Archive for April, 2011

Confronting the Emotions of Adoption Planning

I recently met an pregnant mother who is making an adoption plan (not a client; just someone I met in a social setting). We got to talking about adoption, and the emotions she might expect to feel about the adoption at different times in the process. “Oh, I try not to think about the sad part,” she told me. “I just try to focus on the good parts, like how great it will be to finally meet the baby when she comes.”

Yikes. I admit that I stumbled a bit over what to say. I am really hesitant to tell anyone who is facing such a huge decision how they should handle it. When it comes to the hardest decision of her life, who am I to tell her what to think and feel? But I also know from my years of experience representing birth mothers that refusing to think about any negative feelings is not going to lead to good things in the end. In my experience, a birth mother who is in denial about the “dark side” of adoption is either going to be blindsided by depression after the placement, or she is going to change her mind and decide to parent the child. The first is a heartbreaking outcome for the birth mother; the second is a heartbreaking outcome for the parents who were hoping to adopt the child. Both outcomes are avoidable if the expectant mother can find it in her heart to face those hard emotions and make a thorough adoption plan.

I tell all my expectant clients that adoption planning is much more than just choosing a family for the baby. It also means planning how you are going to take care of yourself after the baby has been adopted. This includes planning for counseling, knowing which friends and family members you can lean on, and finding a support group in your area. Although every mother is different and you never know how you are going to feel until the time comes, knowing that many birth mothers feel grief, loss, and depression and that it’s okay to need help is a good first step. If you don’t end up needing the help, great. But if you do, it’s important that the help is available for you.

In the end, I gave the expectant mom my contact information and told her that if she finds she needs counseling or a support group later, to feel free to ask me for a referral. I hope that she will call if she needs it. Post-adoption is no time to feel alone.

If you are a birth mother, tell me what helped you prepare for adoption. I’d love to hear from you in the comments or by email at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

The Importance of Estate Planning in Adoption

Although no one likes to think about death, everyone wants their children to be protected and cared for in the event of their death or incapacity. Estate planning is important for every parent, but parents of adopted children have some special considerations that make estate planning especially important. A good estate plan is an essential part of every well-planned adoption. Here’s why:

Without an estate plan, the courts choose a guardian for your child.

If you were to die or become incapacitated without estate documents, the courts are left to sort through the list of your relatives and other potential candidates to be your child’s guardian and look after his or her finances until the child is old enough. In some families, this results in a fight among the relatives over who will raise the child, a terrible situation for an already-traumatized child. Further, if you don’t have living relatives who are suitable to be substitute parents, your child could even go to foster care. Avoid the situation entirely and enjoy more peace of mind by making a will with a guardianship that includes your first, second, and third choices for your child’s guardian, and explaining why.

Choosing guardians carefully is especially important for adoptive parents. Adopted children have already been through trauma and loss, so it is essential to have a plan in place that would allow them to feel security and continuity. Choosing guardians whom your children already know is one way to do this. Make sure the guardian you choose has thorough knowledge about your adoption, or make a plan for getting that information to the guardian in the event of your death or incapacity. For example, you can write a letter revealing every detail of your child’s adoption, and spelling out when you would like your child to learn these facts. You want the guardian to be able to answer your child’s questions about her adoption, including any details you know, such as how you first met the birth mother, what she looked like, her interests, health history, etc.

Perhaps most importantly for families in open or partially open adoptions, make sure that the guardian is willing to respect the agreement that you made with the birth parents about post-adoption contact. You may wish to include a clause designating an alternate guardian in the event that your first-choice guardian is not willing to continue contact with the birth parents as agreed. Finally, if possible, choose a guardian who is knowledgeable about adoption issues, or at least is willing to learn.

Without an estate plan, the child can manage the inherited money when he or she turns 18.

While the court will establish a trust to manage money inherited by a minor, this protection will disappear when the child turns 18. This is true whether the inheritance is a few thousand or a few million. I don’t know about you, but when I think of myself at eighteen, I don’t picture a savvy money manager! By writing a will with a trust in it, you can specify at what age your child can manage any inherited money, including insurance proceeds and the equity value of your home. You can also specify that your child can access the funds for important purposes like education, health-care needs, and general support. Having a trust also allows you to choose a trusted family member or friend to manage your child’s money, rather than leaving the choice of trustee to the courts.

An estate plan can protect children whose adoptions are in progress.

