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Phoenix Family Law and Estate Planning Law Blog

What events spur people to put an estate plan in place?

Too many people put off developing their estate plan until they're in their senior years. However, many of the people who put some type of estate plan in place in their younger years -- even a simple will -- do so because of an impending life event.

People who are faced with a serious medical diagnosis, like cancer, begin to think about what would happen if they pass away without a will in place. Even if they don't have a dire prognosis, just the scare of a potentially fatal condition can incentivize people to see an estate planning attorney -- particularly if they'll be undergoing one or more surgeries.

How long will your estate's probate last?

If you are putting off making your estate plan, you may be looking for just the right motivation. For many, avoiding the substantial federal estate taxes is a good reason to carefully plan their estate. Others have special circumstances, such as a loved one with disabilities or an estranged child they wish to disinherit.

Even if none of these situations relate to you, planning your estate can offer your loved ones a great gift by helping to limit the complications that often occur during the probate process. Probate is the legal procedure for validating your will, paying your creditors and closing your estate. If you fail to plan carefully, your loved ones may face months or even years of frustration and delay while the courts sort out your estate.

How to limit your co-parent's requests for schedule changes

No matter how carefully considered and detailed your custody and visitation agreement is, there may be times when you or your co-parent need to deviate from it. Usually, when co-parents can't take the kids for their scheduled parenting time, they negotiate a "swap." If a co-parent has to go out of town for business or a family emergency on the weekend the kids are supposed to be with them, for example, they'll ask their co-parent to keep them and promise to take them for a different couple of days.

This can present a number of problems. First, if these schedule changes occur more than on rare occasions, they can wreak havoc on the kids' and the other parent's lives. Second, if your co-parent is constantly requesting swaps, it could be a sign that they're prioritizing other things over their time with their kids. Third, too often, the "swap" never happens. Time passes and one or both parents may forget about it, or the parent who requested it never makes up the time.

Building a strong divorce team

If you've made the decision to divorce (or your spouse has), it's essential to have a strong team of professionals supporting you. This starts with finding the right attorney. Don't just Google family law attorneys in your area. Talk to people you know who have fairly recently divorced to get some recommendations.

Consult with more than one attorney before hiring one. Good attorneys will typically charge a fee for a consultation. However, it's worth it to find one with whom you feel comfortable. You need an attorney with whom you can be honest. Honesty is essential in the attorney-client relationship. There are always things that people don't like to admit about their marriage, their spouse or themselves. However, you can't hide things from your attorney if you want them to effectively represent you.

What is 'right of first refusal?'

As you and your spouse are working out your custody agreement, you might want to include something called the "right of first refusal." This means that if you or your spouse is not going to be able to care for your children during a time when you have custody of them, you must contact your co-parent to give them the opportunity to do so before you ask a family member, babysitter or someone else to do so. This can include after-school situations where you won't be available to pick up the kids and take them home, an evening out or an unexpected business trip.

A right of first refusal clause can help both parents maximize their time with their children. It can also minimize the time that kids are left with babysitters, neighbors, extended family members or their parents' new significant others. It helps both parents exert control over who is caring for their children when their co-parent isn't.

Maintaining peace with your co-parent at your child's wedding

Whether your child is planning to get married around Valentine's Day or has scheduled a summer wedding, if you're a divorced parent, you may be dreading the prospect of dealing with your co-parent. You likely will be together not just on the big day but at events leading up to the wedding. Whether you've been divorced for years or the break-up is recent, big celebrations can be awkward.

The crucial thing -- as always -- is to focus on what's best for your child. That means not giving them any reason to worry that their parents' conflicts will mar their joy. This may be easier said than done -- particularly if your ex shows up at the wedding with their new significant other. However, if you keep a few things in mind, you can do it.

What should you do if your co-parent criticizes you to your kids?

All the books and articles about healthy co-parenting after divorce you've been reading tell you not to criticize or speak ill of your co-parent in front of your kids. Don't call them names, don't blame them when things don't go the way you'd hoped and don't lie about them.

When parents badmouth each other to or in front of their kids, it can cause the kids serious emotional distress at a time when they're already emotionally vulnerable. The same is true if they're hearing criticism of a parent by others in the family, like grandparents, aunts or uncles. They may feel like they need to defend that parent, but they don't want to take sides.

Not everyone leaves their wealth to their children

This is the year that you finally sit down with an attorney and develop your estate plan. You've worked hard your entire adult life and have a fair amount to show for it. Should you leave your assets to your children and grandchildren when you die or to charitable organizations whose work you support?

There's no right answer. However, the practice of leaving everything to family is no longer as common as it used to be. In a survey of baby boomers by the Insured Retirement Institute, less than half (46 percent) said that leaving money to loved ones was important. That's down from two-thirds of people who believed that in the past.

Meeting your co-parent halfway for custody exchanges

If you and your co-parent are living some distance apart, whether 20 miles or hundreds of miles, neither of you may want to make that drive when you trade off custody of the kids. Fortunately, there's an app for that. Actually, there are multiple sites to help people find locations that are halfway between two places. A popular one for co-parents is Meetways.

The site and app don't just list rest stops or gas stations along the interstate that are at your halfway point. You can find restaurants, coffee shops, shopping centers, amusement parks, hotels and more. This can make your exchanges much more pleasant for everyone involved -- most importantly, for your children.

Taxes are not the only issues your estate plan should address

For many who decide to create an estate plan, their objective is to avoid the heavy burden of estate taxes. To this end, they may create trusts for their assets or find ways to protect their business from the federal estate tax, which can be significant for those whose estates qualify. However, if you are concerned about factors that may siphon money from your heirs, you may want to consider your heirs themselves.

Over 40 percent of estate planning professionals reveal that the biggest drain on an estate is not taxes but conflicts among heirs. While some cite the changes in family dynamics over recent generations, others offer some sound advice for people like you who want every advantage for meeting your estate planning goals.

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