#FamilyFriday – Custody Rights Without a Court Order: Common Misconceptions

What many people don’t know is that in the absence of a court order both parents have an equal right to legal custody and physical custody of their minor child. 

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By: Valerie E. Anias, Esq.

You and the other parent have a child together.  You separate or break up but never file any court action.  What are your rights? What about the other parent?  What many people don’t know is that in the absence of a court order both parents have an equal right to legal custody and physical custody of their minor child.  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC want to help clear up some common misconceptions.

MISCONCEPTION #1:  The children always stay with mom.  While this is the most common situation and arrangement, this is certainly not the “only” arrangement.  Fathers have a 100% equal right to be the primary custodial parent just like mothers.

MISCONCEPTION #2:  Fathers have less rights.  Not true.  Fathers and mothers have equal rights with regard to their children.  Both relationships are important.

MISCONCEPTION #3:  We share expenses.  I don’t have to pay child support.  Just because you and the other parent can amicably split the child’s daycare costs, for example, does not negate the award of child support.  You and the other parent may have an agreement that works but if that agreement doesn’t work and if a parent decided to file an action for child support it is likely that child support would be ordered.

MISCONCEPTION #4:  Visitation means “every other weekend.”  Not necessarily.  Especially so if you don’t have school aged children.  More often we are seeing alternative schedules providing both parents with nearly equal time.  Living separate does not necessarily mean you spend less or more time with your child than the other parent.

MISCONCEPTION #5:  We get along great!  We don’t need a written agreement or Court Order.  Perhaps you and the other parent do work well together.  But what happens if that stops?  The purpose of a Court Order or an agreement, is to settle disputes that have occurred and to prevent future disputes from arising.  You and the other parent may get along now but what if there’s a dispute later about where to send the child to school?  How to pay for extracurriculars?  How to have an access schedule when one parent lives 50 miles away?  Having a written agreement or Court Order can prevent some of these issues from ruining the amicable arrangement you have now.

Call ERA Law Group, LLC attorney Valerie Anias, Esq. at (410) 919-1790 and ask about our fixed fee Separation Agreements, Parenting Plans, and FREE 30 MINUTE CONSULTATION!

#TuesdayTips: DIY Estate Documents Gone Wrong

Estate planning can be a very complicated area of the law.  Before going online to print off your documents, ask yourself, if I needed open heart surgery, would I go to WebMD to get the “how-to” instructions?  Not likely, so why go online to get the how-to instructions to complete your own estate documents? 

Did you create your own documents?

Why pay a lawyer when I can get my estate documents online for free (or at least at a lesser cost than a lawyer)?  Every estate planning attorney has fielded that question at some point or another.  My response is usually: “I love online documents…because it usually means I’ll have more work that makes more money in the future.”  After I say that, I typically get a grin across the client’s face and then they ask “why”?

Using online documents to accomplish your estate planning goals is not generally a good idea and in many cases can lead to severe consequences.  Have you ever heard the saying, “you get what you pay for”?  When you get your documents online, you don’t have the opportunity to talk to an attorney, to ask questions about your specific situation unique to only you or your family, and your documents will not be tailored to your specific circumstances.

Prior to your documents being drafted, you meet with an attorney to discuss your estate planning goals and objectives at the consultation.  My estate planning consultations usually last at least an hour if not an hour and a half.  During the consultation, we review your health status, family status and financial status all before we even mention the words “will” or “power of attorney” or “trust.”  You also have the opportunity to ask questions and receive specific answers related to your situation.  When you get your documents online, they are almost  never tailored to your specific situation.

What happens if you are a blended family?  I can almost guarantee you that the basic online Will does not address how to provide for your spouse and your biological children if you were to die first.  Many estate litigation cases arise from blended family situations where the surviving step parent does a new will after the spouse dies cutting out the spouse’s biological children from any inheritance.

What about your million-dollar IRA?  Who does that go to?  Many clients think the Will directs who gets that money.  WRONG!!  If you have beneficiaries on that IRA, then the beneficiaries listed on the IRA account receive the money and the beneficiaries named in the Will get none of it!  So many people believe the Will controls everything, and unfortunately, if you get your documents online, you will not be educated on what happens to each asset that comprises your estate.

