UPCOMING WORKSHOPS

Register For Our FREE Educational Workshop about Wills, Trusts, and Avoiding Probate

Please select the workshop you wish to attend from the list below.

LOMBARD: WILLS AND LIVING TRUSTS WORKSHOP

Date:  Wednesday, February 21

Time: 01:00 PM – -3:00 PM

Location: Buca di Beppo Italian Restaurant

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LOMBARD: WILLS AND LIVING TRUSTS WORKSHOP

Date:  Thursday, February 22

Time: 06:30 PM – -8:30 PM

Location: Buca di Beppo Italian Restaurant

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NAPERVILLE: WILLS AND LIVING TRUSTS WORKSHOP

Date:  Saturday, February 24

Time: 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Location: River Valley Law Firm Office

GET DETAILS AND TICKETS

Because We Love Them To The Moon and Back

For parents, arguably our most meaningful legacy will be our children. We spend such a significant part of our adult lives working hard to feed, clothe, and educate them. Many of us spend hours upon hours supporting our children’s extracurricular interests in sports, dance, scouting, or chess, among others. We help them make good choices and steer them towards an ethical, honest, and caring lifestyle.

Yet many parents neglect to address one simple parenting responsibility: naming a guardian who can take care of their children if they die.

A state court is required to appoint a guardian to care for children under the age of 18 if both parents die. This is a judge who doesn’t know your family or your values. If you have not specified your preference in your Will, the result can be disastrous.

Any friend or family member can go to court and nominate themselves to serve as guardian. The person appointed by the court may have very different ideas about parenting than you and your spouse. It’s also possible that two different people who love your children very much both want custody of them. For example, what if both sets of grandparents want custody? There can be a prolonged legal battle if they can’t come to agreement. The judge must determine what is in the best interest of each child. In the meantime, the children may be placed in temporary foster care or may be dragged into court to testify if they are old enough.

If there is no family member or friend willing to accept guardianship of the children, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services will be named guardian. This means they could be sent to live with a foster family or in a group home until a private guardian is identified.

You know your children better than anyone else, so you are the best person to name a guardian for them. Even if you think you don’t have enough assets to leave to your children, it’s worth making a Will to make sure you can name a guardian.

Factors To Consider When Naming a Guardian:

  • Is the proposed guardian a good role model? Are they patient and affectionate with children? Mature? Will their lifestyle accommodate raising children?
  • Your parents or in-laws may be your first choice but will they have the ability to care for and keep up with young children? What is their health like? If they are capable of parenting now but later become unable, who do you want to be the successor guardian at that time?
  • Don’t rule out other family members or close friends whom you have grown up with, know from your place of worship, or even parents of your children’s friends.
  • Will the guardian love your children? If they have children of their own, will your children be treated equally? Do your children get along with their children? Are there other potential concerns about having your children live with their family? For example, a child who struggles in school and is contending with the loss of both parents may not fare well when placed in a home where all the children are high achievers.
  • Does the proposed guardian share your moral and educational values, temperament, child-rearing philosophy, or religious beliefs?
  • How close is your proposed guardian to other family members and your close friends? Will your children still be able to maintain their existing friendships and family relationships?
  • If you name a husband and wife both as the guardians, what will happen if they divorce? Consider naming just one spouse instead.
  • If the person you wish to name does not have the financial ability to provide for your children, can you leave sufficient assets to help them raise the children? For example, by buying adequate life insurance.
  • Communication is key. If your children are old enough, it’s important to ask for their input. Talk to your proposed guardian to make sure they are ready to accept guardianship. If they have concerns or questions, explore ways to address them.
  • If you select a guardian that you suspect other family members might take issue with, explain your reasons for selecting that person in writing. That way, if your selection is challenged in court, the judge will be able to understand why you named the person you did.
  • Leave a detailed letter to the guardian explaining where your child’s important documents can be found (birth certificate, social security card, health insurance, health and school records). Explain your concerns about your child’s development, health concerns, dietary habits, daily routine, likes and dislikes, favorite personal items that can bring them comfort as they grieve your loss, study habits, who their friends and relatives are and their contact information, favorite recreational and sports activities, performance in school, and any other information that you think the guardian should have.
  • Trust your instincts when naming a guardian!

