Please take the time to choose a Guardian for your children!

Please take the time to choose a Guardian for your children!

What Every Parent Should Know About Wills and Trusts
Michelle-Shari Kruss, Attorney at Law
Our children are our greatest treasures, yet far to many parents don’t have a will. And for those who have done their drafting so many have made at least one of the 10 most common mistakes that leave their children and estate at risk.

Please let me know if you want me to send over a quick list to make sure that you, your spouse/partner and most of all, those who depend on you to help them since they cannot help themselves (your children and your pets) have at least the basics covered.

A child never needs to be alone.

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Do you have heirlooms or personal items you would like to save for your children?

Do you have heirlooms or personal items you would like to save for your children?

This caught my eye in a Multnomah Village antique shop window.

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Michelle-Shari Kruss… a pet-friendly lawyer

In my 17 years of practice I have been lucky/honored to be actively involved (either as a Board Member or Community Volunteer) at 3 local no kill shelters and animal hospitals.


This statement comes up frequently….

“I never felt that I needed to have a Will because I don’t have any children who depend on me for their care.  Then I realized, my goodness, I DO have a dependent! Who will take care of my pet if I become incapacitated, have emergency requiring overnight medical treatment or, if, gosh forbid, I pass away?” 

If you have pets, you may think of them as your children. Yet, while many folks provide for their actual children in their estate plan, they might not make any provision for their pets—or even know that this is allowed.

Pets of owners who are suddenly unable to take care of their four legged (or two in the case of our Spectacled Amazon Parrot) because of an incapacity or death…. Sometimes; run away, are taken to a shelter, put up for adoption or euthanized. I recently read that the Humane Society of the United States estimates that 4 to 5 million pets are euthanized annually, with more than 1 million of these as a direct result of the failure of their owners to provide for their pets in the event of death or incapacity.  I am not sure if this is the case.  But just the possibility that this is true is indeed very disquieting.

This doesn’t have to happen to your pets.

If you care about your pet, PLEASE do not leave things up in the air.

Put your wishes in writing, and keep your pets out of court. They wouldn’t have a clue what to wear, anyway.

Here is some sample language to look at. But please do not use this without some advice from an attorney licensed in your state and who knows your personal planning needs.

As a matter of high priority and importance, I direct my Personal Representative to place any and all animals I may own at the time of my death with another individual or family (that is, in a private, no institutionalized setting) where such animals will be cared for in a manner that any responsible, devoted pet owner would afford to his or her pets. Prior to initiating such efforts to place my animals, I direct my Personal Representative to consult ______________________, D.V.M. (currently at the _______________________ Hospital), or, in the event of Dr. _____________’s unavailability, a veterinarian chosen by my Personal Representative, to ensure that each animal is in generally good health and is not suffering physically. In addition, I direct my Personal Representative to provide any needed, reasonable veterinary care that my animal(s) may need at that time to restore the animal(s) to generally good health and to alleviate suffering, if possible. Any animal(s) not in generally good health or who is so suffering—and whose care is beyond the capabilities of veterinary medicine, reasonably employed, to restore to generally good health or to alleviate suffering—shall be euthanized, cremated, and the ashes disposed of at the discretion of my Personal Representative. Any expenses incurred for the care (including the costs of veterinary services), placement, or transportation of my animals, or to otherwise effect the purposes of this Article ___________ up to the time of placement, shall be charged against the principal of my residuary estate. Decisions my Personal Representative makes under this Article ____________________—for example, with respect to the veterinary care to be afforded to my animal(s) and the costs of such care—shall be final. My intention is that my Personal Representative have the broadest possible discretion to carry out the purposes of this paragraph.




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The Strong-Willed Mother

This morning, Kim Weir, author and radio show host,, kindly gave me permission to share her very very funny story about a mom’s first Will.

I hope you enjoy Kim’s writing as much as I have. Please feel free to visit her site and blog as well.

The Strong-Willed Mother by Kim Wier

It’s settled.  If I die tomorrow, an inheritance is secured for my family.  They needn’t worry about their future.  I have a Will.

I won’t pretend that I understand every nuance of the document, in part because everyone involved apparently gets a new name.  My husband and I were the first to be rechristened.  I am Testatrix.  He is Executor.  It sounds as if we are rulers from the planet Zorg.

All three of my children are henceforth to be known by one common name, Beneficiary.  This one I may actually adopt at home.  I might appear less senile if I could keep their names straight for a change.  I sense their confidence in my mental capacity diminishing each time I tell Bailey to get his homework done, only to hear, “I’m Chase, Mom, remember?”

Now I can just say, “Don’t argue with me, Beneficiary, I am Testatrix, ruler of intergalactic discipline.”