What if you own property in multiple states?  Chances are you were not advised by the online website that you will have to likely do probate in each state you own property.  To avoid this common situation, often times estate planning attorneys will employ trusts so that ownership of those properties are consolidated into the Trust.  That way, upon the death of the owner, the Trustee can sell the properties and does not have to go through the probate/ancillary probate process in each state the Decedent owned property.

Estate planning can be a very complicated area of the law.  Before going online to print off your documents, ask yourself, if I needed open heart surgery, would I go to WebMD to get the “how-to” instructions?  Not likely, so why go online to get the how-to instructions to complete your own estate documents?  Instead, call ERA Law Group, LLC at (410) 919-1790 today!

#FamilyFriday – Parenting Plans

You’ve heard it, we’ve written about it, and everyone knows it – divorce can get ugly and children are often the first to suffer.  Parenting Plans encourage parents to focus on the needs of their children.

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to discuss the importance of Parenting Plans.  You’ve heard it, we’ve written about it, and everyone knows it – divorce can get ugly and children are often the first to suffer.  Parenting Plans encourage parents to focus on the needs of their children, how best to co-parent, and how to anticipate and/or address the various changes in their lives at the time of its creation and in the future.

Frequently parties obtain their divorce, receive their Judgment of Absolute Divorce, and some form of an access schedule, holiday schedule, and child support.  What happens when this changes?  What about claiming the children on your taxes?  What about switching schools?  Sports?  Doctors?  The Judgment of Absolute Divorce is frequently silent on many of these issues which results in continuous litigation.  A well-drafted Parenting Plan can resolve many, if not all, of these issues.  More importantly, it allows parents to come together as parents – not as spouses.  They may no longer be spouses but they will always be parents.

Attorneys and mediators can help you and your family create a Parenting Plan that best suits your family dynamic and situation.  Additionally, attorneys and mediators often know what questions to ask, problems to prepare for, things to consider that many parents in the moment don’t think about.  Most importantly, settling the disputes between the spouses when it comes to them as parents also make the divorce process less painful for children.  Their parents may not be married but their family will have consistency and a plan in place.

Call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 and ask about our mediation and parenting plan services!

#TuesdayTips: Financial Powers of Attorney – To Be or Not to Be?

The purpose of most powers of attorney is to authorize your named agent to act on your behalf when you are incompetent or unable to make decisions yourself.  So, if your plan is to wait until you need the power of attorney before talking to your named agent, likely, it is too late.   

That is a valid question.  One that is not pondered enough and often results in a family member being thrown into a position of great responsibility without any direction or idea how they are to act or what they are to do.  In fact, most people sign power of attorney documents naming someone, but then never tell them or have a conversation with that person about what will be expected of them.

Instead, they leave the attorney’s office feeling relieved that they have a plan in place in the event something happens to them, and as soon as they get home, shove those documents into a filing cabinet, drawer or safe (not even telling anyone where they are located), knowing that when the time comes, they will let the named individual know.  Except, the purpose of most powers of attorney is to authorize your named agent to act on your behalf when you are incompetent or unable to make decisions yourself.  So, if your plan is to wait until you need the power of attorney before talking to your named agent, likely, it is too late.

The conversation needs to happen before naming anyone as your power of attorney so you can pick the right individual for the job (and it is a job, make no mistake).  Generally, a financial power of attorney authorizes your agent to manage your finances, and specifically itemizes everything your agent is allowed to do on your behalf.  However, a power of attorney does not list your assets or provide instructions regarding how those assets should be managed.  Only you know that.

 

Thus, it is imperative that you let your agent know about every asset you own – real estate, personal property, bank accounts, mutual funds, stocks, bonds, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, trusts, etc.  Where the assets are located, what company or institution holds them, how they are titled, and their values also should be disclosed to your agent.  Your agent should also know your sources of income and when you receive your income so they can pay bills accordingly.

Additionally, you should tell your agent what your wishes are in the event you require long-term care.  Do you want your assets used to keep you at home, or would you want them preserved for your beneficiaries?  Either way, your agent will be in charge and if assets need to be liquidated, are there certain assets that he or she should liquidate first?  These and many more decisions should be made and discussed with your power of attorney.

