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the Esquire's Casefiles

Legal education and lessons learned watching cases and people going through them

Is Your Family Too Young for an Estate Plan?

A lot of people think estate planning is for the old or the rich. "I have a young family and not very many assets," I hear people say sometimes. Don't cheat yourself or your family just because you haven't yet "arrived" in your financial life or because your life is filled with "childlike" activities.

I have a young family, too. See?

Teenagers and Littles together, just trying to make it through some days. But we have an estate plan. (I realized what would happen if I didn't and I wrote about it in a prior blog post.)

Here's some information to start you thinking about it . . . .

Is Your Family “Too Young” to Need an Estate Plan?

If you are a family with small children, your day-to-day is probably a mix of wiping spills, picking up toys, and somehow stumbling towards the end of the day hoping your kids are fed, bathed, and in one piece! Each day can seem exhausting and time may seem scarce. Estate planning is probably not at the top of your priority list. And you might...

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Keep the Drama on the Stage!

The dramatic reading. The lawyer opens his briefcase or top desk drawer and takes out the folded parchment paper. It is the Will. All the family is there. Some look worried. Some look smug. Some look guilty. (Some are.)

The lawyer begins. "I, Now-Dead-Patriarchal-or-Matriarchal-Figure, declare this to be my Last Will and Testament. I bequeath [some small item of nominal significance] to [the lowly servant or nobody-relative]. And then the fun begins. The money goes to one child. The property goes to another. The business to another. The spouse takes (or is left out of the mix) in a big way.

The meeting descends into chaos. There is an argument. Then a fight. A stabbing or a gunshot. A plot twist. One of the daughters was abused. One of the sons is illegitimate. One of the others is a complete fraudster. The spouse is the murderer. And we can't wait for episode two.

This delightful scene is what most people rely on for their knowledge of estate planning. "Of course," everyone...

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Nap Time with the Littles

We call our two youngest kiddos "the Littles" because, well, they're little. And we have three teenagers who aren't little. The picture above was taken right around last Christmas-time just a few weeks after Aidan was born. Dad and Mom weren't sleeping. But Dad caught a short nap with the two Littles. A moment of precious peace. I love times like that. They seem so rare.

It's nearly a year later, and everywhere I go I'm hearing about the upcoming Holidays. The mad rush to get the best deals on Black Friday, or Cyber Monday, or whatever (I can never keep track). And I keep thinking, "I don't want this year to be a crazy year." I want it to be simple. And meaningful. I want to have some more nap time with the Littles. And maybe some real quality time with the Bigs. How do I do that?

It seems to me that part of what turns the holiday season into chaos is the lack of a plan. Things keep getting thrown at us. Our friend hosts a party. Our work hosts a party. Something goes on sale. One...

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"Is It Okay to Search Your Car?"

On Saturday, I was visiting a public county park on a lake. I was driving our Honda Odyssey minivan with my wife and four of my five kids. The Sheriff's office was there conducting a "random alcohol check." 

"Hi," said the friendly police officer outside the park entrance as we were waiting in line to pay the $7 parking fee. "We're just conducting a random alcohol check today. Do you have any alcohol with you?" 

I know my rights, so I know that I don't have to answer that question, but I figure it doesn't matter, and there's no reason to cause a stir unnecessarily, so I respond with a smile: "We don't even drink," and my kids add loudly from the back seat, "We're Mormons!" I figured that would be the end of it. It wasn't.

"I'd just like to go ahead and check your car, then. Is that okay?" he asked. It was so subtle. It was so unassuming. My wife said, "sure" at the same time that I said, "no," with a furrow in my brow. The inconsistency was not lost on the police officer,...

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Whatever You Track Improves

Time and time again, I see it play out personally and professionally: Whatever you track improves. Want to lose weight? Track your exercise. Want to get control of your time? Track how you're spending it. Want to have more money? Track your income and spending. (There's a reason that budgeting and financial planning works.)

When I track my time reading books, I read more books. When I track my time with my family, I spend more time with my family. When I track how many pushups I do, I do more pushups. Anything I want to increase or improve, I track it. And in virtually every case, my results are positive.