Love

My Father’s Legacy

It was a nondescript white van. Nothing on the outside conveyed its importance except a small, easy to miss sign in the back that read, “Funeral Services.” I followed it numbly through the streets of Chicago’s north side. South on Pulaski, northwest on Elston, around side streets to the entrance of the funeral parlor. A typical mid-February day, with snow covered sidewalks. Just one simple question kept nagging at me, “So this is how it ends?” At times it became more of a statement of sad realization as a thousand thoughts and memories rushed through me. “So this is how it ends.”

My father remained an optimist no matter what adversity life threw in his path. His mother passed away when he was a small child, the fourth of five siblings. In those days, many Indian men worked abroad in South Africa because it promised better employment opportunities. My grandfather was one of them. Thus, my father was essentially orphaned at a young age when entrusted to the care of family so that my grandfather could return to work. A few years later, he also passed away during a trip home to India. After that, my father’s uncles gave my father and his two brothers up to institutional care in their ancestral village.

My father studied religion and earned the esteemed title of Alim. His faith served as his guide. I still come across former students who respect my father for teaching and guiding them. Theology, Quranic tajweed, spirituality and ethics were his subjects. My father left his mark on students across three different continents: Asia, where, in addition to India, he taught in Pakistan and Bangladesh (or East Pakistan, as it was known in those days), Europe, where he taught in Germany and England, and here in North America, in Illinois.

But my father was more than a priest and teacher. He had a spirit for adventure, a passion for travel, and a proud sense of entrepreneurship. For me, this is his lasting legacy. I inherited his love of the open road and enthusiasm for spontaneity. One day, I hope to take my children on an international road trip similar to the one he took us on when we were very young kids: from London, across the English Channel by ferry, via the Autobahn to the foot of the Alps in Salzburg, through the idyllic countryside of then-Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, to Istanbul, on eastward along the Sea of Marmara to Ankara, through tumultuous Iran, over the rugged mountains of Balochistan (where we almost died when our car rolled backwards downhill alongside a deep canyon), to Quetta, and finally to the booming coastal city of Karachi.

I used to think I knew a lot about estate planning. My father’s parting lesson was about how wrong I was. I advise clients about estate and gift taxes, asset protection, probate, and related matters. My father passed away with very few possessions to his name though. He didn’t have to worry about a taxable estate and asset protection planning was never a need. On a simple imam’s salary, he could live by the philosophy I heard him reiterate when I was younger, “If I can’t take it to my grave, then why do I need it?”

Yet with his death, my father taught me that funeral planning is also important, so loved ones aren’t left wondering about your preferences. As the eldest and the family’s decision maker, I had to decide where to bury my father, whether to hold the funeral right away or wait until other family members could arrive, decide between open casket or closed, who should recite the funeral prayer, who should be involved with preparing my father’s body for burial, who would perform the final rites at the cemetery, and whether it should only be close family or open to everyone. My father and I never discussed these things, so I found myself asking over and over what he would have wanted. These are decisions that I must live with for the rest of my life.

He also taught me the importance of addressing preferences on an autopsy in the event there is a question of medical negligence. My brother wanted an autopsy but I decided against it because I couldn’t see how anything good would come of it and it would delay the funeral.

And with his death, my father also reminded me that personal property includes legal documents that can serve as mementos, such as a birth certificate, passport, driver’s license, etc. One should specify who should take possession of them.

My father would have turned 69 last week. So it’s only fitting that I dedicate my new estate and legacy planning blog to him for all that he taught me, both in life and death, about the importance of leaving a meaningful legacy.