include. An estate planning attorney can help guide you and help you think about what will work best for your life.

New Year’s Resolution 

While death isn’t something we like to think about – it’s something that happens to all of us – and one of the best ways we can protect our loved ones is to make a New Year’s resolution to put into place a will or estate plan.

And if you already have a will or estate plan in place, the New Year is always a good time to reflect upon changes in your life and make any necessary changes to your legal plan.

We Can Help

DJ Jeyaram, Esq., is an experienced wills and estate planning attorney who can help you customize a will to best meet your needs and protect your loved ones. Contact DJ at DJ@JeyLaw.com or 678-325-3872.

Someone You Love Have Alzheimer’s? Here’s Why They Need An Advance Medical Directive

Advance Medical Directive

Why An Advance Medical Directive Is Important

My wife’s grandfather (we call him Opa) has the last stages of Alzheimer’s. I remember meeting him more than a decade ago and he was vibrant, funny and loved to sing.

Now, at almost 90 years old, he does not remember me and spends his days in bed asking the same questions over and over and over.

Recently my wife called to check on Opa and he was crying hysterically. She asked him what was wrong and his sobbing reply was, “Didn’t they tell you? Your grandmother is gone. She’s gone.” And then he hung up the phone.

Of course, my wife called back immediately and her grandmother answered the phone. She had been standing next to Opa (my wife’s grandfather) the entire time and clearly she was alive and well. However, what was not well was Opa’s memory.

It was heartbreaking to say the least. My wife was visibly upset. She has traveled numerous times to help him when he became sick or was hospitalized. Her grandparents live about 2 1/2 hours away.

But with a young family of our own –  including a special needs child – it’s hard for her to get away. That’s where having an Advance Medical Directive in place has been extremely helpful. Even if my wife cannot be there in person, she can at least talk to the doctors and help make decisions on Opa’s behalf.

Thankfully, before Opa’s Alzheimer’s had progressed too much, he agreed for my wife to be his Healthcare Agent and give her the legal authority to make medical decisions on his behalf.

Advance Medical Directive – Why You & Loved Ones Need It 

An Advance Medical Directive is also known as a health care proxy, durable power of attorney, medical power of attorney, or healthcare agent. The purpose of an Advance Medical Directive is to legally enable an individual to make decisions on your behalf if you cannot speak for yourself or express your wishes about your health. It also helps those individuals and your healthcare providers know about your treatment preferences. Examples of being unable to make medical decisions for yourself include:

• Permanent illness like Alzheimer’s

• Incapacity

• A coma or persistent vegetative state

• If you are having an outpatient surgical procedure and are under general anesthesia

Hospitals, doctors and other health care providers must follow your Advance Medical Directive’s decisions as if they were your own but only if the Directive is properly executed.

By having an Advance Medical Directive, a doctor clearly knows whose direction is to be followed in the event your family disagrees as to what medical treatment you would want.

When Should You Set Up An Advanced Medical Directive?

Now. The unexpected in life happens. It happened to one of our good friends. Our friend received a call that her husband had been in a car accident and was unresponsive. He ended up being in a coma for three weeks. Thankfully there was not a dispute between our friend and her husband’s parents. However, if there had been a disagreement about his medical care, an Advance Medical Directive would have been critical.

Opa named my wife as his Healthcare Agent in his Advance Medical Directive during the early stages of his diagnosis. This is important. If he had signed the document during the final stages of Alzheimer’s, the legitimacy and legality of the Advance Medical Directive could be challenged in court if there was a disagreement within her family about his medical treatment. This is why putting documentation in place before you need it is very important.

How Do You Set Up An Advance Medical Directive?

All 50 states have forms online where you can establish an Advance Medical Directive. However, the state forms do not always address the important nuances of your healthcare decisions. For example, if you are incapacitated and unable to communicate, but not terminal, what do you want your life to look like? Do you want to be somewhere you can have a pet? A room with a view? NetFlix? By having an attorney help you set up an Advance Medical Directive, you ensure that your wishes are complete and clear to everyone involved.

Where Do You Start? 

Start having conversations with your loved ones about your medical wishes. These are not easy conversations, but they are important to ensure that your desires are enacted should you be unable to make decisions about your health.

And if someone you love has Alzheimer’s or other permanent or terminal illness, it’s important to put into place an Advance Medical Directive before their health significantly declines.

Contact Us

Our attorneys specialize in setting up an Advance Medical Directives. I have more than 20 years healthcare experience – working with medical professionals and individuals who need medical help. Further, we’ve personally been through the process with our own families. I can be reached at DJ@JeyLaw.com or 678.325.3872.

