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Philadelphia Family Law and Estate Planning Law Blog

Reasons everyone should have an estate plan

If people are married with children, assets tend to go to either their spouse or children when they die in the absence of a will. However, those who are married without children may want to create an estate plan to account for where their assets go upon their death. While they may first transfer to a spouse, they may be transferred to the surviving spouse's family upon his or her death.

This may mean that a decedent passes items to an individual who was never supposed to get them. In addition to creating unintended beneficiaries, it could take time to settle an estate in probate court. Those who are cohabiting may want to create an estate plan as assets may not automatically pass to a life partner. In addition to taking control of assets after passing away, it may be possible for an individual to gain more control of how assets are treated while still alive.

Visitation while owing child support

Many Pennsylvania parents understand just how important it is for both parents to be involved in their children's lives. However, a study showed that noncustodial fathers who were behind on their child support payments visited their children less often.

When noncustodial parents are in arrears, there are potential civil and criminal penalties that they may face. In addition to potential jail sentences and fines, they could also have their driver's license and even professional licenses revoked or suspended. The children also often suffer as the costs of housing, clothing and food completely fall on the custodial parent.

Why people postpone preparing a will

Pennsylvania residents might be surprised to learn that only about 40 percent of American adults have a will or other estate planning documents in place. The percentage is even lower for people who have dependent children, according to an online survey.

The survey found that nearly 80 percent of adults from the age of 18 to 36, and about 65 percent of those in the age group of 37 to 52 have not prepared a will. While about 80 percent of older Americans age 72 and up have a will or living trust, the number drops to 60 percent for those between the ages of 53 and 71.

Couples that divorce before completing IVF

Going through a divorce in Pennsylvania is usually more complicated for parents of young children than it is for couples with no children. Though arguing over child support and custody agreements can be difficult, the laws concerning these issues are generally understood. When a divorcing couple has embryos that were created for in-vitro fertilization, the laws concerning these potentially unborn children are much more ambiguous.

When a man and a woman agree to create embryos for IVF, they usually sign an agreement that authorizes the storage facility to preserve the embryos cryogenically. This type of agreement will usually contain clauses about what should happen to the embryos if the couple breaks up, dies or decides not to proceed with the IVF. The couple may choose to continue storing the embryos, donate the embryos to another couple, donate the embryos to medical research or have the embryos destroyed.

Incarcerated parents may have child support modified

On Jan. 19, Barack Obama signed a regulation that would allow incarcerated parents in all states to request a modification in child support based on a change in circumstances. Pennsylvania already allowed this. However, in several other states, this was not permitted because incarceration was considered voluntary unemployment.

Parents who had little to no income in prison and few or no assets would then be unable to pay child support. Their debts would accumulate, and when they were released from prison, they might struggle to catch up. Since incarceration is one punishment for nonpayment of child support, these parents might be returned to prison where they would fall even further behind on their debts.

Options for gifting children in estate planning

Pennsylvania parents might want to gift part of their estate to their children while they are still alive. However, there are some pitfalls they should be aware of. For example, cash or stock that is only minimally appreciated is a better gift than an asset that is highly appreciated because of future capital gains tax. Highly appreciated assets are best passed on after an individual's death.

Parents might want to help their children buy a home by including themselves on the mortgage. However, that can result in a depletion of the gift tax exemption. People who have unstable employment may rely on their parents to pay mortgage and taxes. Problems may arise with jointly owned accounts as well. A better idea is to name the child power of attorney on the accounts, gift the child the cash while still alive or name the child a beneficiary on the account.

Spanking allegations prompt judge to deny Robin Thicke custody

Divorcing parents in Pennsylvania and around the country have become embroiled in fewer bitter child custody disputes in recent years due to the growing popularity of co-parenting solutions and the large body of scientific research attesting to the benefits of these arrangements. However, the wealthy and famous often find it difficult to take a pragmatic approach in these situations, and contentious court battles over property division or child custody occur often enough to give gossip columnists and celebrity news websites plenty to write about.

One such case involves Robin Thicke and his former wife Paula Patton. Thicke appeared in a California court on Jan. 26 hoping to be awarded sole custody of the couple's 6-year-old son, but a judge denied his request and issued a restraining order against him instead. The order prevents Thicke from approaching his son or ex-wife, and the decision to issue it was made when Patton and personnel from the boy's school said that the boy had told them that he feared his father and his harsh spankings.

Actor files for divorce from wife of 20 years

Pennsylvania residents may have heard that actor Cuba Gooding Jr. recently put in the paperwork to divorce his wife of 20 years. While news of the divorce came out on Jan. 20, his wife filed for separation in 2014, citing irreconcilable differences. The couple has three children together, and Gooding Jr. is requesting joint legal as well as physical custody of their 10-year-old child.

Reports also indicate that the actor is willing to provide spousal support, but he asked that he keep all income earned after the 2014 separation. In a 2016 interview, Gooding Jr. said that he and his former spouse had been working on their marriage and that he wanted to keep the relationship going for the sake of the children.

Estate planning and simultaneous deaths

When making estate plans, Pennsylvania residents might want to consider naming additional beneficiaries in the event that their first choice dies at the same time or shortly after they do. Sometimes it's impossible to determine who died first. A simultaneous death clause appoints one person in a couple or others whose estates are entwined to be named as the one who died first if this is the case. Couples might also want to consider changing property owned to "tenants in common" instead of "joint tenancy with rights of survivorship" to clarify how property is passed on if both individuals die at the same time.

It may also be possible to arrange for assets to pass to a contingent beneficiary if the primary beneficiary dies shortly after inheriting assets. On accounts that pass via beneficiary designation, such as retirement accounts, people may want to have a trust instead of a contingent beneficiary for tax reasons.

Creating a parenting agreement

Most Pennsylvania parents who are ending their marriages understand that they must put their young children first. However, this is often easier said than done as parents' egos can intervene. If the parents can work together, however, the kids are more likely to be happy and well-adjusted.

For the best results, parents should have a plan that will allow the children to adjust. In many cases, the parenting agreement allows both parents to effectively co-parent. Further, parents who are able to work together can foster similar rules at home so that the kids always know what to expect. By putting the agreement down in writing, the parents will have a road map that they can follow when disputes arise.

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