Divorce Survey

Divorce is one of the hardest things we can experience in our lives – in fact, it’s number two in life difficulties, after the death of a loved one. To make matters worse, the divorce process is frustrating and confusing. I’m gathering information from those who have gone through divorce, in an attempt to improve things where I can. To that end, I’ve created a short, anonymous survey to gather some information. I’d really like your input if you have a few minutes to discuss your divorce. Here is the link to the survey.  Thank you!

How to get what you want out of divorce: Strategies, tips and tricks to ensure success at every stage

I’ve created a FREE series on California divorce.  This Series is for individuals who want to learn not just how to survive the process with their money and sanity, but also want to succeed and get what they want in their divorce. You will receive keys to divorce from every aspect, from beginning the process to post-divorce considerations.  CLICK HERE to receive an email every day for seven days on the various topics on divorce in California plus instant access to our FREE 7-page Report, “Things they don’t tell you about divorce in California (and everywhere else!)”.

Recent readers of our Series have said:

“I liked how you linked the forms to the topic, such as the income and expense form.”
“I liked many aspects of the course. It was good to learn about negotiation, which is very helpful to know about.”
“I thought it was very helpful, informative, much more understanding and powerful knowledge before getting divorce.”
“Your information was so clear and answered many of my questions—-thank you.”
“Concise, fast moving for a seven day course.”

CLICK HERE for more information and details about the topics for each day.

Estate planning “musts” to take care of NOW

I often get asked what the most basic “must dos” or “must haves” are in estate planning.  Here is the answer:

  1. Talk to an estate planning attorney.  Most, like me, offer free consultations, so you don’t have to spend anything but time, and then at least you’ll know and understand your need and risks, and be able to make informed decisions
  2. Talk to a financial advisor.  See above – you only lose your time, and if you find a reputable one (your estate planning attorney should know several fantastic ones, as I do), then you can make sure that as  you grow older, you are working toward your financial goals.

Those two items will give you all the information you need.  But more specifically:

  1. If you have children, decide on and formally nominate a guardian to care for them if you are unable to.  If you don’t decide?  A judge – a stranger – will make the decision for you.
  2. Create a will or trust.  If you don’t decide who will get your stuff, someone else will.  You’ll also pay a lot of money for the privilege.  Again, talking to an estate planning attorney to find out your risks and options costs nothing.  Why remain uninformed?
  3. Make sure you have enough life insurance.  What you think of as “enough” and what is really and truly “enough” should your spouse die may be entirely different amounts.  If one spouse doesn’t work, and the working spouse dies, wouldn’t you want to have enough life insurance to allow the survivor to take time to grieve, take care of the children, and then think about work, instead of having to worry about finding work right away?
  4. Make sure your retirement and life insurance beneficiaries are always up to date.  If you’ve been married for 20 years and your life insurance names your girlfriend of 25 years ago when you pass away?  Then your girlfriend gets the money and your wife doesn’t.  Is that what you want?
  5. Make sure you have long-term care insurance if you need it.  A financial advisor can help you to decide on this, and the earlier you get it, the cheaper it is.
  6. Make sure both spouses know and understand the family finances, even if one spouse does the day-to-day management.  Do not get caught in a situation where one spouse dies and the survivor does not even know what accounts exist.
  7. On that note, put your paperwork in order, or at least in one place.  Even if it’s disorganized in a drawer, make sure all the important paperwork, account statements, estate plan, life insurance, etc. is all in one place and easy to find.  Should you pass away, your family will be going through a rough enough time as it is – don’t make it worse by leaving a scattered financial life.

None of these items are difficult or even time-consuming, but they mean everything in the world to your family should something happen to you.  What are you waiting for?

California divorce: Dividing debt

Since we have been talking about dividing personal property in divorce, today I thought we could talk about dividing debt.  Dividing debt in divorce is a big issue these days as many couples find themselves coming away from marriages without any assets at all, and in some cases, with only debt.  There are a few issues that commonly come up when it comes to dividing debt in divorce: how to handle debt during the divorce, how to handle debt of one spouse or debt unknown to the other spouse, and how debt is handled post-divorce when one spouse agrees to service the debt but both names remain.

