Five Questions Single Parents Should Ask About Their Estate Plans

In many respects, estate planning for single parents of minor children is similar to estate planning for families with two parents. Parents with minor children want to provide for their children’s care and financial needs. But when only one parent is involved, certain aspects of an estate plan demand special attention. If you’re a single parent, here are five questions you should ask:

1. Are my will and other estate planning documents up to date? If you haven’t reviewed your estate plan, including any wills or trusts recently, do so as soon as possible and regularly to ensure that it reflects your current circumstances. You want a court to have to decide how to allocate your assets or determine who should care for children who were not born at the time you initially created your estate plan.

2. Have I selected an appropriate guardian? If the other parent is unavailable to take custody of your children should you become incapacitated or die suddenly, does your estate plan designate a suitable, willing guardian to care for them? Will the guardian need financial assistance to raise and educate your children? If not, you might want to preserve your wealth in a trust until your children are adults.

3. Am I adequately insured? With only one income to depend on, you need to plan carefully to ensure that you can provide for your retirement as well as your children’s financial security. Life insurance can be an effective way to augment your estate. You should also consider disability insurance as an way to address your needs in case of incapacity.

4. What if I become incapacitated? It’s particularly important for you to include in your estate plan an appropriate directive to specify your preferences for the use of life-sustaining medical procedures and to designate someone to make medical decisions on your behalf. You should also have appropriate powers of attorney or other estate documents that provides for the management of your finances during any period when you are unable to do so.

5. Should I establish a trust for my children? Creating a trust can be one of the most effective ways to provide for children regardless of their age. Trust assets are managed by one or more qualified, trusted individuals or corporate trustees, and you specify when and under what circumstances funds should be distributed to your children. A trust can be particularly useful if you have minor children. Without one, your assets may come under the control of your former spouse, the child’s other parent or a court-appointed administrator.

If you’re a single parent, we can help answer your estate planning questions.

SmolenPlevy Attorneys Volunteer in Fairfax Law Foundation’s Heroes vs. Villains 5k

Joshua Isaacs and Julie Swerbinsky volunteered at Fairfax Law Foundation’s Heroes vs. Villains 9th Annual Run for Justice 5k. Participants wore their best superhero or villain costume as they ran to raise money for the Foundation’s Pro Bono Program. It provides legal services for impoverished residents in Fairfax County and law-related education programs for students in the community.

The event, which was held April 23 at the Fairfax Corner Shopping Center, included a kids’ fun run, costume contest, pre-race warm-up and a post-race buffet. There were prizes for the best costumes and top finishers.

Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson on NewsChannel 8: January is the Month for Divorce

January’s divorce filings are 30% more than any other month. SmolenPlevy Principal and family law attorney Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson appeared on News Channel 8’s Good Morning Washington to explain why there is such an increase in divorces at the start of the new year.

Unhappy couples often wait until after the holidays because they don’t want to ruin that time for their children and family members. For some, spending extended time with their spouse confirms their desire to end the marriage. “There’s that post-holiday fatigue, where you are able to endure the holidays only because you know it’s the last time you will have to go through them or have to see your in laws again,” Dickerson tells Good Morning Washington host Larry Smith.

Dickerson provides some important tips to consider if you are planning on filing for a divorce.

  • Gather copies of documents that verify assets, liabilities, income and expenses.
  • Avoid unnecessary litigation expenses by being reasonable. Don’t do anything out of spite like cancel your spouse’s credit cards (without notice) or freeze the only accounts to which they have access.
  • Have realistic expectations. You are now going to support two households on the same income that paid for one. You will have to make some cuts and budget for a divorce.

Debt incurred jointly during the course of a marriage can stay with the couple. Dickerson says, “The credit card company doesn’t care if you’re getting a divorce. So be careful when you sever credit card ties. The last thing you want is your spouse standing in the grocery line, trying to pay for groceries for himself and the children, and realizing he doesn’t have a functioning credit card.”

Watch the full segment of Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson on Good Morning Washington above.

On Air: WTOP Interviews Alan Plevy About Navigating Divorce During the Holidays

Divorce is difficult for children and their parents any time of the year, but the holidays can be particularly challenging. News radio WTOP turns to SmolenPlevy Co-founding Principal Alan Plevy for insights on how divorced or separated parents can reduce tension levels during the season.

Plevy says parents should keep the lines of communication open and try to work out details about times and days the children will spend with each parent.It’s important to put these agreements in writing, either by email or texts, so there are no misunderstandings. Another helpful tip: don’t get into a “can-you-top-this” gift battle. Plevy also suggests parents create new holiday traditions, such as volunteering at a homeless shelter, going ice skating or making reservations at one of their favorite restaurants. And finally, Plevy says pay special attention to how you, family members, and friends talk publicly about the other parent.

Plevy explains that “It’s really a holiday for the children, so we want to eliminate as much stress as possible for the children.”

Listen to Plevy on WTOP Radio below:

 

The Huffington Post: Tips to Survive the Holidays for Divorced Parents

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As seen on The Huffington Post by Alan Plevy and Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson.