Why is that? It's because to track something, you have to give it proper attention. And when you give something proper attention, you think about it even when you're not thinking about it. Your brain goes to work on it even when you're doing other things. Ideas come in your sleep or in the shower. (I've solved many of the worlds problems in the shower.) Resolve strengthens....

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What Do We Do with All the Stuff?

Have you read Marie Kondo's book, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up? I have, and it really was life-changing. Following her approach, you hold everything you own and ask yourself whether it "sparks joy." If it doesn't, you thank it for its service and get rid of it. 

My mother, and many of the older generation, struggle with this approach. The current generation values minimalism and portability over sentimentality and tradition, and it shows in how we deal with our "stuff." While Ms. Kondo's approach is very popular with the rising generation, the aging population, while often downsizing and acknowledging the need to cull some of their possessions, nevertheless laments the potential loss of many of those things they have cherished and preserved their whole lives for their children and other heirs.

What are we to do with the china sets, furniture, heirlooms, and other belongings that have been treasured by our parents? As the baby boomer generation ages,...

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Weathering the Storm: How Families Can Plan for Natural Disasters

Planning for natural disasters is more than just stocking up on canned food and water. In a natural disaster, food and water will keep you alive, but how will you rebuild your life if your home and community are devastated? Here are some simple tips that will help you get back on your feet should disaster strike.

 Make sure you have enough insurance. Basic homeowner’s insurance typically won’t cover damage caused by natural disasters like floods or earthquakes. You might need to purchase additional insurance to cover these types of events. If you’d like an objective review of the types and amounts of insurance you have, contact us, we can help.

 Keep a thorough inventory of what you own. Having up-to-date information on your personal belongings—especially valuables—will make getting them replaced using your insurance claim easier. Pictures of your belongings stored in the cloud is one great way to handle this in advance of any natural...

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One Dark & Stormy Night

I don't do scary movies. I don't do haunted houses. I don't place myself in situations to be scared. I learned my lesson years ago.

One dark and stormy night—I'm not kidding, it really was a dark and stormy night—I found myself at my buddy's empty apartment (we lived in the same complex, and he was out of town) where I had decided, on my own and alone, to watch The Ring. Have you seen that movie? It's the one where the haunted evil devilish womanlike creature crawls out of the TV right after the phone rings. Because I don't watch scary movies, I don't even know if that movie is really considered scary. But I thought it was terrifying!

At the end of the movie, I had to go pee. I turned on every light in the apartment and left the door open. Just in case I needed to run. And then I left my friend's apartment and walked across the dark parking lot in the middle of the night, in the rain, to get to my own place. I thought I was going to be killed on the way....

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If We Go, the Kids Are Screwed

This is my family.

For some time now, my wife and I have been talking about the need to update our estate plan. We did a basic plan about ten years ago before taking a vacation to Japan without the kids. But we knew we had a plan in place, so it just wasn't a priority. Sound familiar?

Because I'm opening an estate planning practice in Washington, I thought I'd better just make sure I was all set myself. Imagine my shock and surprise when I finally pulled out my own plan and found that, if something happened to Kristina and me today, our children would be completely screwed.

I've learned an awful lot in the last ten years of legal practice. Enough to know that my plan from our Japan trip ten years ago would entirely fail today. Our youngest wasn't even around then. What would happen to her? Disaster.

The fact of the matter is that most people's plans are set up to fail. Most estate planning lawyers are simply document preparers, and very few focus on families with young...

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Why Does Law Have to Be Crazy & Extreme?

 

Hollywood certainly feeds the perception that law and lawyers are crazy and extreme and take crazy and extreme positions. Unfortunately this is partly true, but it's less a reflection of all those Type A lawyers than a symptom of our country's adversarial system.

If you find yourself facing a legal issue and someone takes a crazy or extreme position, more often than not, they're posturing, expecting to move to a more reasonable place once everyone has established a starting point for discussion.

Watch the video for more explanation.

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