Why every Arkansas parent needs a will.

Great article from babycenter.  See Full Article.

What is a will, and what can it do for me?
A will is a document that specifies who will inherit your bank accounts, real estate, jewelry, cars, and other property after you die. You can leave everything to one person or divvy it up in small, specific portions, such as your CD collection to your brother or your sweaters to your best friend. But a will is much more than a means of distributing your property when you’re gone — especially if you have kids.
For parents, a will is the single most important thing you can do to make sure your child is cared for by the people you want if anything should happen to you. In your will you can designate a person (guardian) to care for your children if you die before they become legal adults. And you can designate a property guardian or trustee to manage your money for your children until they reach adulthood. You can appoint one person to act as both personal and property guardian, or choose two people to carry out the separate roles.
If you’d like to streamline, you can name an “executor” to wrap up your affairs after you’re gone. An executor pays your debts and taxes and then makes sure the rest of your estate goes to the people you’ve chosen.
There are many other things you can use a will for, including these: To make charitable contributions, donate organs, and specify funeral arrangements. To state your preferences about life support by creating a living will, healthcare directive, or directive to physicians as a separate document.
One caution: Certain assets such as life insurance policies, 401(k)s, and IRA accounts have beneficiary forms that trump wills. That means the funds in these accounts are distributed to whoever you named as beneficiaries, no matter what you specify in your will. Be sure to check the beneficiaries on these accounts — and make any changes — to align with your will.
What will happen if I don’t have a will?
Without a will, there’s no guarantee that when you die your money will go to the people you want or that your children will be cared for by the person you believe will do the best job.
This may come as a shock, but if you die without a valid will, state laws require that your property be divided according to a fairly inflexible formula. In most states your spouse would receive only about one-third to one-half of your estate — the rest would be earmarked for your children.
Sounds fine, but without a will, in some states your children’s money would be controlled by a state-appointed administrator (who charges fees for the service) until each child turns 18. That means your spouse wouldn’t be able to access the money to help raise your children without going through a very complicated legal procedure. And even if the courts decide that your spouse can hold the funds earmarked for your children in trust, he or she will have to supply the court with an accounting of how the money is used each year.
Moreover, if you and your partner both die without a will, the state courts and social services department will appoint someone to raise your children. And that person might have a very different opinion on the matter than you would. Even if you think you have almost no property to leave your children, it’s worth making a will to make sure you get to choose their guardian.
Do I need a lawyer to make a will?
No, but you’ll need to invest time, energy, and probably a little money to do it right yourself. Many families have written legally valid wills by using a self-help book or a will-writing software program, although mistakes are more likely with a do-it-yourself will.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: If the cost of using a lawyer is holding you back from writing a will, buy a self-help book and do it yourself. Nolo, a respected legal publishing house, has self-help books and software for sale online. Check Nolo’s wills and estate area for the latest offerings. Or ask your public librarian to guide you to the latest books on the subject.
On the other hand, if the thought of plowing through pages of legalese is too daunting, then call a family lawyer. Ask for recommendations from family or friends. A lawyer can cost you anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, but the money buys you expertise and peace of mind.
To save money, think through what you want to include in your will first and then contact a lawyer to go over the finer details. Also, find out whether your employee benefits include free legal consultation; it might be limited to 30 minutes, but that could be a very helpful half hour.
Here are a few ideas to start you off:
Make a list of all your assets, including bank accounts, investments, real estate, life insurance, and personal property.
Decide exactly who you want to inherit what and when. For instance, you might want your daughter to inherit her grandmother’s gold bracelet when she turns 16.
Choose a guardian for your children.
Choose an alternate guardian in case your first choice is unwilling or unable to do the job.
Decide if you want someone else to handle the assets you leave your children. If so, choose that person.
Choose an executor to carry out your wishes and handle the necessary paperwork after you die.
Decide whether you want to include a letter stating how you’d like your children to be raised and educated, your funeral to be arranged, etc.
You can get more useful suggestions, ideas, and free sample forms online at numerous websites — simply do an Internet search for “will and testament forms” or something similar. But most experts argue against relying solely on Internet sources for the many important legal decisions a will requires.
What makes a will a legal document?
There are several requirements for making your will a legal document.
It usually must be typed or computer generated. Handwritten wills are legal in some states.
You must state somewhere in the document that it is your will.
You must date and sign your will.
You must sign your will in the presence of at least two witnesses (three in some states, such as Vermont) and your witnesses must also sign.
A legal will doesn’t have to be notarized, nor does it have to be recorded or registered with any government agency. After your will has been signed, put it in a safe and fairly obvious place, like a locked metal file cabinet, and tell your spouse, partner, or executor where it is.