Being a financial power of attorney requires a lot of organization, work and time.  It is a commitment that cannot be taken too lightly.  You should choose a power of attorney that is trustworthy and has the time available to devote to managing your assets.  And please, make sure your power of attorney knows what you have and what you want done with it.  Call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790!

 

#TuesdayTips: The “Simple” Will

All too often will-seeking clients call the firm asking if we do “simple” wills, say they need a will, but don’t want one of those “long wills”, or claim to not have anything, so they just need a “basic” will.  On this week’s #TuesdayTips article, ERA Law Group, LLC discusses how having a properly drafted will can mitigate many of these foreseen and unforeseen problems.

All too often will-seeking clients call the firm asking if we do “simple” wills, say they need a will, but don’t want one of those “long wills”, or claim to not have anything, so they just need a “basic” will.   Most law firms will respond to the client, “Yes! We can do that!”  But there are pitfalls that can arise, some foreseen and some unforeseen, when a person only has a “simple” will, and the client does not even know these potential pitfalls exist.  On this week’s #TuesdayTips article, ERA Law Group, LLC discusses how having a properly drafted will can mitigate many of these foreseen and unforeseen problems.

Two common scenarios arise when people have a “simple” will that case issues: (1) Age issues, and (2) Disability issues.  The first scenario, age, has two parts: (a) what happens if someone who is under eighteen (18) years old is set to inherit money or property from the decedent; and (2) what if someone who is over eighteen (18) years old is set to inherit money or property, but is irresponsible to handle a substantial inheritance?

In Maryland, a person under eighteen cannot inherit money or property and hold legal title to that property in their own name.  Someone else over eighteen must hold title to that property, for the minor’s benefit, until the minor attains eighteen years old.  Often times, though, the Testator or Testatrix (man/woman who creates the will) might not think that a person at eighteen is mature enough to handle inheriting money or property; therefore, in a properly drafted under-stated age trust (a.k.a. a minor’s trust) set up in a will, he/she can set the minimum age to inherit to an age he/she feels is more appropriate.  Often, a Testator or Testatrix will choose somewhere between age 23 and 25 because the person inheriting has completed college, grad school, a trade school and/or has been working for a reasonable amount of time and a can hopefully manage an inheritance of money, property or both.  Therefore, it is advantageous for your will to contain an under-stated age subtrust that directs how a minor’s or individual’s inheritance who is under a stated age will be held and managed.  Last, this subtrust can avoid the requirement of court intervention if a minor is set to receive an inheritance and no provisions are made outlining how to handle a minor receiving an inheritance.

The next scenario is: what happens if a person who is incompetent or disabled is set to receive an inheritance?  It is possible that when a person dies, he or she has designated an individual who is incompetent or disabled to receive all or a portion of their estate.  If that happens, it can have dire consequences for the beneficiary.  For example, what happens if the child of a decedent has a severe cognitive disability (i.e., severe autism or severe Downs Syndrome) and is receiving SSI and Medicaid because he is unable to work. If the parent does not do proper planning, that disabled child may inherit a substantial sum of money causing that child to lose his SSI and Medicaid benefits.

Or this other scenario: a husband is in a nursing home on Medicaid because of severe dementia, but the wife still living in the community suffers a massive heart attack and dies.  Now the husband in the nursing home may be designated in the wife’s will to receive all of her estate.  Now the husband in the nursing facility might lose his Medicaid benefits because he now inherited a house that needs to be sold.  Remember, the husband has severe dementia, cannot sell the house himself, and does not have a power of attorney.  Now a guardianship issue has presented itself in addition to him losing his Medicaid benefits because he now has excess assets.

All of the problems caused in scenario two can be avoided if the decedent’s will has a properly drafted Incompetent or Disabled Beneficiary Trust.

At ERA Law Group, LLC, we advise our clients of these potential pitfalls, even when the client wants to do “basic” planning.  Unfortunately, if not properly counseled, “basic” planning can cause very complex issues later after someone dies.  At that point, it may be too late to cure the issues.  That is why ERA’s “basic” or “simple” will includes both of these subtrusts…we don’t want our clients to be left stranded if these difficult and “unforeseen” scenarios come up later.  Call us today at (410) 919-1790!