Georgia's Trusted Healthcare
& Medical Provider Attorneys

Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Hire A Lawyer For Your Will vs. Using An Online Service

Online Will Hire Attorney Jeyaram Georgia TrustRecently we saw an article – written by a non lawyer – recommending individuals and families complete their wills online as a way to save money.

However, there are several major flaws with this “money-saving approach” and online wills could ultimately end up costing an individual or family significantly more money than what they initially intended to pay.

Top 10 Reasons Why Lawyers Should Help You Write Your Will

  1. Experienced estate planning attorneys will create personalized plans for you based on a vast array of estate planning tools that “do-it-yourself” online wills do not consider.
  2. Online wills provide you with generic “one-size-fits-all” documents that are not tailored to your specific needs. Your life is not a one-size-fits-all and your will should reflect that.
  3. When partnering with a lawyer, you are able to include specific details and information that the online forms do not allow you to include due to space limitations or lack of fields on the forms.
  4. Online services also try to “up sell” customers through the process – the low cost offer is often a “hook” for more expensive packages. Almost all estate planning attorneys offer an upfront, flat fee for their wills.
  5. As your life situations change, your lawyer can easily help you update and change your legal plan as needed so that it best protects your loved ones and assets. Online forms cannot provide the guidance or recommendations attorneys can.
  6. Attorneys will have seen literally hundreds of cases and will be able to help you make informed decisions and avoid pitfalls they have seen in other cases.
  7. An attorney will help you identify ways to minimize your tax liabilities upon your passing. Online will services typically do not provide this feature.
  8. If you need something more than a basic will, such as a trust or special needs trust, online services often cannot address the complexity involved in these legal matters.
  9. Online forms cannot provide you guidance or help you think through important decisions such as who you should select as a guardian or trustee. An experienced attorney will help you think through the process and help you make a decision that you’re comfortable with.
  10. Most importantly, when it’s time for your will to be executed, your family will need to hire an attorney. If your family already has an established relationship with an experienced estate planning attorney, this is one less thing for a grieving – and often overwhelmed – family to have to deal with upon your passing.

A Will Should NOT Be A One Size Fits All 

When it comes to protecting your family and assets, we recommend investing in the process of writing your will and partnering with an attorney to prevent any future headaches or heartaches.

When you meet with an estate planning attorney, they will talk to you about your life, your family, your wishes and desires. They’ll also talk to you about your assets, your desires for how they should be distributed and what the best ways are to minimize tax liabilities. Online wills cannot provide this guidance.

Your life is not generic – neither should your will.

We Can Help

We’ve helped hundreds of families create and update their wills and trusts to best reflect and protect their families and assets.

When you meet with us, we carefully listen to your unique needs and will create a customized will or trust based on those needs and your wishes. We’re here to help you create a plan that gives you peace of mind. I can be reached at DJ@JeyLaw.com or 678.325.3872.

How To Address Your Adult Child’s Substance Abuse Issues In Your Will

Addiction Substance Abuse Trust Wills Estate Planning Jeyaram AssociatesWhen we start to think about the future for our adult children who struggle with addiction, we worry about their financial and overall well-being.

We want to help them be financially secure after we are gone, but we also want to make sure they are responsible with any inheritance they receive.

This is where setting up a trust and a designated trustee as part of your will can help protect your child.

It’s Important To Set Up A Trust & Trustee

If your adult child has a history of addiction or is unable to make responsible financial decisions, leaving them an inheritance without any kind of guidance or protections could lead to further challenges.

By creating a trust and designating someone to manage assets (a Trustee), you are putting into place protections to help your child from others – including creditors and sometime from themselves. Following are a couple of trusts that may be useful when leaving assets to someone with addiction challenges.

Trusts With Incentives

Trusts can be designed to include incentives such submitting to random drug tests in order to receive some of the assets or that the trust will match dollar for dollar for any earned income.

However, structuring a trust like this should be carefully considered as it could prevent your child from receiving any support despite perhaps their best attempts to beat their addiction.