Safe deposit boxes are not always a good place for a will because many banks have restrictions on who can access and remove things from them. If a family member or executor can’t open your safe deposit box, it could tie up your estate for some time. Make sure you understand your bank’s rules about withdrawals from safe deposit boxes before putting your will in one.
For many families the real hurdle of creating a will is emotional. To make things easier and, maybe even more fun, make a pact with another family or two to get your wills done at the same time. Since you need at least two witnesses not named in your will, get together and sign each other’s documents over bagels and coffee or wine and cheese. This can take a lot of the intimidation out of the process.
How can I make sure my child is taken care of when I’m gone?
Start by making a separate legal will for each parent: Joint wills don’t make a lot of sense, even if it seems more efficient to create just one document. A joint will binds the survivor to the provisions of the will, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for the surviving parent to change his or her mind if circumstances change radically.
Next, make sure you name your spouse or partner as your sole beneficiary. Otherwise the court might divide your property between your spouse and kids and appoint a state administrator to oversee your children’s property until each one turns 18. Name your children as alternate beneficiaries in case you and your partner pass away at the same time.
State that your spouse or partner should be the guardian of your child in case one of you dies. Then name someone else as an alternate guardian in case your spouse is unwilling or unable to care for your children. Spelling it out will prevent anyone from coming forward and disputing the custody of your children. If you don’t name a guardian, anyone who’s interested can ask for the position, leaving a judge to decide what’s best for your children.
Choosing a guardian is probably the most difficult task for parents. It’s hard to imagine anyone else parenting your children. But it’s also one of the most important things you can do to ensure your children’s future well-being. To find out what questions to ask yourself and how to make this decision, see our article on choosing a guardian.
You should also name a trustee — someone to manage whatever property you pass on to your children until they become legal adults. If you don’t name a trustee, the court will do it for you.
You can choose one person as both the guardian and trustee or choose two different people. Experts disagree on the best way to handle this. Some say it’s easier to choose the same person to care for your children and their money, while others warn that people who make good parents may not be the best at handling money. Think this one through and talk it over with your partner.
What’s the best way to leave property to my child?
There are many ways to leave property to young children. According to Steve Elias, editor of The Quick and Legal Will Book by Nolo, the following are some of the most common. In each case, you need to choose someone to oversee the transfer of your assets.
Property guardianship
You can name a property guardian to handle your finances on behalf of your growing children. A property guardian is appointed by the court, according to the instructions in your will, and the court closely monitors his actions.
A property guardian is required to file a beginning and ending inventory of your estate as well as annual paperwork on how he’s managing the money. Any decisions he makes are subject to court approval. A property guardianship ends when each child turns 18. When that time comes, your child can spend the money on whatever he likes with no restrictions.
Although this is the least complicated way to pass property to your children, it can be very burdensome for the person you name as property guardian. However, if you’re not completely confident that the personal guardian you choose will make solid financial decisions, you may welcome the court’s oversight. Otherwise, you might prefer one of the options listed below.
Custodial account (Uniform Transfer to Minors Act)
If the person you plan to name as your children’s financial trustee or property manager has a history of making solid financial decisions, then consider leaving money to your children in custodial accounts. The courts have no oversight over these accounts, which are governed by the Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA).
UTMA is the same across nearly all states, so the property manager (also known as a custodian in this case) will be recognized by most financial institutions immediately. That recognition will make his job smoother and easier. Any bank or stockbroker can set up a custodial account for you in minutes.
Trust fund
A trust fund is most useful if you have complex assets that you’d like to pass on to your child, such as a family business or significant amounts of money or property.
A trust fund gives you much more control over your money. It allows you to name the age at which distributions are made to your children, parcel out a little money at a time, and restrict how the funds are used. You can create the trust and appoint a trustee in your will. That person will then need to open a trust account at a bank or brokerage firm and file a tax return for the trust each year.
One downside: Because trust funds are individually tailored to meet each family’s particular circumstances, the financial trustee you name for your children has to provide more paperwork to banks or stockbrokers to document his decisions.
Do I need to worry about taxes eating up my child’s inheritance?
In 2006, the Lifetime Gift and Estate Tax Exclusion increased to $2 million, meaning you can leave up to $2 million to your children without worrying about estate taxes. In 2009, the figure will rise to $3.5 million. But keep in mind that life insurance policies, pension benefits, and real estate all count toward your total assets, so you may reach that point much sooner than you think.
If you know or suspect that your estate will top the mark, talk to an estate attorney, who can help you minimize the tax burden on your children.