 

Congratulations To Jeyaram & Associates For Being Featured In The Business News Daily

Reprinted with permission from the Business News Daily
Special Needs Trusts

 

Owner DJ Jeyaram Esq. shared the story behind Jeyaram & Associates, a family-focused law firm that specializes in special needs trusts, wills, estate planning and healthcare legal services.

My son Kai, pictured in this photo, was born with a rare genetic condition called Williams Syndrome. He brings us an amazing amount of joy despite all of his challenges.

Soon after my son was born, we realized that we needed a plan to protect him in case anything happened to me or my wife, so we began offering special needs trusts, which help protect children’s current and future government benefits.

I started my business in 2007 after working at a large law firm. I realized that most special needs families could not afford my big firm rates and I was forced to refer these families to small firm attorneys that did not necessarily have the proper training to set up a special needs estate plan. Three months later, I hung out my shingle and have successfully been in business for more than 8 years. It’s been one of the best decisions I ever made.

One of the biggest challenges we face is limiting the number of pro bono cases we take every year. Because we have a special needs child and are ingrained in the special needs community, we meet a lot of families that need legal help but don’t have the necessary resources. We want to help everyone because we always think ‘That could be us.’

Without A Will, A Court Could Decide Custody Of Your Child

wills, Trusts and Estates10 Tips On Choosing The Right Guardian

Sadly, during the past couple of weeks, we learned of the passing of several friends and acquaintances. All of their passings were sudden. A heart attack. A car accident. A sudden mystery illness. An aneurism. To be honest, we became a bit leery about answering our phones.

Death isn’t something we like to think about, let alone talk about. However, these past few weeks were a stark reminder of how important it is to make sure we prepare for the future and to make sure our families are protected – especially if you have minor children.

We often assume that a member of our family – maybe a sister or our own mother – will automatically be given custody of our children if something happens to us. However, this is not true unless you have a will, trust or estate plan in place that specifically names them as guardians. Without a legal plan in place, anyone can request custody and a judge will decide with whom your child/children will live with.

As a result, it’s imperative to establish a will and choose a guardian for your child.

Following are some things to consider when choosing the right guardian:

  1. Age – How old is the person you’re considering to assume custody of your child if you pass? You want to make sure the potential guardian will be around for a while to raise your child.
  1. Ability – How is the health of the potential guardian? Does he/she need a lot of medical care? Is he/she emotionally stable? How many other children does the potential guardian already care for? Does he/she have a demanding job or a job that requires him/her to frequently travel? You wan to select someone who is going to be physically present and give your child the attention he/she needs – especially since your child will already be dealing with loss and grieving.
  1. Already established relationship with your child – Does the potential guardian already know your child and have an established relationship with him/her? Imagine being forced to live with someone you don’t know. Add on the stress of losing a parent. It’s imperative that your child know and be comfortable with the potential guardian.
  1. Location – Where does the potential guardian live? Is this somewhere you’d want your child to live? If you currently live in the city and your potential guardian lives in a small, remote town – would your child be happy and thrive? Does the potential guardian live in a good school district or are there good private schools nearby?
  1. Family values – Finding a potential guardian with the same family values can be challenging – but it’s perhaps one of the most important criteria to consider. Is this individual willing to instill and be supportive of your family values – especially if they do not mirror yours?
  1. Parenting style – Does the potential guardian believe in time outs? Is education important? Is the potential guardian strict or nurturing? You’ll want to choose someone who reflects your parenting style to minimize the stress and confusion on your child.
  1. Stable and loving – Selecting a guardian who can provide a stable environment for your child is critical – especially as your child will be grieving. Your child will look to the guardian for emotional and physical stability. Is the guardian in a stable relationship? Is his/her spouse open to being a guardian as well?
  1. Willing and want to serve as guardian – Taking on custody is a big responsibility. While some family members may love your child – assuming custody and providing for his/her every need is a different story. It’s important to have open and honest conversations about potential guardians to see if they want to serve as a potential guardian. Now is NOT the time to try and avoid hurt feelings. Your child’s well being and future is what’s most important.
  1. Character – Does your potential guardian have a court record of drug or alcohol abuse or a criminal history? If so, a court will reject and override your selected guardian. You want to select someone who will serve as a good role model for your child.
  1. Back up – Life happens. Your designated guardian may become incapacitated or have a change of heart upon your passing. It’s critical to have a back up potential guardian to ensure your child has a safe, loving and stable home.

