Special Needs

Should I Use an Online Will Service?

More than 50% of Americans don’t have a will, according to a 2017 survey by Caring.com. Spelling out how your assets should be divided, is an essential start to estate planning that can be easily overlooked.

A U.S. News & World Report’s article asks “Should You Make a Free Will Online?” According to the article, before writing your will or using an online service, you need to know the legal requirements in your area. In many instances, this is best left to a legal professional in your state.

There are plenty of online tools that will help you create a will. However, before clicking on a website’s promise, you need to evaluate the available options. There are three main ways to write a will:

  1. Do it yourself;
  2. Use a do-it-yourself program; or
  3. Get help from a qualified estate planning attorney.

If you draft a will on your own, you’ll need to be absolutely certain you understand all of the applicable probate, tax and property laws in your state.

If you use an online service, you’ll have access to software that walks you through the process. In this case, you’ll need to be sure that the software company has all the applicable laws covered, as required for your state. You also want a program that lets you make updates later, if your situation changes.

However, if you engage the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney, you’ll have the opportunity to have an expert help you think through the details. The result will be a well-drafted will. Yes, it will cost a bit more, but for many situations—like those with blended families, families with minor children, complex investments, or property in several states—it’s worth it.

Remember that the probate laws can vary widely from state to state. For example, the basic form requirements may allow a handwritten will in some states, but in other states the will must be typewritten. Some states require only two witnesses, and others require that the will be witnessed, notarized and typed.

If you have a larger estate or heirs with medical conditions, it may be wise to work with an attorney who can counsel you on the best solutions for your situation. For example, if you have a child with special needs receiving government benefits, you should have an attorney create a trust so their inheritance doesn’t negatively impact their benefits.

You should also use an attorney if you want to reduce your exposure to probate fees. Some people transfer their assets into a revocable living trust, so they are not subject to probate fees. An online service can’t give you this type of attention or personalized service.

If you have a complex situation, you may end up paying less by using an attorney. An experienced estate planning attorney has helped numerous families. He or she can offer insight into setting up guardians for minor children or appointing an individual to be in charge of the distribution of the estate. There are frequently estate and gift tax considerations about which the average person doesn’t know or monitor.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (January 9, 2019) “Should You Make a Free Will Online?”

When Special Needs Children Become Legal Adults

The saying “little children, little problems, big children, big problems,” is particularly appropriate

The saying “little children, little problems, big children, big problems,” is particularly appropriate for parents of special needs children. Preparing for the next phase takes time, so it’s best to begin the process, once they celebrate their 17thbirthday.

MP900302913One of the many decisions that parents need to make before a special needs child becomes a legal adult, is whether or not the child needs a guardian, or if the parents need a power of attorney, as detailed in a helpful article from Effingham (IL) Daily News,“Teaching parents about guardianship of disabled children.”

Once a child is age 18, the parent is no longer the child's legal guardian.

You should identify the support required for your child and ask what other support they need, while they’re transitioning. Work with a special needs attorney and ask about guardianship. Guardianship is a way to protect an individual who can’t take care of herself, make informed decisions or handle financial assets. An experienced attorney will explain guardianship and alternatives that may be chosen, if the child is capable of making some, but not all, decisions on her own. There are different kinds of guardianships and different kinds of powers of attorney (POA) for estate and health care requirements.

A person can be disabled in some ways, but still be competent to execute the powers of attorney. If the person understands who their family is, who she is, if she’s oriented to time, and she knows who they trust to handle their business or health care decisions, then she can probably sign powers of attorney.

A POA is written authorization to represent a person and make specific decisions on her behalf. The child may have a POA over her health care or estate management. A guardianship of the child’s health care or estate management is appointed by a judge, after reviewing physician statements about the disabled person's needs.

Remember that having power of attorney over their child's financial matters, doesn't give parents power over everything. Things not covered in the POA document are things over which the agent doesn't have the authority. A POA can be revoked, when the person assigning it is competent. However, in a guardianship appointed by the court, you have a duty to act, until the court determines otherwise.

You’ll need a physician’s report that clearly states that the allegedly disabled person needs to have a guardian, and the report should include very specific reasons. Guardianship needs to be a narrow as possible. A special needs attorney can guide you through this process to protect your loved one.

Reference: Effingham (IL) Daily News(April 15, 2018) “Teaching parents about guardianship of disabled children”

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