The headlines are rife with Britney Spears’ name yet again, and it seems this young woman’s battle with her conservatorship may see its end. As an elder law attorney who deals with guardianship and conservatorship cases, I’ll let you in on a little secret: you don’t need a multimillion-dollar fortune to end up with Ms. Spears’ fate.
People of all ages and backgrounds find themselves in this position because of two reasons (and right here in Kentucky!): improper estate planning and dysfunctional family communication. It’s never too late to fix either.
Here’s what you need to secure a future out of the courtroom spotlight:
Get that POA, people. A robust power of attorney (POA) is your best line of defense. Not a typical two-pager, but a seriously detailed, legit piece of legal work. If your POA is written well enough to cover your needs, then guardianship is unnecessary. Even if there is a POA in place that is insufficient, it is to be considered as suggesting the potential ward’s preference for the person who should be appointed as the guardian/conservator.
Prenup for 2. If you’re getting married for the second time, later in life, and you’re blending families, you’re doing marriage a bit differently this time around, am I right? You each need a prenuptial agreement to protect yourself and your children. It doesn’t mean you don’t love each other or your new life any less. It means you love yourself and your kids enough to NOT put yourselves through unnecessary financial or emotional burdens.
Try on a trust-based estate plan. A trust gives you more control than a will does, because you set the terms for how your assets are distributed after your death. A trust-based plan can help you avoid probate because your assets pass according to the terms of the trust without court intervention. A living trust enables you to make sure your spouse has an income stream for life and that children from previous marriages receive the assets you want them to have. Wills can be overridden. Trusts cannot.
Flex your family’s communicative muscles. It goes like this: when the courts get involved, you start to lose your choices. So be proactive with the people you trust to care for you and involve them in your decision-making early on. Plan how you want your children involved. Not remarrying but want your live-in girlfriend of three years to have a say in your care? Write it down, talk it out with your kids, but by all means, do it now or the courts will do it for you.
Seem a little daunting? Prepare and educate yourself before you even speak to an attorney. For more information, visit elderlawguidance.com or call Elder Law Guidance at (859) 544-6012 for our free webinar on estate planning.