  1. In California, once the Petition is filed (for Petitioner) and served (for Respondent), both parties become subject to restraining orders preventing them from acquiring or disposing of property of debt other than in the “ordinary course of business.”  Basically, the parties should continue to service their debt and pay their bills as they have in the past, before the divorce was filed.
  2. The question often arises about debt one party has incurred (and the other party doesn’t want to pay) or one party’s lack of ability to pay the couple’s debt. This is both a common and a difficult situation.  The debt is most likely to be a joint debt, whether it’s a credit card or other debt, so any non-payment is going to adversely affect both  If you can pay at all?  Do pay.  Don’t harm your own credit score to get back at  your spouse – it’s not worth it.
  3. Another question that comes up is that one spouse may have incurred debt, such as credit card debt, that the other spouse is unaware of.  Unfortunately, in California, any and all property and debt acquired during the marriage is community property, and divided equally upon divorce, regardless of whether it was known to the other spouse.  There are exceptions in the case of, for example, the unknown credit card was used to pay for an extra-marital affair, but this can be hard to prove.
  4. At the end of the divorce, you and your spouse may agree to divide the bills, but in the case of a credit card, both names can remain on the card.  This means that if the payor decides not to pay or defaults, then the company is going to come after the non-paying spouse for payment.  This is unavoidable, as banks and credit card companies will go after anyone to get their payment.  Your recourse, as non-paying spouse, is to send the company a copy of the Judgment or Marital Settlement Agreement that says you are not liable for the debt, and that should be the end of it.  But you do want to make sure that your Judgment includes who pays for what debts so that you have this on hand should there be a problem in the future.

One final comment on joint debt and credit cards in divorce: once the papers are filed, unless you really need the cards, close them.  Do not allow either spouse to use the joint credit cards, because untangling that mess in the divorce, when both spouses use a joint credit card, is a nightmare.

California Divorce: How to divide the stuff, from the wedding ring to the collectibles to the couch

Lawyers and judges do not like to get into the business of dividing a couple’s personal property in divorce.  The value of your personal property when you get divorced is not the price it would take to replace what you have, but rather the garage sale price.  So, when you value your personal items (furnishings, kitchen items, jewelry, personal items, etc.), think of holding a large garage sale where everything in your house is for sale.  Then imagine at the end of the day, the house is empty.  How much money do you think would be in the tin box at the end of the day?

For most couples, this doesn’t amount to more than a few thousand dollars, and since each party generally takes some of the personal items, frequently there isn’t any kind of equalization in the divorce.

Of course, if you have valuable antiques, jewelry, or collections, then there can be disputes.  The first dispute is often the worth of the collection.  Husband says his gun collection is worthless because none of the guns work.  Wife says it’s worth tens of thousands because of what the couple paid for it.  The answer is generally to get an independent appraisal and go from there.  The item or collection can be sold and the proceeds split, or one party can buy out the other party’s interest by paying half the value.

Another common question involves gifts.  Gifts given to one spouse are that spouse’s separate property.  Often the biggest gift is that of the engagement ring.  Upon divorce, the wife keeps the engagement ring as hers, regardless of whether the ring is Husband’s grandmother’s.

Finally, when attorneys and courts do not generally want to get into the division of personal property, what is a couple to do?  The best way, I think, is for each spouse to get a different color of Post-It.  Each spouse then goes around the house and ‘tags’ the items they want.  Then at the end, only those items with two Post-Its on them are items of contention. This makes it easy to identify what items need to be discussed without having to discuss every item – it narrows the field, which can reduce the conflict.

How did you divide your personal items when you divorced?

Estate planning for the digital age: what critical item most estate plans fail to include

I read a great article this morning about the failure of most estate plans to include information about computer account passwords and all of the transactions we do online on a daily basis (Estate planning for iTunes, passwords, and other digital assets). This is a great article because it highlights a problem in ‘modern’ estate planning.  A lawyer may be preparing your legal documents: your will and trust, and powers of attorney.  Your financial advisor is working with you to ensure that you have enough wealth to live out your life, and resources should you become disabled.  But who is assembling the information about your Amazon.com account (and perhaps an auto-ship of vitamins or other health care items)?  Who is ensuring that successor trustees or executors have access to online banking accounts to manage automatic payments. When you use a power of attorney (POA) to handle the finances of another, a copy of the POA goes into your file, but when you’re operating online, who is checking?

These are financial concerns, but there are also personal concerns here, too.  If a loved one of yours passed away suddenly, would you know everyone to contact? It’s likely that they have a contacts list on their computer or smartphone, but is the computer, smartphone, or even the contacts application locked? The same goes for email addresses and even Facebook. Your mom may have really taken to Facebook and rediscovered old friends from all aspects of her life.  When she passes, what do you do with that account?

