One of the areas of estate planning I focus on is helping young families cover the basics when it comes to protecting their children and themselves in the event of an untimely death or disability.  All too often, I hear families who feel the only legal document they need is a simple will.  It would be nice if one document could solve all of our legal obligations, but in truth, it can be more complex and require other planning beyond just a will if we really want our wishes honored when we pass.

When I meet with a family for the first time, I try to relieve their fears and concerns that the process of estate planning is so final.  I know that families will transition through a lot of changes over the course of their children growing up, and so I make sure the estate plan is just as flexible.  There are several issues that must be addressed when developing a plan that covers all the unexpected happenings parents can face from birth until their children reach adult age.  I’ve identified some immediate concerns that should be a priority to any family with minor children.

What financial planning has been created  in the event either parent should pass  before the children reach adulthood?

If, God forbid, both parents were killed before the kids were grown, who will be in charge of the estate to make sure the kids are cared for?

Who is responsible for raising the children until 18?

Financial Planning for an Unexpected Death

Being a single parent is tough, and it’s even harder if you have no money for emergencies and expenses that go with raising a child, whether it’s 3 years, 5 years, or 15 years.  The reality is that the best and most affordable solution lies in life insurance.  No matter how good your group benefits are, I always recommend that both spouses consider investing in additional insurance.  The purpose is not to make anyone rich,  but a proper amount of life insurance ensures that the loss of income that would have been there, is now replaced so that the family doesn’t have to change their lifestyle.  Healthy, young parents can get a lot of life insurance for less than $50 a month, which will provide “peace of mind” that no other financial product can guarantee.  One word of caution for parents with minor children, never name minor children as contingent beneficiaries of the policies.  The reason is simple, minors can’t receive or control assets.  For this reason, I suggest creation of a Will with trust provisions that names the estate in care of the trust as the contingent beneficiary. Or a Living Trust can be created that names an alternate trustee that can be designated as the contingent beneficiary, who will be there to act on behalf of the kids.

Management of the Estate Assets

If both parents should simultaneously pass before their children are grown, someone must be appointed to handle all the financial affairs of the estate until the children are entitled to receive their inheritance.  For this reason I strongly promote the use of a Living Trust because of the protections it provides to the beneficiaries of the estate along with guidelines it offers for the person managing the finances.  Most families will undoubtedly think it’s best to choose a relative to act in this capacity.  At first, it would only make sense to have a family member handle these duties, but certain questions must be asked before appointing anyone that will have to deal with large sums of money.

How will they manage the funds?

What experience do they have with making these types of decisions?

Do they understand their fiduciary responsibilities?

A lot can change over the course of a few years especially in the financial markets, so I suggest that my clients map out a strategy that entails a combination of conservative and semi conservative approaches to seeking a decent rate of return while keeping risk to a minimum.  They might also have their financial adviser involved in helping their trustee make decisions for the management of the funds.

Guardianship Choices

Who will raise your child as close to your values had you been there?  The truth is that NO ONE can truly fill your role, but you still never want to leave this decision to others. You need to decide who will watch over and guide your children if you are not there to do it.  Without a doubt, this is one of the most difficult decisions parents have to make, but one that should be dealt with as early as possible – ideally before you bring your child home from the hospital.  Planning for this contingency means that who ever is appointed will have to make a lot of the decisions on the child’s upbringing, values, religion, schooling, etc.  Not a small task, but one that must be dealt with by those you feel will make the best  surrogate parent if you couldn’t be there.

Estate planning is not just about dying, there are a lot of aspects people just don’t think about, but no matter what happens, by using the services of a competent estate planning attorney you prevent the courts and the State from becoming partners with your family.

If you have questions about this, or about elder care planning for your loved ones, please contact us at 214-292-4225.

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