Sunday, December 27, 2009

Closer to My Dreams: Let It Burn

 With time ticking away from 2009 to 2010, there have been many conversations about the past 12 months. Often about what has or has not happened. For me it has been bittersweet, meaning there have been highs and lows. The end of a relationship, yet new found freedom and direction. Unfortunately, for some, the past seems to linger too long causing issues in the future. While thinking about that dilemma, I was reminded of of a ceremony I wanted to perform along with a tool I was taught during my training to be a certified GriefRecovery Specialist. At times, we can be overwhemed by failures, grief, hurt, pain, and disappointments to the point of being paralyzed or depressed. I have been there too and it is a place from which you can emerge.

The song Let It Burn by Usher came to mind when I was thinking about the ceremony. It took that simple sentiment "let it burn" and applied it to the ceremony and thoughts of the past, since they are things no one can change. The only thing we can transform is our relationship to the past, the way we view it, and how much we allow it to effect our future.To make it simple, I call the ceremony, Let It Burn. The closer I get to my dreams the more stuff from the past emerges. But, if it is burned, it cannot come back. Anything that is burned cannot return.

There are things that haunt you. It may be the death of a mate, spouse, friend, relative, beloved pet, parent, sibling, or child. Some people have lost jobs, finances, health, relationships, and homes. Others have a change of life which may be hard to accept like empty nesters or grandparents who are now caring for their grandchildren. No matter what the situation it is all legitimate.

In the past year, there have been things you have said or done to yourself as well, which meant you no good. Maybe you were lazy about working out, spent little quality time with family or friends, or neglected your health. Only you know the answer to that. No better time than the present to Let It Burn. Let it go, get it off your chest. How? The following are instructions for your own LET IT BURN CEREMONY.

  1. Make a list of :
    •  people who have died in the past 12 months
    • things you regret doing or not doing
    • pains you were caused and by whom
    • pains which you have cause and to whom
    • express your disappointments
  2. Begin formulating your letter following this format:
    • Dear (YOUR NAME),  As I review the past year I have realized somethings I want to let go of to build a future of freedom.
      • LIST PEOPLE WHO HAVE DIED any apologies you want to communicate to them, thins you want to be forgiven for, things you want to forgive, and share other things you want them to know. If there are multiple deaths, repeat the same process for each. Please let whatever emotions you feel be alright both the lack of emotion and showing emotion. Know that writing this section does not mean that you will no longer think of that person, you are simply allowing yourself to move beyond the hurt and pain.
      • WRITE  ABOUT PAINS YOU WERE CAUSED by whom, what do you want them to know, and for what can you forgive them?
      • WRITE ABOUT PAINS YOU HAVE CAUSED to whom (including yourself), what were the pains/hurts, for what do you forgive yourself, for what do you want to be forgiven.
      • CLOSE THE LETTER however you feel comfortable, yet makes it clear you will no longer hold onto these things. You may use words like: Good bye, That's All, All is complete. Whatever you use should reflect you.
      • SIGN IT!
  3. Reread the letter either to yourself or aloud (to yourself).
  4. Prepare a safe place for a fire. Light the fire and place the letter in it. You may want to be silent during this time, pray, meditate, or recite the following:
    • I forever release you. I no longer hold the right to punish you or me. From this moment on there is freedom. From this moment on I  am complete.
  5. You may want to take a moment. However, following the last step, take another piece of paper and write at least 5 things you commit to being, doing, or having and by when you will accomplish these things. 
 Since you have burned the past you can create anything. While writing the letter be free with it. Have fun, make them things that will inspire and excite you. Keep it in a place where you can view it often, maybe post it on a wall or frame it. Share the letter with friends and family, those people who will support you.

 I share this because the past can be a crutch for individuals and families. My son, affectionately known as "the Boy", and I will be participating in this ceremony on December 31st together. He will have his own letter, though he is 10, which will express his feelings and thoughts. For parents, this is a great way to allow children to express their grief, upsets, disappointments, and feelings about their lives as well. It is also a phenomenal tool for parents, couples, and families to begin a new chapter. You may share the ceremony with firends and family for your New Year's celebration. If you participte together you may consider sharing what you forgive and want to be forgiven for with those in the circle. No arguing, it defeats the purpose. And then, LET IT BURN!

 Please be sure to go to www.sidneygaskins.webs.com or www.sidneygaskins.podbean.com in the New Year to get information for New Dawning, a grief recovery group beginning in the new year. Why not start a new year with a New Dawning in life too?