The law treats an adopted child the same as a biological child in the event that the parent dies without a will. However, this is only true of adoptions that are finalized, meaning that children whose adoptions are in progress have no rights to your estate. As you know, the adoption finalization process can sometimes take months or years. Some families wish for their assets to pass to their prospective adopted child in the event of the adoptive parents’ death, and this can only be accomplished through a will or trust.

Wills can reflect special considerations for your adopted child.

For example, if your child was adopted internationally and you wish him to have continued exposure to his culture of origin, your will can reflect that, and you can set aside money in a trust for the child to take classes about or even travel to her country of origin. Some parents may wish their child to continue counseling or behavioral therapy that has been beneficial. Your will can also reference any agreement you have with the birth parents about continued contact with them.

Children with special needs should have special protections

If you have adopted a child with special needs, it’s important to establish a special-needs trust to ensure that his or her needs will continue be met. This type of trust can set aside money for your child’s care above and beyond what the government provides, and can also help protect your child’s entitlement to government benefits. Be sure to choose a lawyer who is experienced with this type of trust.
Many adoption attorneys are experienced in drafting estate documents for adoptive families. If your adoption attorney does not do estate planning, he or she should be able to refer you to someone who does, but make sure that person has experience representing families that were formed through adoption.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Adoptivity Goes to the Movies

Let’s face it: Sitting down with a book is not everyone’s favorite way to learn. I got curious about whether there were any adoption-related movies out there to help people learn more about adoption topics. I found two that fascinated me, one great resource, and also a surprising gap. Make some popcorn and check them out!

“The Giving” is a documentary by Mary Durnin Firth that has won awards for Best Documentary at four different film festivals. The film is a touching and eye-opening group of interviews with mothers who chose to place their babies for adoption. It follows each mother from pregnancy through placement, and the DVD also includes extended interviews with these mothers in addition to ones in the documentary itself. The film utterly blows away the myth that birth mothers are lazy, uncaring, and irresponsible or that they choose to place their babies out of any lack of love. I call it a must-see for adoptive parents, mothers considering adoption for their babies, and mothers who have already placed their babies for adoption. For those of you who are my clients, I am ordering a copy of the DVD for my lending library, so let me know if you would like to borrow it. Meanwhile you can watch the trailer here.

The second movie that caught my eye this week is “Living Adoption: Gay Parents Speak.” (click the link and scroll down to the bottom to watch the trailer) This documentary is also a series of interviews, this time with gay and lesbian adoptive parents. Each family speaks about their experiences throughout the adoption process, including adopting from foster care, being conspicuous in their communities, and special issues of raising adopted teens. I am fascinated by this film and would love to see it, but I have to admit I got sticker shock at the price tag. Seriously, guys? $100 for a 21-minute video? It’s really unfortunate that the film’s creators have priced it out of reach of most of the people who would benefit from it (and I think everyone would benefit from seeing these beautiful families). I’m keeping an eye out for screenings of the film in my area, and if the price comes down I will certainly add it to my library.

On a lighter note, I was thrilled to see that the Mister Rogers Neighborhood episodes on adoption are available on DVD through Amazon.com. Most people don’t know that Mister Rogers had a sister who was adopted. Most people also don’t know that he did this wonderful week-long series called “Families Come in All Shapes and Sizes,” in which he talks about what adoption is and some of the feelings kids might have about it, then goes on to explore different kinds of families (both human and animal), emphasizing that what really makes a family is love. Although these episodes were made in the 1980s, they are surprisingly nuanced on the topic of adoption. For example, in one episode Mister Rogers points out that it’s okay to sometimes feel sad, angry, or scared about being adopted. Gentle and respectful of children’s feelings, these are a really positive resource for adoptive parents of young children.

What most surprised me about my search for adoption-related movies was a conspicuous lack of movies geared towards prospective adoptive parents. While I did find a few, they don’t seem to be very comprehensive or to touch on the complex issues that adopting families really should be thinking about. It would be nice to see a series of DVDs that are more along the lines of the education you would get from a really good adoption-preparation class with a reputable agency.

Do you know any great film resources about adoption that are not on this list? Have you seen any of these movies? Chime in using the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Affording Adoption

Cost is an ugly truth of adoption. Whether you have struggled with infertility or chose adoption out of a simple wish to help children who need families, it seems horribly unfair that adoption is so much more expensive than having biological children. Besides, when thinking about welcoming a child to your home, the last thing you want to think about is cold, hard cash.
However, planning the financial aspects of your adoption is absolutely necessary. With the average non-foster-care adoption costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000*, most of us can’t afford not to think about money. Below are ideas for how to make adoption happen for your family.

