Parents of minor children absolutely need an estate plan. Estate planning doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive to create, but the basics must be covered.
The three most important issues to take care of are:
- The first issue to take care of starts with naming a guardian and backups for that guardian. A parent is in a unique position to know his or her children and who would best take care of those children. If a parent dies with minor children and without a will, a probate court will often look to a close family to appoint as a guardian. A grandparent might be a great choice to care for their own grandchildren, but sometimes there are reasons to choose someone else – the age or health of a grandparent may make it impossible for them to care for a young child, no matter how much love they have for that grandchild. Aunts and uncles are another common choices for judges to appoint as guardians, but a parent may not like the way that aunt or uncle raised their own children, which is something a judge just won’t know. Sometimes there are several good choices for a judge to appoint, and that can cause fighting among the family over who gets to raise the children. In every estate plan, we create, a guardian and at least one backup is appointed to avoid a judge having to pick a person.
- The second most important issue for parents of minor children to address is to pick a trustee to handle the money and property that the parent leaves to the children. It is common for our clients to want to pick the same person to act as trustee of the children’s assets as they pick to be the guardian. I discourage parents from doing that for one major reason – it creates the potential for one person to make poor financial decisions that waste the children’s assets and it puts the guardian/trustee in a bad position if anyone challenges the handling of the finances. It is better to have a 2-person system whereby one person makes decisions for the children’s wellbeing and a second person handles the children’s assets. It creates a natural checks-and-balances situation where a separate set of eyes is looking over both the raising of the children and the handling of the finances. It can also solve a problem discussed earlier where you have several people that want to take part in raising the children by creating an additional important role for another family member. A close relative may feel hurt that another is chosen as guardian, but if that person is chosen as trustee, then they don’t feel left out. The parent should nominate other people as backups for those roles, too, which creates more opportunities for inclusion. You really don’t want to make the backup guardian be the same person as the primary trustee, because if something happens to the primary guardian, you could end up with the same person acting as guardian and trustee.
- The last thing that parents of minor children must address is purchasing sufficient life insurance. I don’t sell life insurance, and I don’t consider myself an expert on life insurance, either. There are many different types of life insurance, and there are plenty of good life insurance experts to give advice to young parents. But, at a minimum, young parents should have at least one million dollars worth of life insurance. For young and healthy parents, the cost is minimal – around $100 per month will cover both a father and mother at age 30 and those parents can keep that same cost for 20 or even 30 years by choosing a level term life insurance policy. But, those parents need to get that insurance in place as soon as possible because the longer they wait, the higher the insurance premiums will be due to age. Plus, health problems (high blood pressure, cancer, or heart issues such as atrial fibrillation) can arise that may make it impossible to get life insurance. I often see young families that have no life insurance or only a small amount of coverage through work – like $20,000. And yet, those same families may have two car payments of $600 each. Life insurance is way more important than any car.
Important Estate Planning Issues
A basic but comprehensive estate plan for parents of young children will take care of the guardianship and trustee problems. And any good estate planning attorney will strongly encourage a young parent to get adequate life insurance. For the sake of the children, these 3 issues cannot be ignored. If you’d like more information about estate planning for young parents, visit our website at www.kansascityestateplanner.com or call for a free consultation with one of our attorneys. At WM Law we are here to help.