Divorce is difficult for children and their parents at any time of the year, but it can be particularly challenging during the holidays. There are a number of issues that can arise, including:

  • coordinating when and where the children are supposed to be,
  • the gift giving tug-of-war, where the parents try to outdo each other by giving the most expensive present, or try to make life difficult for the other parent by giving particularly annoying gifts, and
  • the termination or modification of established family holiday traditions.

The uncertainty and stress of being in a separated family or a divorced family can cause disagreements to quickly escalate into arguments, making this an overwhelming and stressful period for both parents and children. However, there are some things that you can do as a parent to make things easier during the holiday season.

Put your children first: Holidays when the parents aren’t together can be difficult for children, especially right after the initial separation. There is often a mixture of negative emotions: sadness, anger and disappointment. Make sure you listen to your children’s concerns and let them know that it is okay to have this mixture of emotions. Don’t forget that the holidays are supposed to be a fun, festive time for your children, so consider how constant tension and repeated arguments will impact them and try to lessen their exposure.

Plan ahead: To avoid confusion, uncertainty and arguments, parents need to create a logistical plan ahead of time that specifies when and where the children will be. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until the last minute to decide where the children will be and for how long the children will be with which parent. Make sure you confirm plans in writing, whether via email or otherwise so that both parents have a record of your agreements. Having written plans helps avoid misunderstandings. Also, don’t forget to keep your children updated on where they will go and when. It helps alleviate anxiety for children when they know that together their parents have come up with a plan for them during the holidays.

Avoid a gifting competition: Unfortunately, parents, particularly newly separated parents, can get into a gift giving war. It is not uncommon for one parent to give gifts that they know the children want without consulting the other parent or knowing that the other parent explicitly disagrees with the gift. This includes electronics like iPhones and iPads that one parent thinks is not age appropriate for the child. In other circumstances, parents try to compensate for any stress and anxiety children may be feeling as a result of the recent separation of the family by showering them with presents, well in excess of what they would have otherwise given if the family were intact. The best gift for your children is to avoid these competitions, because they not only cause strain between the parents, but also cause anxiety to the children. While the child might be initially thrilled to receive a pet, if they can’t take that pet to the other parent’s house then the gift ultimately causes them to feel stress, anxiety and disappointment. Sometimes, the gifts cause children to feel like a pawn in their parents’ battle – this is especially true for electronics, where one parent uses the child and the electronic device to “spy” on the other parent’s home. If it is at all possible, coordinate with the other parent so that the gifts are given from the parents jointly – despite the parents living in different households – this will give the children a sense of comfort that is a gift beyond a typical present.

Create new traditions: The holidays are usually a time for family traditions, but for divorced or recently separated parents, it might be time to start new ones. Holiday traditions can make the season special for children and establishing traditions where they focus on the needs of those less fortunate than themselves can ease the disappointment and anxiety that accompanies the breakup of their family. Also, creating new traditions gives the children something to look forward to in the years to come, and eases the loss of other established traditions.

Give yourself a gift: It is common for a divorced or newly separated parent to feel sad, alone and stressed during the holidays. Occasionally, because of the established visitation schedule, a parent might find themselves having more free time than in previous years or not having their child with them on the day of the holiday. While the children are learning to adapt to the established structure, you should as well. Therefore, use this time to do something special or to create a new tradition for yourself. By taking action to alleviate stress, you will give yourself the time to recharge and be at your best during the time that you have your children for the holidays.

 

Northern Virginia Magazine Recognizes SmolenPlevy Attorneys as ‘Top Lawyers’

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Northern Virginia Magazine names SmolenPlevy principals Jason Smolen, Alan Plevy, Daniel Ruttenberg and Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson to its ‘Top Lawyers’ list for 2016. Nominated by their peers, the award recognizes SmolenPlevy for its excellence in the areas of family law, business organization, and trusts and estates.

Smolen, Plevy, Ruttenberg and Dickerson have previously been named ‘Top Lawyers’ by Northern Virginia Magazine in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

SmolenPlevy Named to 2017 “Best Law Firms”

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SmolenPlevy is honored to announce the firm’s inclusion in the 2017 “Best Law Firms” list, published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers. SmolenPlevy is recognized for its outstanding work in the areas of family law, business organizations, and trusts and estates. Firms included in “Best Law Firms” are honored for professional excellence with persistently impressive ratings from clients and peers.

The “Best Law Firms” ranking complements the 2017 edition of “The Best Lawyers in America,” where Jason Smolen, Alan Plevy and Daniel Ruttenberg are recognized. Jason Smolen is honored as Best Lawyers® 2017 Business Organizations “Lawyer of the Year” for Washington, D.C., and Alan Plevy and Dan Ruttenberg are named in the Best Lawyers® 2017.

The U.S. News & World Report – Best Lawyers 2017 Best Law Firms rankings are based on an evaluation process that includes the collection of client and lawyer evaluations, peer review from attorneys in the field, and review of additional information provided by law firms as part of the formal submission process.