It isn’t just people who have been renamed.  My mortgaged house has been elevated to a new position.  Instead of a two story with an overgrown lawn, it is an Estate.  Even my debts have become nobler.  They are no longer just bills; they are now Encumbrances.  It’s a fitting name, since apparently, even if I die, they get passed along to my heirs.

Other aspects of inheritances are not so simple.  In the Will and Testament world, every bequeath, no matter how small, requires a translator.  It would be impossible to simply say that I would like my favorite teacup to go to my daughter.  This type of request would require an official memorandum directing my Executor to properly dispose of any portion of my personal and household effects according to Article 2 and subject to probate.  After all, should anyone contest the teacup issue, it must be able to stand up under judicial scrutiny.

Which brings me to my favorite part of the Will.  According to Article 9, “If any beneficiary shall contest the validity of the Will, then all benefits provided for such beneficiary are revoked.”  In other words, “Don’t argue with your mother.”  You’ve got to love a document that gives you the last word.

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Estate Planning. An important tool in your financial kit.

Estate planning is an incredibly important element of any adult’s financial preparedness. Unfortunately, too many Americans fail to have an up-to-date estate plan to protect themselves or their family in the event of sickness, accident, or untimely death. When interviewed many of those “sitting on the sidelines” shared that they, “Wanted to get started”  BUT…. didn’t not know where to begin or were overwhelmed with the process and decisions. My goal, at Krusslaw, is to, periodically, reach out to families throughout Portland with a gentle reminder regarding the need for estate planning while simultaneously taking the unknowns out of the equation.   Education about the process, documents and terminology is very important to me. All my clients (whether married or single, with or without children) receive high quality educational content and tools (shared on my website, seminars and found in my “Krusstips”).  From the moment we start the education begins and continues all the way through to signing.  It is because of this understanding about why planning was initially important, why the documents recommended are a good choice, how they work and what might need to change in the near future, my clients are my biggest advocates and are phenomenal referrals sources.  Thank you!!!

be prepared not scared

For those of you thinking about getting started on your first Will…please know that we are cheering for you from the stands.  Make 2014 the year you join the team and enjoy the win


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Basic Incapacity Planning. Can you stand in your spouse’s shoes?

It is best not to assume that your spouse will have total control of your finances if you become incapacitated. Although your spouse has some rights over property you own together, like joint bank accounts, he or she is restricted from doing certain things with that property. For example, generally both spouses must consent in writing in order to sell jointly-owned property or access each others retirement and banking accounts held individually. Because an incapacitated spouse cannot consent, any such transaction would be delayed or prevented.

A power of attorney that gives rights to a spouse often makes transactions easier and more cost-effective.                             

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Limitations on married couples ability to act for each other when making financial and medical decisions

It is best not to assume that your spouse will have total control of your finances or be able to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated.

Financial: If you are married, your spouse does have some authority over property you own together — for example, to pay bills from a joint bank account or sell stock in a joint brokerage account. There are significant limits, however, on your spouse’s right to sell property owned by both of you. For example, in most states, both spouses must agree to the sale of co-owned real estate or cars. Because an incapacitated spouse can’t consent to such a sale, the other spouse’s hands are tied. And when it comes to property that belongs only to you, your spouse has no legal authority without a durable power of attorney (think business interests, retirement accounts and life insurance).
Medical: Many of my clients are also surprised to learn that spouses are sometimes limited to act on each others behalf to make medical decisions as well.

Recently, the law expanded the scope of exclusivity of this right to the privacy realm by limiting the sharing of patient information and records. Thus a patient’s spouse, domestic partner, and other family members face increasing obstacles when they seek information from the patient’s records—even though some healthcare providers, perhaps motivated by compassion, are disregarding the legal restrictions. Nevertheless, spouses, in particular, should be very clear about their ability to make healthcare decisions on behalf of their partners. Spouses often assume that when their husband or wife becomes incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions, they have an automatic right to step into the shoes of their spouse. A patient’s incapacity his or her inability to understand the nature and consequences of a decision or communicate a decision—may be temporary or permanent. Under either circumstance, the patient’s spouse is not statutorily authorized to be first in line to assume the power to make healthcare decisions for the incapacitated patient.

A healthcare directive or living will states what medical care you do or do not wish to receive if you should ever become incapacitated and unable to communicate directly with the doctor. If you want to designate a person to supervise your care, you can do so through a document called a durable power of attorney for healthcare.

A Hippa waiver is a legal document in the United States that allows doctors to communicate with specifically named individuals about someone’s health history and current health situation. Without such authorization, doctors are legally barred from discussing anything about a patient with third parties, including family members. Such forms are necessary in a variety of settings and patients can control how much information will be released and who will be able to access health information.

If I can help answer any questions please feel free to give me a call.

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