Marietta Estate Planning in the Comfort of Your Home

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Name changes in Georgia are fairly straightforward (usually). Currently, I’m working on a e-book entitled “How to Change Your Name in Georgia without an Attorney (It’s Easier than you Think!)”. It will be published by Amazon, and I’ll put a link to it on my website once it’s been published.

In the meantime, if you need to change your name in Georgia and want the assistance of an attorney, give me a call. I do name changes in the following counties: Cobb, Cherokee, Fulton, Paulding, Bartow and Douglas.

The fee for a name change is $350, in addition to court filing fees and the fee for publication of a notice in the newspaper. The fee includes:

– A phone consultation with me about your name change;

– Name change documents;

– I file the documents for you;

– I will publish the notice with the correct newspaper; and

– I will accompany you to the court hearing on your name change.

If you have any questions, please contact Sarah White, Georgia name change attorney, at 678-453-6490 today to learn more.

I frequently run across clients whose special needs kids have custodial accounts in their names. The parent, a grandparent, or another individual, who had great intentions, thought the money would help the child later in life. In some cases, the child may have developed the special needs after the account was set up.

Although the person who set up the account had great intentions, this is almost always a problem. When a special needs child applies for Medicaid and SSI, there are strict requirements they must meet as far as assets. Generally, they cannot have more than $2,000 in countable assets. Once a person turns 18, typically he or she legally has access to any money in a custodial account, and therefore it is considered an asset of the individual for whom the account was set up. Therefore, if the money in the account causes the individual to have over $2,000 in countable assets, the individual will lose eligibility for SSI and Medicaid until the money is spent.

If you wish to give money to a special needs child, there are better ways to do it than a custodial account. It may be wise to talk with a special needs estate planning attorney to discuss your options, such as a special needs trust. If you are in the Marietta area, including Woodstock, Acworth, Kennesaw, Canton, Jasper, and the surrounding areas, call Sarah White at 678-453-6490. I frequently work with families who have children with special needs, and I am happy to discuss your case with you. Call today to learn more.

This is a question I get all the time. Parents are often concerned about who they should name as Executor of their estate, and whether or not one child’s feelings would get hurt if he or she was not named as Executor.

There is no hard and fast rule to whether or not children should be named as Co-Executors. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that Co-Executors work TOGETHER. It’s not an either/or situation. They both have to sign off on all matters relating to the estate. If your children do not work well together, do not name them as Executors expecting that this experience will draw them closer – it will not. If you have a large number of children, and you name them all as Co-Executors, you are creating a logistical nightmare.

It’s best to choose a person who is trustworthy, level-headed, and detail-oriented to serve as your Executor. If you have more than one child who meets this description, and you feel that they would work well together and benefit from having more than one Executor, naming Co-Executors is not a bad idea. If you have a large number of children and/or children who do not get along well, naming them as Co-Executors is not a good idea.

After you decide who you want to serve as Executor, it’s best to ask him/her if they are willing while you are alive. Once that decision has been made, you should consider letting your other children know as well, and let them know why they were not chosen. This can help to avoid hard feelings after your death – you probably know families who have been torn apart after a death because of hard feelings or a simple misunderstanding.

If you have any questions about who you should name as Executor, call me, Sarah White, at 678-453-6490. I work extensively with families on these issues, and I can help you sort through your situation.

Many of my clients have parents whose health is starting to falter. They may be unable to make decisions for themselves about their health, safety, or finances. However, in some cases the parents are reluctant to give up any control over their assets and don’t want anyone else to be able to make decisions for them.

I usually recommend that if possible, elderly individuals execute a power of attorney and a Georgia Advance Directive for Healthcare (in addition to a Will). A power of attorney and a healthcare directive will allow a named individual to make decisions about finances and health care in the event the elderly person is unable to do so.

In some cases, the elderly person no longer has the capacity to make good decisions about his or her finances, health, safety or welfare. In other cases, the elderly person might be being taken advantage of by a family member or friend, and doesn’t want anyone else to make decisions for him or her. In those cases, a guardianship or a conservatorship may become necessary.

A guardianship is a legal process in which a person asks the probate court to give him or her control over an adult’s health, safety and welfare. A conservatorship is similar but gives control over finances. Guardianships and conservatorships are often expensive and time-consuming, but in many cases are necessary to protect an individual from either being taken advantage of or from making poor decisions.

If you believe your mother or father or another loved one is in need of a guardianship/conservatorship, call Sarah White, Cobb County guardianship attorney, at 678-453-6490. She will help you walk through the process and will also help determine if any alternatives exist.

