Life as a parent is a juggling act of negotiating your time. The extensive tasks of each day, coordinating work and school, sports and vacations, often cause planning for the future to be neglected. Occasionally, however, your mind may wander to the darkest questions: What if something happened to me? Who would take care of the kids?
When my daughter was born almost two years ago, I gained firsthand experience of simultaneously feeling joy for the present and fear of the future. Although I had already been an estate planning attorney for several years, her birth brought a new layer of meaning to my work helping families plan for the future. It has been my privilege to bring peace of mind to numerous families who share similar concerns about who would care for their children, and how assets would be protected for them. The key is to work with an estate planning attorney who can carefully tailor your family’s estate plan to meet your current needs and anticipate what may happen in the future.
For families with minor children, it is essential to document who would serve as their Guardian. It is also imperative to consider how assets may be spent for the benefit of your children if you pass away unexpectedly. Would the assets be paid into a court, leaving no possibility for management or withdrawals until age 18, after which they will be disbursed to the child without regard for the child’s level of maturity to handle them wisely? Would there be ongoing, mandated reporting and accountings to a court? Could funds be managed for the benefit of the child privately, without court oversight, and be held beyond age 18? An experienced estate planning attorney can address these concerns and ensure proper planning that allows the greatest protection for both your assets and your intended beneficiaries, as well as explain the consequences of no planning or inadequate planning.
For families with older children who are adults and no longer live at home, it is essential that adult children have their own estate planning documents. Once your child turns 18, he or she is a legal adult – a jarring fact that may not hit home until your child’s doctor will not speak with you or release medical records to you without your child’s permission. At a minimum, adult children should have Durable General Powers of Attorney and Advanced Medical Directives to allow continued familial involvement in financial management and medical decision-making in the event of an emergency.
Older family members also have the opportunity to help achieve peace of mind for the next generation. Often, a young family understands the importance of estate planning, but is concerned about the cost. I have frequently had relatives who generously offered to pay for the cost of estate planning as a gift to their children or grandchildren.
By Rhiannon M. Hartman, Esq.