In addition, money may not be the incentive your child needs to try to modify his or her behavior.

Wholly Discretionary Trusts

If your child has a severe addiction or a history of being financially irresponsible, a Wholly Discretionary Trust may be the best choice. With this trust, the Trustee maintains control over all finances and you can specifically direct how the funds will be used.

For example, funds may be used for tuition or rent (paid directly to a landlord) or medical expenses. This trust helps ensure that the money a child receives does not negatively contribute to their addiction.

Selecting A Trustee

A Trustee is someone you name in your trust to manage the assets you want to pass on to your child. Selecting the right Trustee is perhaps one of the most important decisions regarding setting up the trust.

We often recommend NOT choosing someone in your family as this can create conflict and ultimately lead to estranged relationships. Instead, we recommend selecting an independent person or a corporate trustee.

We’re A Part Of Your Team

Regardless of whether you want to set up a straight-forward trust, one with structured incentives, or a trust with restrictions, the trust should include a Trustee to manage it.

Dealing with a child’s challenges with substance abuse can be emotionally exhausting, financially draining and outright overwhelming.

We’re here to help you figure out the best approach for setting up your will and trust for you child. You don’t have to have all the answers when you meet with us.

We’re here to help you create a plan that best meets your wishes and your family’s circumstances. I can be reached at DJ@JeyLaw.com or 678.325.3872.

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.

 

7 Reasons Why Online Wills Aren’t The Smartest Choice

Wills Trusts and Estates Attorney GeorgiaGroupon is currently running an ad for 79% off online wills for individuals or couples. The company offering the promotion through Groupon says the online Web site creates wills “in just minutes.” Just “minutes” to map out and protect your assets and document your legacy? What?

Writing a will is NOT something that should be done in a matter of mere minutes. It’s something that should be given careful thought and consideration. The process of writing your will most likely take a couple of hours.

Why Online Wills Are Not The Smartest Choice

Writing a will should be done under the legal guidance of an established estate planning attorney and here are 7 reasons why:

• Online wills provide you with generic “one-size-fits-all” documents that are not tailored to your specific needs. Your life is not a one-size-fits-all. Why should your will be?

• Experienced estate planning attorneys can create personalized plans for you based on a vast array of estate planning tools that “do-it-yourself” online wills do not consider.

• When partnering with a lawyer, you are able to include specific details and information that the online forms do not allow you to include due to space limitations or lack of fields on the forms.

• Online will services also try to “up sell” customers through the process – the low cost offer is often a “hook” for more expensive packages. Almost all estate planning attorneys offer an upfront, flat fee for their wills.

• As your life situations change, your lawyer can easily help you update and change your legal plan as needed so that it to best protects your loved ones and assets. Online forms cannot do this.

• An attorney will keep your will in a locked safe. Online sites always have the potential for being hacked and your personal information compromised.

• An attorney will help you identify ways to minimize your tax liabilities upon your passing. Online will services typically do not provide this feature.

Easier For Your Family

Once your will needs to be executed, your family will need to hire a lawyer. By engaging a lawyer now to assist you with writing a will or estate plan, you are helping your family later as your family will not need to find an attorney to execute your will and they will already be familiar with your attorney.

Protecting Your Loved Ones

When it comes to protecting your family and assets, we recommend investing in the process of writing your will and partnering with an attorney to prevent any future headaches or heartaches. A will is a “living” document that’s designed to protect those you love most, and it deserves more than a generic form that can be completed in minutes. Your life is not generic – neither should your will.

We Can Help

We’re here to help. Our attorneys have extensive experience with helping individuals, families and families with special needs children create legal plans that best protect their assets and their loved ones.

Contact DJ Jeyaram at DJ@JeyLaw.com or 678-325-3872.

 

How To Ensure Proper Care For Our Fuzzy Children In Our Wills

Will Pet Trust

When we think about creating a will or trust, we think about things like our checking or savings accounts, our family heirlooms and if we have children, how we want them to be cared for when we pass.

However, one of the most important – and often overlooked – parts of preparing for our futures is making sure our fuzzy loved ones are cared for too.