Please note that I don’t specifically list adopting from foster care or adopting a child with special needs in this post. While it’s true that adoptions from foster care and special-needs adoptions tend to be much less expensive, this is not a decision that should be made for financial reasons. I encourage all families to consider opening their hearts and their homes to a foster child or a child with special needs, but only after doing a careful assessment of whether you can meet that child’s needs and whether such an adoption is a good fit for your family. Without further ado, here is the list:

Don’t forget about tax relief. One of the most important thing to remember when planning the financial side of an adoption is that you will get a significant chunk of money back in tax credit after the adoption is finalized. The federal Adoption Tax Credit for 2011 is up to $13,360 for qualifying expenses paid to adopt an eligible child. Learn more at www.irs.gov. Some states also have tax credits for adoption, so be sure to check your state’s laws.

Ask your employer about adoption assistance. Some employers offer adoption assistance to their employees. Sometimes this assistance is eligible to be excluded from your income for tax purposes. The Dave Thomas Foundation has a free toolkit for encouraging your employer to establish an adoption-assistance program, and also keeps a list of employers who do so. Ask your employer if your company has such a program, and if not, consider asking them to create one.
Look into grants. Some organizations, nonprofits, and agencies offer adoption grants. Some will even pay the entire adoption cost for the very few families they select. Most have very specific criteria, such as requirements about what state you live in, where you are adopting from, your religion, etc. Most also require you to show your commitment to adoption by having a completed home study. Be attentive to these criteria and the application deadlines.

Carefully weigh your options for loans and credit cards. Although “debt” is, and should be, a scary word, in truth many families take out loans or use credit cards to help finance their adoptions. The best approach is to get as low an interest rate as possible and borrow only as much as you can pay back later with your tax credit. Home equity loans, loans against your 401K, and loans from agencies and nonprofits that offer them specifically for adoption are all low-interest ideas. If you choose to use a credit card, pay close attention to the interest rate and under what circumstances the lender can change that rate. Make a specific plan for how you will pay it off.

Consider creative fundraising ideas. Fundraising for adoption is a controversial subject — some love the idea, while others find it tacky and rude. If you decide fundraising is right for you, there are many creative options to consider. I know of adoptive families who have raised money for their adoptions using yard sales, bake sales, marathons, raffles, pay-at-the-door parties, and more. Moonlighting by using your skills to set up a side business or selling merchandise on sites like eBay or Etsy is also an idea that works for some families.

Learn about frugal living. You don’t have to be eligible to go on the new reality show “Extreme Couponing” to benefit from frugal living strategies. Negotiating a better rate on your phone bill, car loan, insurance, and other payments can go a long way, and some families save hundreds each month by packing lunches and eating in for dinners. There are many books available on frugal lifestyle changes – check your local library.

If you must travel for your adoption, take advantage of discounts and rewards programs. You’d be amazed what you can get just by asking. If you have to travel – especially internationally – to complete your adoption, be aware that some airlines offer discounted fares for adoption-related travel. Hotels might also be open to offering you a discounted stay if you tell them the purpose of your visit. Also, many credit cards offer great rewards programs for travel. Consider using these cards for your usual household purchases and paying the balance off each month. Finally, be aware that many travel rewards programs allow your friends and family to donate their points to you – a great way for friends to get involved if they want to help but can’t afford to donate money.
Although affording adoption is a worry for all adopting families, I have never known any family to let money stand between them and having a child.

Did you fund your adoption using an idea not mentioned here? Post it in the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

*Figure based on a survey from Adoptive Families Magazine, 2009-10.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Taxpayer ID for Children in Pending Adoptions

With tax time hot upon us, you may be wondering whether you can claim your soon-to-be adopted child for tax purposes. The answer for domestic adoptions is yes, and your child will need either a Social Security number or a Taxpayer ID.

You can apply for a Social Security number for your child before the adoption is final, however, the SSN will be issued in your child’s current (i.e. pre-adoption) name, and you will not be listed as the parent. So, if your child’s name will change post-adoption (this is true in most cases), you may want to wait until the adoption is final so you don’t have to go through the extra hassle of changing the child’s name with Social Security.

What you can do now is apply for an Adoption Taxpayer ID Number (ATIN) for your child. You can do this using Social Security’s form W-7A, Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions. Applying for an ATIN generally takes about six weeks.

For international adoptions, you can only get an Adoption Taxpayer ID Number if your child has a certificate of citizenship or resident alien card and meets certain other criteria.
You can find more information about Adoption Taxpayer Identification Numbers here.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

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