Who Will Care for Your Children? Estate Planning for Young Adults and Families
Young adulthood often marks the passage of several major life events including beginning a career, getting married, starting a family, and buying a first home. As young adults ourselves, my husband and I welcomed our first child, moved states for a new career, and bought our first home, all in the past year.
While settling into being first-time parents and exploring our new neighborhood, another important item lingered on our to-do list: ensuring our son would be taken care of, if anything happened to us. It’s scary to think about the possibility of not being there to raise our son, but it is more frightening to think about leaving him without a safety net.
So, to ensure that our son would be in good hands, we set out to create our first estate plan. Our primary goal was to determine who would care for our son, should tragedy strike. Making these decisions and putting a plan in place took time and effort. It was time and effort well spent. Now we both sleep better at night knowing our son will be in good hands no matter what.
If you want to ensure your children and loved ones are cared for, here are a few important things to consider. An attorney can provide additional guidance and draft legal documents that help accomplish what’s important to you.
A will allows you to address the big question of who will care of your children. By naming a guardian (or guardians) for your children you can control who will raise them, rather than the courts. Consider a few important aspects when naming guardians. For example, should you pick someone from your family or your spouse’s family? Often coming to an agreement as a couple requires thoughtful discussion. Is it important that the guardians are married? Who are the successor guardians, if the primary guardians are unable to serve? Make sure to ask your potential guardians if they are willing to accept this responsibility.
Most young adults and families start off by saving for the future and building home equity. Many also work toward paying off student loans. Chances are you may not have sizable assets yet. Consider purchasing a term life insurance policy to help provide for the care of your children. Make sure to name the appropriate beneficiary. If you name your child as direct beneficiary, he or she will have immediate and full access to the proceeds. To prevent this, especially if your children are young, many people name a trust as the beneficiary. A trust allows you to direct and delay access to the monies until your children are older. More information follows on the use of trusts.
A trust lets you direct how your assets and/or life insurance proceeds help care for your children. Typically the most important goal is ensuring your children are well cared for and provided for. You may want to avoid making a large sum of money available to your children at a young age. A trust allows you to cover specific needs, while restricting access to the whole “pot” until your children age and hopefully become more responsible. For example, allow trust distributions for your children’s health, education, maintenance and support while they are young, combined with the ability to receive lump-sum distributions of 1/3 of the balance at ages 25, 30, and 35.
For couples with multiple children, it is often a good idea to create separate trusts for each child. Also, consider who you will name as trustee to oversee the distributions. You may wish to name a family member or a corporate trustee. By naming a corporate trustee, you can minimize potential disharmony between your children and the trustee (for example, an aunt or uncle) if the child requests monies beyond the scope of the trust. It may be a good idea to give your children the ability to replace and name a new trustee if they desire, with or without cause, down the road. Adding this feature can help provide accountability for the trustee. Finally, keep in mind that a trust can be a separate legal document from your will, or it can “pop-up” from within your will at death.
It’s very important to us that our son be well cared for by the people we chose. However, even more important was making sure our son always knows how much we love him. We want to share with him things that money can’t buy. We want to instill faith, importance of family, benefits of education and hard work, and values like honesty, respect, and kindness. Writing a personal letter to share these things with our son helps leave our loving legacy.
Personal letters give you the opportunity to share your love, values, and hopes with your children and others in a meaningful way. In addition to writing letters to your children, you can also write a letter to your named guardians with guidance on how you want your children to be raised. For example, perhaps you wish them to attend certain schools or be raised in a certain faith. Personal letters like these will be treasured by your loved ones.
Powers of Attorney and Living Will
In addition to the above documents we also put in place durable powers of attorney for health care and property, as well as living wills. In the event of a catastrophic illness or injury, many believe a spouse or child can automatically act for them. Unfortunately, this is all too often not the case. These documents ensure that the people we name will be able to help make health care decisions and manage our affairs on our behalf.
It is such a relief knowing that our son will be loved and well cared for because we put a plan in place. Consider taking time to create a plan for your family by reviewing the important points above and consulting with an estate planning attorney. You will be glad you did. I know we are.
This is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Please consult your legal professional regarding your specific situation.