And while pets are legally and technically considered – “property” – as pet owners, we know that they mean so much more to us than just being “property.” They are our companions and a big part of our families.

Leaving our pets’ fate unknown and the thought of having them possibly sent to a shelter is unthinkable. This is where legally documenting our wishes for our fuzzy children is important.

Our Pets Are Family Too!

Traditional wills or trusts treat pets as property. One of the challenges with only including your pet in your will is that it often takes time, sometimes years before the probate process is completed. Your pet will need immediate care. So often we see people dividing their estates purely by percentages. Where does a pet go in that scenario?

When clients want to provide for their fuzzy child, there are a couple of options:

1) Specifically designate who gets ownership of your pet when you pass or

2) Create a Pet Trust. A Pet Trust has benefits beyond simply giving ownership of your pet to someone else.

Pet Trusts can be created in your will or be valid while you are alive and can be implemented if you were to become ill and unable to care for your fuzzy child.  A Pet Trust also allows you to allocate funds that can only be used for your pet’s care.  When we see animals go to a shelter in probate situations, many times it is because family members are not willing to accept the financial burdens of having a pet, especially an older pet.

Things To Consider For Your Pet’s Future

The Pet Trust allows you to leave specific instructions on how your pet should be cared for and by whom, as well how money set up in a trust should be allocated. Some things to think about when setting up a Pet Trust are:

  • Who would take care of your fuzzy child in a way that makes you comfortable? Does your pet know this person? Would this person honor your wishes?
  • If you have more than one pet, would your pet’s guardian be willing to keep all of your pets together?
  • How much money should you set aside? Think not only about current costs, but how much care your pet may need as he or she gets older?
  • Including detailed care instructions such as your pet’s favorite toys or treats. Is your pet scared of thunderstorms or other animals or small children?

While the thought of leaving behind our loved ones when we pass is painful, it’s important that we think about how we can best provide for them now – and in the future. And as pet owners, we know that our pets are more than just “property” –  they are our family too!

Need Help Getting Started?

Our attorneys specialize in wills and Pet Trusts. Not only do we have extensive experience with wills and Pet Trusts, but we are avid pet lovers too! Contact DJ Jeyaram at DJ@JeyLaw.com or 678.325.3872.

 

It’s All In The Details – Creating A Successful Care Plan For Your Children’s Guardians

Death isn’t something we like to talk about, but it’s critical to have a detailed plan for your children’s guardians – just in case. Wills, Trusts & Estates

This past week, my parents came to help my wife and I as we prepared for my wife’s upcoming medical procedure. They came early to learn the kids’ routines such as where their school is, what they eat and their bedtime routines.

Most of us don’t really think much about our day-to-day routines. In fact, we just go. We’re pretty much on autopilot. Having my parents come to help me with the kids was a good dry run for if my wife and I were to unexpectedly pass and we needed our children’s guardians to step in and follow the instructions we’ve prepared.

To help us prepare for her procedure, which would leave her out of pocket for a couple of weeks, my wife typed out every little detail about the kids’ days. Or so we thought. When we did a dry run with my parents, we quickly realized that there were several little – but very important details – that we forgot to include in our notes. And it was these details that would make the difference between a smooth and successful day with our kids versus potential meltdowns and a frustrating experience for everyone.

My wife covered the big ones – what time the kids take their medications, how much and how. Who likes what food, how to maneuver through the carpool line for school and what time they go to bed.

What we forgot to include were things like EXACTLY how to cut my son’s peanut butter sandwich. In her directions, my wife said, “Cut the peanut butter sandwich.” But as my parents were making my son’s peanut butter sandwich during the dry run, they asked, “Do you cut it in half? Do you cut it in quarters?” No. Actually, we have to cut his sandwich into quarter-sized bites and we have to cut off the crust. Wow. Something we do automatically. Failure to include that kind of detailed information could have derailed lunch for my six-year-old special needs son who is in feeding therapy and needs small bites of food to be successful with eating.