In the past couple of months, I’ve had two clients come to me with very similar situations who were looking for some estate planning advice. To simplify, we will combine them into one couple called “John” and “Jane”.

John and Jane had an adult daughter, an adult daughter with special needs, and a minor daughter. If they had not done any estate planning whatsoever, when they both passed away, their estate would be split equally between the three daughters. The minor daughter’s inheritance would be set aside by the court until she was 18, at which time she would get everything – normally not a good idea for an 18 year old. The court would also decide who the guardian for the minor daughter was, rather than being able to choose someone they loved and trusted. Instead of allowing that to happen, they set up a trust in their Wills for their minor daughter, so that a trusted family member could manage her inheritance until she reached an age that they determined, rather than age 18. They also nominated guardians for her in their Wills.

Also, if they had no done any estate planning, their special needs daughter would inherit her portion directly, which would disqualify her from any governmental benefits she was receiving, including SSI and Medicaid, until the inheritance was gone, at which point she could again qualify for those benefits. Instead of allowing that to happen, we set up a special needs trust for this daughter. By setting up a special needs trust, she could continue to receive SSI and Medicaid as well as keeping the inheritance, which could be used to pay for any extra needs that she had that wouldn’t be covered by SSI, Medicaid, or another government program.

If you need assistance with creating an estate plan for your family that will help you accomplish your goals, call me, Sarah White, Cobb County estate planning attorney. I can help you with setting up Wills, trusts, powers of attorney, healthcare directives, and more. Call me today at 678-453-6490.

I often get asked about what happens to a spouse’s debts when they pass away. The answer is always “it depends”. It depends on what types of debts are involved and how assets are owned. When a person passes away, if that person has debt that is in his or her name only, the creditor can make a claim against the estate.

Normally, assets that are owned jointly go automatically to the surviving spouse and don’t pass through the estate. For example, if John and Sue jointly owned a house and that was their only asset, and John died with $5,000 in credit card debt in his name only, the credit card company is out of luck. The house passes automatically to Sue in most cases, and there are no assets against which the credit card company can make a claim.

Any assets that have a beneficiary form (like life insurance or 401k’s) pass automatically to whomever is named on the forms, and creditors can’t make a claim against those assets. For example, if Jim owed $10,000 in medical expenses when he passed away, and his only asset when he passed away was a life insurance policy of $100,000 he left to Sally, the medical provider can’t come after the life insurance. That money is protected from the claims of creditors. If he left the policy payable to his estate, the medical providers could make a claim against that money.

Any debts that are secured by an asset (like a mortgage or a car loan) don’t go away – they go with the asset to the person who inherits the property. Holders of unsecured debts, like credit cards or student loans, can go after any property left in the estate, but in many cases that isn’t much.

Debts and estate planning can be confusing. If you have any questions about debts and an estate, call me, Sarah White, north Georgia estate planning attorney, at 678-453-6490 or email me at Sarah@lawyersarah.com. I will be happy to provide you with a free consultation.

If you have life insurance, you’ve probably purchased it with the idea that it will go to support your family after you pass away, not to pay your debts. I have some good news for you – in most cases, the life insurance will pass to your family members and will not be subject to the claims of creditors.

Typically, if you make life insurance proceeds payable to your spouse or your children, that money passes outside of your estate directly to your spouse or your children. Since it doesn’t become a part of your estate, it doesn’t become subject to the claims of creditors. Although many of my clients are debt free and aren’t worried about creditors, it’s possible that some creditors could surface after your death. For instance, if you died in a car wreck that was your fault and injured others, the other injured parties could make a claim against your estate, and any assets in your estate would be subject to the claims of creditors.

For those reasons, I usually recommend that my clients make their life insurance proceeds payable directly to an individual, or a trust for the benefit of their children. If they do that, the money will pass directly to their loved ones. It’s always a good idea to keep those beneficiary forms up to date, so I recommend that my clients update those forms as a part of the estate planning process.

Do you have any questions about life insurance proceeds and debts in Georgia? Call Sarah White, Marietta wills attorney, at 678-453-6490. I’ll be happy to provide you with a free phone consultation.

This is a question I get a lot. Many, many clients express to me that they were motivated to get their Wills done because they were afraid if they passed away without a Will “the state would get their money”.

However, that’s not really what happens. There are a couple of issues at play: (1) Who gets your money if you pass away without a Will in Georgia; and (2) if the state will get your money.