In my estate plans, I always include a fillable book that can be used to record all of these kinds of information, and more.  I consider it to be my job to ensure that your whole estate and all of your affairs are taken care of when you’re finished with me. Sometimes I refer to other experts in other professions, and obviously I can’t force you to record your passwords and security codes anywhere, but I can let you know that this is a critical aspect of your estate plan, and encourage you to complete as much information as you can for your family, since the more you have available and accessible to your family when you pass, the easier it is for them. Who doesn’t want to do everything they can to make it easier for their family?

Did your estate planning attorney talk to you about estate planning for digital media?

If divorce is like a death, where’s my food?

No one is going to disagree with me when I say that divorce is awful.  It’s emotional, it’s taxing, it’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, it’s frustrating,…it’s just awful.  Psychological studies have likened it to a death, and divorce and moving are up there with death of a loved one as the top most stressful life events.  What’s odd, however is that we as a society don’t treat divorce like a death.  When someone dies, we worry about the loved ones left behind, and feel a need to take care of them by bringing them food, sending cards, posting thoughtful and heartfelt messages on Facebook, and visiting to help ease the loneliness.

When it’s divorce, it’s a different story.  It seems many friends will scatter, as if the divorce “bug” is catching.  The terms or the process are talked about in hushed tones.  Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, though we talk about it as if it’s still a shameful secret to be hidden.  We have websites to track a loved one’s illness and to be able to donate to their cause and keep up with the ins and outs of treatment.  Where’s the divorce tracker?  How can someone donate to your divorce fund?

As one writer notes in a fantastic article, where’s your casserole?

Painful estate planning questions you must answer to avoid disastrous estate planning mistakes

Many of my estate planning clients have put off their estate planning for months, and even years sometimes. Part of this is because death or disability is something we don’t want to think about, and part of it is because some of the questions are difficult to answer.  What my clients do not always understand is that (1) it’s my job to help them to make the decisions, and (2) if they don’t decide, then someone else – a stranger – will decide for them. Here are some questions you need to consider when thinking about estate planning:

  1. The guardian for your children. This is probably the most important decision you will make.  In case the unthinkable happens – you and your spouse are out together on date night and get into an accident and are both hospitalized or worse. What do you think will happen to your children, who are at home with the 19-year old neighbor babysitting? The police will likely take your children into protective custody – foster care – until a proper guardian is named.  If you have a formally-named guardian in your estate planning documents (and not some hastily-written page), then you can avoid this awful experience for your children.
  2. Who will get your stuff. If you don’t decide who gets your stuff, the state will. And perhaps more importantly than the couch and the jewelry is the estate itself.  Do you have minor children? Do you want them to inherit hundreds of thousands of dollars when they reach 18? Do you perhaps want to hold back some of the estate to pay for college, or at least to let them mature a little before coming into (and losing) a great deal of money right at 18? The only want to do this is through trusts.
  3. What do you want the doctors to do if you are in an irreversible comaIf you don’t decide how you want the doctors to treat you and what extraordinary measures will be taken to save your life, then the doctors will endeavor to keep you alive as long as they can.  Do you want to survive by machine alone? If not, then you need to tell someone!  Tell your parents and your children, and create a power of attorney that legally records your wishes.  If you don’t do this, you could cause your family to scramble to determine what YOU would have wanted.
  4. Who will help you to manage your assets and estate if you can’t? Most of us are more likely to experience a slow decline than go out with a bang.  Because of the advances in medical and health care, we are living longer and with better-quality lives. But as we slow down, there is a chance that we will start to lose our ability to pay our bills and manage our finances.  To avoid the painful, time-consuming and expensive process of conservatorship, each of us needs to designate someone to make decisions on our behalf if we become unable to.  This is relevant to individuals of all ages, as surviving traumatic brain injuries is getting more and more common.
  5. Where are your documents? Part of creating your estate plan in making sure everything is in one place: your will, trust(s), powers of attorney, bank/investment/life insurance/retirement statements, pre-need funeral planning documents, and passwords/keys/online account information.  There is nothing worse than making your grieving family rummage through your stuff to find what they need.

Estate planning is the last thing that you can do for your family to make your passing easier. Isn’t your family worth it?

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