Next, my wife wrote specific notes about how to pick up our little girl from preschool (we walk in to get her). As my wife did a walk through with my parents, again, she realized she forgot to include some pretty important details such as:

  • Make sure you have a photo ID or the carpool tag to identify yourself when you pick her up
  • As you walk out of the school, you have to hold her hand as she tends to run out into the parking lot (she’s only 2)
  • And that you need sanitize her hands as soon as you get the car as her brother is medically fragile and a two year old’s hands are a magnificent host for germs.

Again, things we just do without even thinking – but that are really important for keeping our kids safe and ensuring a smooth day.

Further, when my special needs son says “Don Clare” he’s not asking for a person. He’s asking for one of his favorite books. To be honest, I didn’t even know this one. We don’t have a book titled, “Don Clare” and none of the books have a character named “Don Clare.” My son has just begun using two to three word sentences and this was his interpretation of the book titled “Bear Snores On.” How my wife figured this out, remains a mystery to me – and it would have remained a mystery to my parents if my wife hadn’t written it down in our notes after my dad asked her what my son was asking for.  

Our kids, like many others, thrive on routine and have favorite objects or TV shows, books or movies. Simple things like their favorite stuffed animal that they need to go to sleep with at night or where they like to hide their favorite sippy cup or the name of their favorite YouTube videos are small details – but they are of big importance to our children and bring them great comfort.

By painstakingly detailing your routines and including details about what makes your child comfortable or happy in your care plan, you are setting your guardians up for success and for a smooth transition in case something were to suddenly happen to you and your spouse.

Need help planning for your children’s future? We can help. Contact DJ Jeyaram at DJ@JeyLaw.com or 678.325.3872.

5 Things People Forget to Include in Their Will

DJ Jeyaram is quoted in this article published on GoBankingRates and Philly.com. Congrats DJ!

Article by Alaina Tweddale

Many people overlook writing a will until they become parents, launch a business or buy a first home. And even when they do finally craft this important document, estate and financial planning experts say, it is easy to overlook some important details.

We uncovered the biggest things people overlook when drafting a will. Find out if you’re missing a one of these key elements.

1. Alternate Beneficiaries

While most wills include at least one primary beneficiary, it is a common mistake to fail to prepare for a backup plan in the event the beneficiary predeceases the testator.

Furthermore, “it is important to consider whether a beneficiary is capable of inheriting the asset and can manage the asset properly,” said Sandra Martin Clark, partner at the law firm of Manning, Fulton, & Skinner in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Martin Clark says some reasons a loved one should be passed over for beneficiary status include:

  • Age
  • Mental capacity
  • Inability to properly manage assets

“Oftentimes, after a will is drafted and signed, the document is never looked at again until someone has passed away. At that point, it is too late to correct any error or consider a more appropriate planning opportunity,” said Martin Clark.

If the testator’s intent is unclear, or the beneficiary is a minor or found to be incompetent, it can be overwhelmingly difficult and costly to find a solution, Martin Clark said.

2. Provisions for Digital Assets

Digital assets are among the most important things left out of wills today, said Steven J.J. Weisman, an attorney in Amherst, Mass., professor who teaches estate planning at Bentley University, and author of “A Guide to Elder Planning.”

Websites, domain names and online accounts can all have economic value. Planners should also include account numbers and passwords within a will.

“So much of what we do is online or on our computers,” said Weisman. “Without the proper user names and passwords, as well as authorizing someone to have access to these matters, the estate can be severely compromised.”

Information for social media accounts can be important. Although there may not be a monetary value associated with a Twitter handle or a Facebook account, it can be awkward for loved ones to see greetings or birthday wishes posted to the deceased’s wall or news feed.

3. Prearrangements for Pets

Although you cannot leave assets or property directly to a pet, you can – and should – specify a caregiver for your pet, said David Walters, a certified financial planner and portfolio manager with Palisades Hudson Financial Group in Portland, Ore.

Consider naming a secondary caregiver in the event the primary caregiver is unwilling or unable to care for your pet, Walters added. Pet owners can even name a beneficiary for assets earmarked for the care of your pet.