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Conway Men’s Chorus Spring Concert 2011

The Conway Men’s Chorus will perform its Spring Concert 2011 at Reynolds Performance Hall on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m., May 3, 2011.

Free admission.  Everyone is welcome.

Conway Office – New Address!

The Conway office of SH&A has moved.  Our attorneys are now found at 335 Hogan Lane, Suite 100, in Conway, Arkansas. We have expanded our operations to provide better service to our clients.

We hope to see you soon.

28th Annual Arkansas Bean Fest

Please join us in Mountain View October 28th-30th for the 28th Annual Bean Fest and Championship Outhouse Race! The leaves are turning, and the weather will be beautiful! While you are in town, stop by our office at 102 E. Main near the historic court square. We’ll see you there!

Shane Henry & Associates sponsors Mrs. Arkansas, Tina Wilson, in Mrs. United States Pageant

Shane Henry & Associates is proud to sponsor Mrs. Arkansas 2010, Tina Lee Wilson, in the Mrs. United States pageant July 21st and July 22nd at the Orleans Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas.  Tina’s platform this year is “Cure Autism Now.”   Tina has an autistic child and knows first hand about the daily struggles of families who deal with disabilities.  Her personal journey drives her to let the world know that we can no longer ignore this situation.  It has become a goal of hers to find a cure to help other children like her own.  She works with Arkansas Autism Resource and Outreach Center. They help parents when they get their child’s autism diagnosis.  This has also helped parents to learn the early signs of autism so that early intervention and treatment is possible.
The disability attorneys at Shane Henry & Associates helps families through the legal disability process, which can be a huge stress to a family with a disabled child or adult.  Whether thats through the Social Security Disability system, the Veteran’s Administration, or Disability Determination Services (just to name a few), SH&A is proud to serve your legal needs.
One of our Arkansas disability lawyers will gladly provide you with a free consultation.

Arkansas Folk Festival 2010

Shane Henry & Associates’  Mountain View office entered the 2010 Arkansas Folk Festival window contest and won 3rd place.   The theme of the contest this year was “In Tune with the Ozarks.”    The window was decorated with instruments belonging to musicians from the Mountain View and Stone County area by Lea Ann Finn, legal assistant in the Mountain View office and Kay Hinkle, interior decorator for the firm.    Each window was done on main street in Mountain View,  near the old court square.

Shane Henry & Associates in Mountain View serves Stone County and the surrounding area with most legal needs, focusing on Estate Planning, Social Security Disability, Business Law, Divorce, Tax Issues and Adoption.