The most important reason parents of minor children should complete their estate plans is to ensure their minor children will be properly cared for, should something happen to both parents.
There are two major topics that parents of minor children should discuss with each other. First, who will be the legal guardian of the minor children - meaning, who will be the person or persons responsibility for raising the minor children until they reach the age of 18. Second, how should any inheritance the minor children receive be managed, and by whom.
For now, let's focus on the first topic, how to choose a legal guardian for your minor child. Here are some simple tips to help you figure out who you would name as legal guardian of your children.
- Make a list of every individual you would allow to raise your child (or children). List any family member (siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, etc.), friends, neighbors, etc.
- Make a list of every individual you would NOT allow to raise your child. This list should include those individuals who might step forward and offer, but you absolutely do not want to be appointed as your children's guardian.
- Make a list of certain values and priorities that are important to you. For example, experience as parents, where the children would live, age, patience, maturity level, moral and social values, religious values, education level, physical health, etc.
- Compare your list of acceptable guardians with your list of values and priorities.
- Try to narrow down that list to those individuals who most embody those values and priorities you believe are important.
Once you have narrowed down your acceptable guardians list, rank your options. Select your first choice and then choose several backups.
If you are naming couples, you should determine if you wish one person in the couple to serve, if you wish both individuals to serve as co-guardians, if you wish the couples to serve alone should their spouse decease, or if they must serve as a couple.
The final task is to begin thinking about how you wish your assets to be managed for the benefit of your children.
Do you want the person appointed as your guardian to also manage any asset you leave your children? Or, do you want to name to separate individuals, one to manage the assets and the other to raise your children?
If you decide you wish to name two separate individuals, you can follow the same steps above to determine who you would appoint to manage the assets left for your children.
The idea of not being around to raise your children is terrifying. But, no matter how unpleasant the thought might be, parents of minor children should be prepared in case the worst occurs.
If you are the parent of a minor child, contact a qualified estate planning attorney today to discuss your estate plan.
Remember, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Rebekah N. Freeman is an associate attorney with Elder Law & Estate Planning Center.