On Air: Dan Ruttenberg Shares Estate Planning Tips for the Elderly

Preparing in advance is vital if you want to protect your assets and have a say in how they are passed on. SmolenPlevy Principal Dan Ruttenberg, JD, CPA, LLM shares estate planning tips on local TV show, Senior Living in Alexandria.

“Legal documents are tools to address issues,” Ruttenberg tells Senior Living in Alexandria host Jim Roberts. It is important to have documents that keep you covered in case of death or disability. Particularly in the event of a disability, you want to have confidence in who is making decisions on your behalf.

What happens if you don’t have an estate plan in place? That will depend on the circumstances at the time — Ruttenberg explains important estate planning tips, including how to avoid probate in the complete segment above.

The Huffington Post: 5 Reasons For a Prenup

SmolenPlevy-Dickerson-Plevy-Reasons-PrenupAs seen on The Huffington Post by Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson and Alan Plevy.

5 Reasons For a Prenup–Even if You Aren’t a Celebrity

There’s nothing classically romantic about prenuptial agreements. Most couples willfully avoid them because they don’t want to ruin their blissful idea of a marriage lasting until death do they part. But they can learn from the long list of celebrity splits about what can happen when you don’t have a prenup. In one of the most expensive Hollywood divorces, actor/director Mel Gibson reportedly paid $425 million to his ex, Robyn Moore.

Recently, actress Kaley Cuoco, the 30-year old star of the Big Bang Theory and one of TV’s highest-paid performers, split from tennis player Ryan Sweeting. Because of a prenuptial agreement, he reportedly will only get a lump sum of $165,000 and $65,000 for legal fees.

But you don’t have to be a celebrity to benefit from a prenuptial agreement. Without one, divorce litigation can become costly and complicated. More importantly, a premarital agreement often forces couples to discuss in detail uncomfortable financial issues that they might otherwise have ignored. It is challenging to discuss what debt a person brings to the marriage and the basis of the debt – especially if it is consumer debt, like credit cards. Disclosing a prior bankruptcy can be more difficult than disclosing a prior marriage. A premarital agreement, no matter who brings it up, opens the door to those conversations.

Here are some reasons prenuptial agreements can be useful for couples.

Second marriages/blended families: Often, people have continuing obligations to their prior spouse or to children from a prior relationship. Premarital agreements can determine which assets will be protected or allocated for the children of a prior relationship, and which assets will be safeguarded for the new spouse. Premarital agreements can also protect the new spouse’s assets from being used to pay the arrears or debts arising out of their spouse’s prior marriage.

If you own a business: Young entrepreneurs rarely imagine a divorce being one of the biggest threats to the stability of their business, but it can significantly impact cash flow, ownership, and productivity. Regardless of whether you started your company before marriage, a spouse may claim a portion of the business appreciation or income. Prenups can classify which assets are separate or marital. This means you and your intended spouse can agree that your business will be considered your separate property and not subject to division upon divorce.

Death or disability: While most people think divorce when they hear about premarital agreements, such agreements can also protect your assets in case of disability or death. Premarital agreements can prevent, or provide a remedy if an estranged spouse retitles or liquidates assets during their spouse’s disability.

Debt: Some couples may have more debt than assets. Couples with significantly different debt loads can protect themselves in the same way as couples with vastly different wealth. The couple can agree as to which debt shall be considered a separate, non-marital obligation and how the income of the couple will be allocated during the marriage as to the payment of that debt.

Inheritances: If one or both spouses expect to receive an inheritance over the course of their marriage, a premarital agreement can protect it from division upon death or a divorce. Family heirlooms can also be specified to remain in one spouse’s possession.

On Air: Daniel Ruttenberg Shares Why You Should Have a Will in Order on ABC 7

A court confirmed that music superstar Prince died without a will, which leaves complicated questions about who inherits his vast fortune. There are at least six siblings, including half siblings, who may inherit, and the confusion is just starting. In an interview on ABC 7, SmolenPlevy Principal Daniel Ruttenberg explained the problems that may occur when you die without a will, and why it’s vital to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.

Ruttenberg explained that without a will, Prince could not direct where his assets should go. “I think that’s a travesty,” said Ruttenberg. Often, people avoid estate planning because they don’t think they have enough assets. But Ruttenberg said you don’t need to own much to learn from Prince’s mistake — plan now and prevent the heartache and need for the court’s intervention after you’re gone.

A will can dictate to whom your money goes, protect your children’s interests in their inheritance and help avoid taxation. News reports predict Prince’s siblings will split the multi-million dollar estate, but Ruttenberg indicates that someone who claims to be Prince’s child could trump all of that.

Ruttenberg told ABC 7’s Kimberly Suiter that whoever does inherit Prince’s estate isn’t necessarily going to be better for it. Sudden wealth has its own set of problems, and many people who inherit a fortune overnight end up blowing it all quickly. They can end up broke, homeless, and in a worse position than they were before getting the money.