This is a continuation of last week’s informational post on Wills and Trusts, a Q&A with Steve Araiza, a lawyer in West L.A.
Steve Araiza is a work-from-home dad that says his primary job is taking care of his one year old daughter, Isla. But when he’s not wrangling a toddler he spends his spare time preparing estate plans. He graduated from UCLA Law in 2009 with a specialization in business law, specifically focusing on taxation. After graduating from law school, he worked with Southern California Edison until Isla came along and decided to build his own legal practice. You can find him online at www.thinktrusts.com.
Disclosure: While Steve Araiza is a lawyer, he is not offering legal advice. Posts on legal matters are intended to provide legal information and do not create an attorney/client relationship.
Q. If a person is designated in the will as a legal guardian of a minor and have changed their mind about doing so, what happens next? Can they change their mind?
First, it is very important to have a discussion with the person being named as a personal guardian for your children, prior to the designation. This is also a one of the many reasons that estate plans, once created should not just sit in a safe somewhere until they are executed. Instead, you should look at your estate plan as a potentially evolving document, which should be reexamined on a regular basis. I would recommend reviewing a will and trust at least every five years, but more often if there is a significant change in your personal or financial situation. During such a review it would be appropriate to once again discuss guardianship with any designated legal guardian. That said, yes a guardian may always change their mind and decline to act as a personal guardian. For this reason it is wise to also appoint a couple of backup guardians in case the primary guardian is unable to accept the responsibility. If you already have a completed estate plan, and the person you have appointed as the personal guardian of your children informs you that they can no longer accept that responsibility, you should have your estate plan updated with a new guardian immediately.
Q. Is it important to bequeath something that you might find is insignificant but others may find of value? (i.e. an expensive bottle of wine)
That comes down to personal preference. I am a fan of being open with family members now – in the hopes of resolving any possible disputes before they happen. How your estate is divided is ultimately your choice alone. But it can be helpful to have conversations with family members so that they can make their wishes known, and so that your final decisions don’t come as a surprise to them when your estate plan is eventually executed. So, if you feel that certain items may cause turbulence after your death, because several of your inheritors may want keepsakes — I would encourage you to have that discussion with those family members now. Mention that you’re putting together an estate plan and that you want to make sure that everyone gets a few keepsakes they feel are important and then talk about what those items might be. And then based on that discussion I would bequeath specific items to specific people. This will hopefully diffuse, in advance, some of the tension that can occur after the death of a loved one.