It’s important to remember that a guardian is NOT required to financially support your child. As a result, it’s important when you’re setting up your will, trust or estate, to legally earmark funds for your child in a trust. Then, you will need to select an individual to oversee the disbursement of the money in the trust. This person is called a trustee. Often times, the trustee is different from your child’s guardian.

Selecting a guardian for your child can be a difficult decision – but it’s an important one. By legally documenting your wishes for your child/children, you help ensure that your loved ones are cared for and that a custody battle does not publicly play out in court.

Once you’ve carefully thought about and chosen a guardian for your child, we encourage you to consult with an attorney to help document your decision so that it becomes legally binding.

If you have questions or would like assistance, please contact DJ Jeyaram at DJ@Jeylaw.com or 678.325.3872

What to Do When Your Special Needs Child Turns 18 | Financial Support

Special Needs Trust

The financial planning steps you take when your special needs child turns 18 will establish the foundation for your child’s support and well being for the rest of his or her life.

If you make the wrong decision during this transition, it could affect your child well into the future – often when we’re no longer here to care for him or her.

Therefore, as parents of special needs children, it’s important for us to understand our options when planning for our children’s financial future.

Most special needs planning begins with a look into whether a child needs and qualifies for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for support. SSI is a means-based program for people with disabilities and provides a limited monthly cash benefit of about $733 a month, the exact amount depending on the state and whether the beneficiary receives housing or income from other sources.

In and of itself, this payment may or may not mean much for a child’s financial future, but SSI eligibility also comes with a much more important benefit — access to Medicaid. For this reason alone many families, especially those with children who have major medical expenses, pursue SSI benefits despite the program’s severe income and asset limits. SSI can also be the ticket into vocational training and group housing services.

Once a child reaches age 18, she qualifies for SSI based on her own income and assets. In order to receive benefits, the child must meet the government’s disability standard, have less than $2,000 in assets and receive minimal income. Each dollar of unearned income (including any direct payments of cash to a beneficiary, along with additional reductions for in-kind payment for food and shelter) and every two dollars of earned income reduces a beneficiary’s base SSI award by one dollar.

If the SSI benefit reaches zero because of this reduction, SSI coverage ends. Despite these restrictions, an SSI beneficiary needs only a $1 award in order to retain her Medicaid benefits, so careful planning in this realm carries great rewards.

A child who became disabled before reaching 22 years of age can also collect Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) based on a parent’s work record if either of his parents has worked enough quarters to collect Social Security and is already receiving Social Security benefits or has died. Under SSDI, the “adult disabled child” of the Social Security beneficiary receives a monthly benefit check, as long as he doesn’t perform substantial work, defined as earning more than $1,090 a month. After receiving SSDI for two years, the adult disabled child also begins to receive Medicare, a substantial benefit.

Often, adults who became disabled as children receive SSI benefits until their parents retire, at which point they transition to SSDI, which is usually preferred both because it may offer a higher monthly benefit and because the beneficiary no longer needs to be concerned about SSI’s strict rules on other sources of income and savings. On the other hand, the switch to SSDI can be problematic if it means that the adult child loses eligibility for Medicaid or other programs.

If a child has more than $2,000 in assets when he reaches age 18, rendering him ineligible for SSI, a parent, grandparent or court has the power to create a special trust, known as a “(d)(4)(A) ” or “first-party supplemental needs” trust to hold his savings. Any assets held by the trust do not count against the $2,000 asset limit for SSI, allowing him to qualify.

One requirement of such trusts is that when the beneficiary dies, any funds remaining in the trust must be used to reimburse the state for medical care the trust beneficiary received during his life. Because of this payback provision, planners often encourage trustees to pay for a child’s supplemental needs from a (d)(4)(A) trust before using other assets, in order to limit the state’s collection later on.

Finally, many families create trusts known as “third-party” supplemental needs trusts in addition to (d)(4)(A) trusts.  As long as families fund these trusts with their own assets (never with their child’s funds) and give the trustee complete discretion to distribute the funds for a beneficiary’s care, the funds held in the trust will not count as the child’s assets. Furthermore, these trusts do not have to contain a payback provision, allowing families to place significant amounts of money into the trust without worrying that the government will receive a large portion later on. The trusts can then provide a child with special needs with services and care he may not receive from other sources throughout his life.

You don’t want to wait to plan for your child’s transition out of childhood. We can help you start planning for the future today. Contact DJ@Jeylaw.com or 678-325-3872.