Protect Your Children: Get a Will!

While many of us may believe that estate planning is only for the rich or the elderly, you should know that this process is essential if you have children. At Peace Talks Mediation, not only do we help you with divorce mediation, but we also recommend how you can protect your most precious “possessions” your children. As we advocated in our previous blog, “If You Have Children, You Should Get a Trust!”, we now recommend you to get a will too. These two estate planning vehicles, a trust and a will, work together to protect and provide for your children in the event that you come to an untimely demise. Peace Talks Mediation encourages you to do the responsible thing: Get a Will!

Making a will is essential for people with young children because a will is the best way to transfer guardianship of minors. This means that you decide who you wish to raise your children if you are unable to do so, not a probate judge. Once you draw up a will with your estate-planning advisor, you may amend your will at any time. In fact Peace Talks thinks it’s a good idea to review it periodically. This is especially true if your marital status changes which can be peacefully and sanely accomplished through divorce mediation at Peace Talks.

As previously mentioned, a will is usually done at the same time that you create a trust. A trust is a legal mechanism that lets you put conditions on how your assets are distributed after you die, and it often lets you minimize gift and estate taxes. A will is still necessary because most trusts deal only with specific assets such as life insurance or a piece of property, but not the sum total of your holdings, for example distributing your jewelry or family artifacts. Additionally, the most valuable things that you leave for your children may not have any monetary value. These are the traditions and life lessons that define you as part of your own unique family. Peace Talks suggests the use of Ethical Wills, which are non-binding documents that allow you to pass on these intangible treasures to your loved ones.

Peace Talks wants to share some additional tips with you. You may prefer not to keep your original will in your safe-deposit box because some states will seal your box when you die and not allow it to be opened until the estate has been settled. Clearly, settling your estate is much easier with the original will being available. We suggest that you keep a copy of your will in your safe-deposit box, but give the original to your lawyer or place it in a fireproof box at your home or in your office. With the invention of the cloud, you are even able to scan all your important financial paperwork and keep a virtual copy of this material within a secure web site. It’s also essential to share the location of your trust and will as well as access to these documents with close family members, so that in the event of an emergency they will be able to obtain this vital information. Here at the California Peace Talks Office, we know that there is a potential for a disastrous earthquake. If all your estate documents were destroyed, a virtual copy of everything would be helpful to have.

Keep in mind that no one knows and loves your children like you do. By doing the type of estateplanning that Peace Talks has described, you are in control of making the decisions that are in the best interests of your children, especially appointing a guardian for them. And Peace Talks divorce mediation believes, isn’t that the way it should be? So get a will! Please give us a call to explore our mediation services at (310) 301-2100.

Getting A Trust For The Sake of the Kids

If You Have Children, You Should Get a Trust!

For most of us, our children are our most precious “possessions”. At Peace Talks Mediation, we feel the exact same way and we make their well being the focus of our divorce mediation. However, while we may believe that we place our children’s interests as our highest priority, many of us have not taken the necessary steps to protect and provide for them in the event that we come to an untimely demise. Often we procrastinate believing that estate planning is only for the rich or the elderly. Or perhaps, we wishfully think that our extended family will jump in and take care of our children in case we die. At Peace Talks mediation, we encourage you to do the responsible thing: Get a Trust!

Financial planning is an essential part of protecting your children and creating a family trust is an excellent vehicle to accomplish this.A trust, which is a formal legal document,achieves many important things: It manages your money, and distributes it for you upon your death. It puts conditions on how and when your assets are distributed after you die; it can also reduce your estate and gift taxes. It enables your assets to be distributed efficiently without the cost, delay, and publicity of the probate court. It may also insulate your assets from creditors and lawsuits. Additionally, you are able to name a successor trustee who will manage your trust after you die, and is also empowered to do so if you become disabled. At Peace Talks’ divorce mediation, our financial experts can explain this process in detail to you.

This is the key fact: the truth is that all parents of young children, regardless of their net worth, need comprehensive estate planning. The reason is that if you don’t have an estate plan, you forfeit the opportunity to make many important decisions that you are in the best position to make. In Peace Talks’ opinion, this is the primary reason:You are able to choose a guardian for your minor children. If your children lost both you and your spouse in a tragic accident, would you trust a complete stranger to choose a guardian for them? We at Peace Talks mediation don’t believe you would. But that’s exactly what can happen if you don’t take the time to designate a guardian for your minor children. If you die intestate (without a will or trust), without having designated a guardian, you leave that important decision in the hands of a judge who doesn’t know you or your children. Peace Talks believes that would be a big mistake.

Next, you are able to choose the person who will manage the assets that you will leave for you children.With a trust in place, you can have some say in how your children’s money is spent. Setting up a trust for your children allows you to delay when they get control of assets you leave behind, or even stagger the distribution over a number of years. Otherwise, your children could receive their share of assets at 18 years of age, when they might not have the maturity to manage it.

