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Estate Planning Series: For Parents

Between work, carpooling, after-school activities, and random time-consuming obligations that arise in daily life, estate planning can be put on the back burner. Nevertheless, this is an essential process for every parent because it ensures a secure future for children and other loved ones in the family. 

Throughout the Estate Planning Series, Brandon J. Campbell, a Law Partner at Opfer | Campbell | Beck P.C., will answer the most common questions and provide advice for parents, college-bound young adults, and co-parents as they begin their estate planning journey.

Whether you are just starting estate planning or are held back because it feels morbid, you’re procrastinating, or don’t know much about the process – this series is here to provide the support and insights you need. 

Q: What is estate planning, and why is it important?
A: Campbell: Estate “planning” is the process we take to avoid you ending up in probate. This happens both while you are alive (called “Guardianship” and “Conservatorship”) and after you pass away. In both situations, probate can be time-consuming, expensive, and full of pitfalls. In planning, we structure documents, assets, and people to prevent you (your loved ones) from ending up in any of these situations.
– For additional information: Probate: A Brief Overview

Q: At what age should parents begin estate planning?
A: Campbell: Immediately. Every person needs some amount of planning, from the moment we turn 18. We start very simple, and then progressively become more complicated as we have assets, spouses, and children.

Q: How do parents choose a guardian for their children?
A: Campbell: Choose the best people for right now, understanding you can make any changes to guardians later (as much as you like). Be mindful that if you consider parents or anyone else in a generation above you, how old will they be by the time your child(ren) turns 18. Is this something they can, or should, handle? Remember, you do not need to nominate family members, regardless of what they might say. Pick the people your children already know and trust. If your guardians are out-of-state, talk with your attorney about how you might resolve any concerns. For example, you might have temporary guardians closer to where you live but permanent guardians in another state.

Q: What are the steps parents can take to make this process easier?
A: Campbell: Start with at least one consultation with an estate planning attorney. These are usually no-cost, and depending on the attorney, you will walk away with a lot of knowledge, resources, and an action plan. Our office, for example, provides one-hour consultations and we give a 25+ page packet of resources. If nothing else, invest some time into yourselves to find out what you need, and then move forward with whomever makes you most comfortable.

Q: If parents are feeling overwhelmed with planning, what tips do you have for them?
A: Campbell: Rely on your attorney. We are service providers and should be handling 90% of the planning process. When you are overwhelmed, confused, or just need a question answered, that is why you hired someone! You are not attorneys, and shouldn’t have to teach yourselves the law. If your attorney is not providing you the level of service you need, then consider ending the representation and starting anew somewhere else (just be mindful about how your fees work with them).
– For additional information: How to Speak With a Loved One About End-of-Life Planning

Q: Is there anything parents should avoid?
A: Campbell: Be very mindful about how a law firm operates; meaning, what services are they providing (and not providing), how are they billing, what responsibilities do I have as the client, and how will they support me and my plan into the future?

Q: Do you think a Power of Attorney is essential?
A: Campbell: Yes, it is essential for every single adult. When we are alive, we are independent legal entities, and we manage our own affairs. But if we cannot (we call this “incapacity”), nobody has the power to step in and take over our lives by default. Even spouses find this out the hard way. Without Powers of Attorney, an incapacity event will force the next people to be approved by a judge in “Guardianship” or “Conservatorship” proceedings, which tend to be extremely costly and frustrating. Furthermore, without a POA, people might take over your affairs who you would never have wanted. These Powers will allow you to retain control of the situation, even when you can no longer make those decisions.

As parents navigate the complexities of daily life, estate planning often takes a backseat despite its undeniable importance in securing the future of loved ones. A crucial aspect often overlooked is the potential loss of access to information when teens head to college or reach the age of 18. Recognizing this, the next installment will specifically address estate planning for college-bound young adults and discuss access to information.

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