If you do not make any specific provision for your pet’s care, the arrangements may become a source of contention among your loved ones. In the worst case, your pet could end up in a shelter,” Walters said.

4. A Personal Property Memorandum

Personal property mementos can be the most prized items in the estate of a parent or loved one.

“Sometimes, what people fight over are the least valuable items,” said Erik Hartstrom, attorney with Estate Plan Pros in Elk Grove, California.

Examples include a grandfather clock, Mom’s favorite costume jewelry, or even a $1.50 tchotchke Dad kept lovingly tucked in his dresser drawer.

An estate that has heirlooms worth a substantial amount of money can exacerbate the problem.

When there is no written personal property memorandum affixed to the will, beneficiaries may quarrel and sometimes even fracture long-standing relationships.

“Have a conversation with your beneficiaries and find out what is meaningful to each,” said Hartstrom. “You may be surprised.”

5. Trustee and Guardian Designations

It is critical to keep contact and designation information about trustees and guardians up-to-date, said Atlanta-based estate planning attorney DJ Jeyaram.

“This is especially important if both parents or a single parent suddenly passes and there are minors involved,” he said. “The guardians need to be immediately notified to ensure proper care of the children.”

A named trustee and guardian don’t have to be the same person. Without explicit instructions, an unintended new guardian may raise a child, or care for an incapacitated adult. Assets intended for the care of the minor can transfer to someone the deceased did not prefer.

In a worst-case scenario, said Jeyaram, “the children may be put into state custody.”

When you’re ready to put your final wishes on paper, thoroughly consider how you want all aspects of your estate handled – even the seemingly insignificant items. An experienced estate attorney can help you determine all the items you may want to consider when planning your will.

Consider Creating A “Care Committee” For Your Special Needs Child

Special Needs TrustWhen setting up a special needs trust, we ask parents to designate someone to serve as their child’s trustee. The trustee’s job is to ensure the child receives the best possible care – without necessarily being the primary care giver.

The trustee oversees things like the child’s finances, overall health, housing, benefits and education. However, finding someone who is extremely knowledgeable in all of these areas and knows all of the members of your family and how they interact with one another – can be a challenge. As a result, we often recommend creating a Care Committee.

However, before we get to care committees, let’s do a quick refresher on special needs trusts. Special needs trusts are legal instruments specifically designed to hold property for a person with disabilities.

Every special needs trust has a trustee – the person responsible for managing the trust’s assets for the benefit of the person with the disability. A special needs trust gives the trustee very broad authority to use the trust funds in whatever way she thinks will best help the trust beneficiary given the beneficiary’s current and future needs and other resources.

Because the trustee of a special needs trust has these discretionary powers and cannot typically be forced to make distributions to the beneficiary, the funds in the trust do not harm the beneficiary’s ability to qualify for government benefits like Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

This brings us back to Care Committees. Since the trustee of the special needs trust cannot always be expected to know everything about the beneficiary’s care and needs, parents may decide to name several knowledgeable people to serve as a formal advisory committee.

The Committee can include any number of people, but it is typically composed of a small group that parents select because they understand the beneficiary’s needs. Committees are often made up of caregivers, doctors, social workers, family members, lawyers and other advocates. The Committee members are supposed to advise the trustee about the best way to utilize the trust assets, even though the trustee usually retains the ultimate authority over the disposition of the trust.

However, in some cases the trust will mandate that the trustee must follow the committee’s advice unless it is clearly against the beneficiary’s best interests.

The Care Committee also facilitates a conversation between the trustee and the beneficiary. Since this relationship can sometimes be difficult, especially if the trust beneficiary is fully competent and resents the trustee’s control over the assets, the Care Committee can advocate for the beneficiary’s needs without antagonizing the trustee.

The Committee can also take some of the pressure off of the trustee, because she will have help making difficult decisions that a lone trustee may agonize over.

Not all parents feel the need to create a Care Committee for a special needs trust, but if you are interested in establishing one, we can help you design the right committee for your family. Contact DJ Jeyaram 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