Without a trust, you leave the decision making to a judge who doesn’t know anything about your financial values and will be required to appoint a guardian of your estate to oversee its management. As we urge at Peace Talks divorce mediation, all this can be avoided by proper advance estate planning. Remember these are important issues for your family. Since trusts are flexible, varied and complex with each type having its advantages and disadvantages, you should discuss your desires and goals thoroughly with your estate-planning attorney before setting one up.

Call us at Peace Talks divorce mediation for further information. (310) 301-2100.

The Very Real Danger of Divorce

http://huffingtonpost.com/diana-mercer

If you’ve watched more than one episode of Dateline, you know that almost all one-on-one, non-gang related shootings are family members shooting other family members.

I know what you’re thinking. You think I’m being dramatic.  I’m not.  We only hurt the ones we love, and sometimes that includes firearms. Particularly during a divorce or separation, or custody battle.

divorce stress

On October 12, 2011, a gunman wearing body armor went into a beauty salon in sleepy Dana Point, California, and shot 8 people.   According to Wikipedia, the suspected shooter was involved in a contested custody battle with his former wife, who worked at the salon.

On October 21, 2011, “a mother in suburban Dallas fatally shot her 7-year-old son and then killed herself… as police waited outside with her estranged husband, who was there to pick up the child after receiving court-ordered custody…. The father had been given sole custody of the boy after an acrimonious and drawn-out divorce.”

December 24, 2008, a man dressed as Santa Claus went to his former in-laws’ home and killed 9 people, including his former wife (they’d been divorced 6 days before) at a Christmas party. He had no record and no history of violence. [I just Googled “Santa Claus shooting” and multiple entries for multiple cities showed up.]

A week before his divorce trial was set to begin, on October 18, 2011, “Samuel Friedlander, by appearances a successful lawyer [in Westchester, New York]… killed his wife and children before shooting himself…. As the trial grew closer, acquaintances told investigators, Mr. Friedlander’s behavior became erratic…. Michael Borg, 47, who went to law school with Mr. Friedlander, said his friend had complained that his wife was controlling and emotionally abusive. ‘He was depressed,’ Mr. Borg said. ‘He was beaten, and his big fear was that she was going to take the kids away.'”

If you don’t get upset about family problems, it seems to me that you don’t get upset.

It’s not a mystery why most courthouse shootings are in family court, not criminal court.

When you’re talking about a divorce, you’re talking about everything that means anything at all in the world to you:  your children, your future, your home, your dreams for your marriage, what you thought you believed about love.

The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s “I don’t care.”  And the intimate partner violence statistics support that statement very vividly.

But getting to the “I don’t care” stage in a divorce is often a long time coming.  Some people never move through the 5 stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance to a point where they get to “I don’t care.”  For some, the divorce simply consumes their lives and prevents them from moving productively into the future.   For others, it results in tragedy with much higher stakes.

And the upset and despair that one feels while getting divorced transcends all socio-economic bounds. We suffer alike. No amount of money can soothe the wounds.  The death of a dream of a life together as a happy couple and family hurts us all to the core.

I became a divorce mediator and quit my litigation practice when I saw the death and destruction that litigated divorces caused. And I’m not exaggerating.  I had a custody battle client who killed herself, and client’s estranged wife who attempted suicide after I got a winning Judgment against her in a divorce matter.  If half of the US married population goes through a divorce, I knew there had to be a better way.

They don’t give you a mental exam before you get married (although plenty of people wonder what they were thinking after the ceremony).  We can’t predict how people will react when the going gets tough.  <strong>But we can take better care of ourselves</strong> in a divorce situation. 

We can understand that:

  •  A divorce is not the end of the world
  • A divorce is not a commentary on our character
  • Sometimes marriages just don’t work out, and it’s nobody’s fault
  • You can celebrate the good times in your marriage and remember it was not always a tense battlefield
  • You can focus on your children and their wellbeing
  • You can treat the other person with respect and kindness, even if they don’t deserve it at the moment
  • You can stop blame, shame and guilt, and just move on from here

 And to stay out of legal trouble, you can:

  • Get mental health counseling when you need support
  • Ask for help from sensible friends, family members, and professionals
  • Take a co-parenting class or see a co-parenting counselor or coach if you’re struggling with the adjustment from between being co-parents and marital partners
  • Use a Divorce Mission Statement to stay on the right path
  • Mediate your divorce instead of litigate
  • Work with a collaborative divorce team to resolve issues if mediation doesn’t world
  • Ask for help when you need it

Although the mass murder example is extreme, it’s all too common.  We don’t need to suffer like this, and we don’t need to do this to each other.

 

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Diana Mercer is an Attorney-Mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, . She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010), Your Divorce Advisor:  A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) and 8 Simple Keys to Building and Growing Your Mediation or Arbitration Practice (Peace Talks Press 2011).  Diana also writes for the Huffington Post as well as her own blog Making Divorce Work.