To answer the first issue, if you pass away without a Will in Georgia, where your probate estate passes is determined by Georgia law. Georgia law says that if you die without a Will, your probate estate will be shared among your spouse and children, and if none, then it passes to your parents, and if they aren’t living it will pass to your siblings. Your probate estate includes any property you own in your individual name (and not joint with right of survivorship) and any accounts that do not have a beneficiary form or accounts on which your estate is named as beneficiary. Assets that are owned jointly or have beneficiary forms pass outside the Will. This distribution of assets may sound reasonable, but most married couples wish for their spouse to get everything, and for the assets to pass to the kids upon the spouse’s death.

To answer the second question, no, in most cases the state will not get your money. A couple of cases in which the state could end up with your money is if you owed estate taxes, or if you had no living relatives. If you had a very large estate ($5.25 million if you passed away in 2013), anything over amount that would be taxed and could end up in the hands of the federal and/or state government. You could possibly avoid that by doing some tax planning in your Will. If you died without a Will and had NO living relatives (meaning no parents, siblings, spouse, children, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces or nephews, etc.) your estate could pass to the state (it’s called “escheating” to the state). That would be an unusual situation, but it happens. You could avoid that by doing a Will and naming friends or charities to inherit your property.

If you want to learn more about Wills in Georgia, call Sarah White, Marietta estate planning attorney, at 678-453-6490 or email me at sarah@lawyersarah.com. I will be happy to talk with you for free over the phone. I work with clients in the northern Atlanta suburbs, including Marietta, Woodstock, Kennesaw, Canton, Cartersville, Acworth, Smyrna, and Roswell.

Probably the biggest reason parents of minor children want to do Wills is to name guardians for their children. Every parent wants to have the power to pick who they want to raise their children in case they pass away.

In Georgia, when one parent passes away, guardianship goes to the other parent, even if the other parent doesn’t have custody, and even if the deceased parent named someone else as guardian in his or her Will. When both parents pass away, if the parent named a guardian in a Will, and if that guardian is willing and able to serve, he or she is appointed as guardian without a hearing in most cases.

However, obviously not all parents do Wills naming guardians for their children. In that case, if something happened to both parents, the probate court in the county of residence for the parents would have a guardianship hearing to name guardians for the children. Typically, one family member or friend will file a petition with the probate court to serve as guardian, and anyone who objects or wishes to be named as guardian can file an objection. If a minor is over the age of 14, the court will take the minor’s preferences into consideration when choosing the guardian. If the child doesn’t have a preference, the court will look to a biological relative (typically a parent of the deceased first, followed by a sibling of the deceased), then any other adult relative of the minor, then any other adults who are related to the minor by marriage.

Obviously, it’s best to make your wishes about guardianship of your children known in your Will, rather than by potentially having them raised by someone who wasn’t your first choice, or potentially subjecting them to an emotional court battle. If you’re in north Georgia, including Marietta, Canton, Kennesaw, Woodstock, Acworth, Cartersville, Smyrna, or Roswell, call Sarah White, guardianship attorney, at 678-453-6490. Call me to learn more.

If you are getting older and you are concerned that at some time in the future you won’t be able to manage your affairs, you may be concerned about who will do so. Many people have one person (often a child) who would be their first choice to take over in the event they became incapacitated.

If you have those concerns, there are a couple of actions you should take. First, you should execute two documents. One is a power of attorney, and the other is a Georgia Advance Directive for Healthcare. A power of attorney will allow your children, or whomever you name, to handle your financial affairs in the event you become incapacitated. A Georgia Advance Directive for Healthcare gives whomever you name the power to manage your healthcare decisions in the event you can no longer do so yourself. Those two documents are invaluable in the event you become incapacitated. You may also wish to discuss your wishes with your children about healthcare and finances, as well as to tell them what they need to know should that time ever arise where you can’t handle your affairs.

A lot of my clients ask my advice on whether or not they should add their child or children to their bank account to make paying bills easier. I almost never recommend doing that. If the child were to go through a divorce or bankruptcy, those assets could be seized. If the child decided to go on a gambling trip to Las Vegas, those funds could be used. When the individual passes away, those funds will go automatically to the child, and the child may choose not to share with other children. Instead, a power of attorney could be used that would give the child the same power over the account.

If you do not do any advance planning, and you become incapacitated, your loved ones could be forced to go through a court process to obtain a guardianship or a conservatorship. This process can be lengthy and expensive and may not result in what the elderly person would have wanted.

If you are concerned about your future and you feel that you may need a power of attorney or a healthcare directive, call Sarah White, Marietta wills attorney, at 678-453-6490. I serve clients in Canton, Cartersville, Roswell, Acworth, Woodstock, Kennesaw, Smyrna and the surrounding areas. Call today to learn more.

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