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Leaving Assets to Minor Children

Many parents believe that naming a legal guardian will resolve any issues surrounding the care for minor children in the event of tragedy.

However, leaving assets to minor children takes a lot more than simply naming someone to raise them.

Neither “named guardians” nor court appointed “property guardians” are automatically granted access to the inheritance in order to raise the minor beneficiary.  In fact, guardians have limited authority to decide how a minor’s inheritance should be managed.  Without additional asset management, a probate court may need to get involved.

In the probate process, all decisions made by the legal guardian must be approved by the court.  Every expense must be documented, audited, and approved by the court.  Going through this process is time consuming, and it can carve away at the value of the inheritance to pay for court costs and attorney fees.

Another issue to consider when leaving assets to minor children is what will happen when the child reaches the age of 18.  Many parents worry about their child’s ability to responsibly manage finances at that age.  Without additional estate planning, the court will distribute the entire inheritance in a lump sum once the child reaches adulthood.

One solution to these problems is to set up a trust in the minor beneficiary’s name.

A trust avoids the uncertainties that guardianships create because it names someone to manage the inheritance, also known as the trustee.  A trust helps to avoid probate because decisions do not have to go through the court.  Trusts also mitigate the concerns over the child mismanaging an inheritance because parents can better control when and how much their children or grandchildren receive the funds.

There are many different types of trusts.  Each has many different ways to avoid probate and manage inheritances.  These issues are best undertaken by an experienced estate planning attorney who can help parents decide what works best for their family and what meets their needs.

For more information, please contact Gordon Fronk at Hollis, Cronan & Fronk, P.A.

First Steps in Divorce: Moving Forward with Courage

Couples expect that their marriages will last forever.  Coming to the decision to end a marriage is emotionally challenging. It is made more difficult when adding to that the wide range of legal issues that come with this life-altering decision.

Once a spouse informs the other that they want a separation and no longer wish to continue with the marriage, the legal process of getting a divorce is set in motion.

Most people know the end result of getting a divorce but have no idea how to start the process.   There are no set-in-stone rules for pursuing a divorce because no two divorces are the same.  Divorces involve personalities, communication styles and practical circumstances which are intricately interwoven into the Maryland divorce process.

Asking these simple questions can help couples take the first steps in divorce:

What are the grounds for divorce?

A Maryland fault-based divorce may be granted when a spouse can prove that one of the following occurred during the marriage: adultery, cruelty, desertion, abandonment, insanity, or criminal conviction.

The legal grounds to grant a no-fault divorce are simply the breakdown of a marriage, incompatibility, or irreconcilable differences.  In Maryland however, the couple must have lived apart for at least a year with no instances of sexual relations for the no-fault divorce to be granted.

Will the divorce be a contested or uncontested divorce?

Issues like property division, child support, alimony, and visitation all have to be resolved before the divorce can be finalized. A contested divorce means that spouses fundamentally disagree on these issues and cannot resolve them without court intervention.  An uncontested divorce means that they have reached an agreement outside of court.

How will disputes about property division, child support, alimony, or visitation be resolved?

These issues can be resolved in a variety of ways. Some couples choose to simply work through issues by having a “kitchen table” discussion.  For others, that would not be effective.   Some couples choose to pursue mediation.  Mediation involves a third party mediator that helps the couple come to a divorce settlement without involving the courts.  Some couple’s will go back and forth between their attorneys before reaching a settlement.  Lastly, when couples simply cannot come to a divorce settlement they can choose courtroom litigation.

Hire a lawyer?

One, both or neither of the spouses can hire a lawyer.  For some of the options above, like courtroom litigation, it is generally recommended to have a lawyer.  But for other situations, such as mediation, having legal representation is up to the discretion of each party.  Many mediators are, in fact, lawyers. They are just not an advocate for either party’s position.

Years of an unhappy marriage can leave one feeling like they cannot effectively defend or communicate their wants and needs to their spouse, much less their legal rights.  This is among the primary reasons why many parties hire a lawyer.  Many people, going through a divorce, feel more confident with an experienced Maryland family law attorney on their side advocating their position.

The individual circumstances that lead a couple to divorce should be a strong indicator of how to pursue a divorce.

For more information about the first steps to take in a divorce or for information regarding mediation services please contact Phillip Cronan or William Hollis at Hollis, Cronan, and Fronk, P.A.  Mr. Cronan and Mr. Hollis are experienced Maryland attorneys. Mr. Hollis is a certified mediator and is able to mediate all aspects of family law.

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