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

OPEN ADOPTION: Estate Planning for the Adoptive Family

Estate Planning for the Adoptive Family

By Cheryl N. Smith, Esq.

My husband and I recently adopted a baby girl through domestic agency adoption. She is just the love of our lives and we have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of learning how to be her parents.

In addition to being a new adoptive mother, I am also an estate planning attorney, so after our daughter was born, I sat down to rewrite our Wills. I realized that the fact that we have an adopted child raised a whole host of questions which, even after nine years of practice, took on a whole new meaning to me. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are several issues and decisions that parents in adoptive families must be educated about that do not exist in families with only biological children.

Estate Planning in General

Every parent that has a minor child needs to have an estate plan in order to ensure that child is protected and cared for, both personally and financially. An estate plan typically consists of a set of documents that set forth your wishes with respect to your person (i.e., health care decisions), your estate (i.e., financial decisions) and your children (i.e., guardianship decisions).

The documents include a Will, a Trust, a Health Care Proxy, a Durable Power of Attorney, and a Parental Appointment of Guardian for Minors. While a good estate planning attorney can walk you through what each of these documents does, there are additional issues specific to adoption that an adoptive parent must consider when establishing an estate plan. Some of these issues are discussed below.

Choice of Guardian

Choosing a guardian to care for your children in the event you become incapacitated or die is never an easy decision for any parent. But when you are an adoptive parent, it is even more complicated. The person you select to fill this role must be sensitive to the unique circumstances of your family, and it may require some extra thought and direction on your part to make sure your wishes are carried out.

Things to consider include making sure your chosen guardian has all the facts about your child’s adoption so that as appropriate, they can share this information with your child. Also, if you are in an open adoption, will the person you chose as guardian follow through with helping to maintain that open relationship? In my own Will, I specifically state that if a nominated guardian is unwilling or unable to maintain a relationship with our daughter’s birth parents, that they respectfully decline to serve as guardian, in which case the nominated alternates will step in.

I often recommend that adoptive parents prepare a letter, to be kept with their estate planning documents, spelling out the circumstances surrounding their child’s adoption and giving directions regarding continued contact with the birth family and anything else they feel is important about their child’s adoption.

Inheritance Rights

Before your adoption is finalized, your child has no legal rights to your estate. Depending on from where your child is adopted and the type of adoption you have, it can take anywhere from 6 months to a matter of years to finalize an adoption.

As soon as your child is placed with you, assuming it is intended to be a permanent placement, you should consider signing new Wills to include that child. Your will can include language that treats a child placed for adoption the same as a biological child or a child whose adoption has been finalized.


I always recommend that parents of young children leave their assets to a trust for the benefit of their child. It is never advisable to leave assets to a minor, first and foremost because legally they cannot take control of an inheritance, but also because leaving assets to a minor means continued court involvement and oversight until your child reaches the age of majority.

With adoption, and particularly open adoption, the need for a trust is magnified as there may be people other than your immediate family that have a direct interest in your child’s life and well being. Keeping assets held for your child in a Trust under the control of a Trustee that you have chosen (rather than being subject to judicial process) is the best way to protect your child’s interests and preserve your assets for their benefit.

Because a Trust is usually not a public document (as opposed to a Will which gets filed with the Probate Court), it also serves as a mechanism to privately set forth special financial considerations for your child, as further discussed below.

Special Financial Considerations

There may be costs associated with raising an adopted child that go beyond making sure they are clothed, sheltered, fed and educated. If your plan for your child includes annual visits with the birth family, or a trip to the country from where they were adopted, this is something you should spell out. If they were adopted internationally, and you want them to have exposure to the culture of their homeland, you should incorporate provisions in your Trust specifically directing your Trustee to pay for travel, cultural programs, or anything else that might be related.

Supplemental Needs Trusts

If your child has any disabilities or special needs, it will be even more important that you provide for him or her after you are gone. You should consider establishing a supplemental needs trust for your child to ensure that your child meet the financial eligibility rules for private or government assistance programs while preserving the assets you leave to him or her for needs not met by such programs.

Continued Planning

Finally, you should periodically review your estate plan with an experienced estate planning attorney. Changes in the law, your family structure or financial situation are all events that warrant a revisit of your plan as they can have a dramatic impact on your estate plan.

Cheryl N. Smith is an estate planning attorney at the law firm of Bass, Doherty and Finks, P.C. www.bassdoherty.com She is also mom to her beautiful daughter adopted at birth through domestic, open adoption. She can be reached via email at csmith@bassdoherty.com or via telephone at (617)787-8948.

Copyright (c) 2009 Cheryl N. Smith