Parents with young children, especially mothers, worry about what will happen to their children if the parents unexpectedly die. While concern that the State will claim custody is rarely an issue, who will be given custody is a legitimate worry.
In the last couple of months, I have had the pleasure to meet with several parents with young children. In my area of practice, the vast majority of my clients are grandparents, not young parents. It is encouraging to me when younger clients address planning. It is not an easy thing to talk about. Normally, the inspiration to start the process is the same: a mother’s concern of what will happen to the children if the parents die unexpectedly. These young parents come into the meeting confused by what could happen to their children if this terrible situation happened. Conversations with other parents and web searches often create more confusion and concern.
Dr. Phil, The Hallmark Channel, and Other Sources Fuel the Concern
One such meeting started with a frantic phone call late on a Friday afternoon. A young mother had just seen a Dr. Phil-type show focused on children of parents who died unexpectedly. The show left her very worried about what would happen to her children in that situation.
To wrap up the call. I scheduled a meeting with her an evening early the following week. She and her husband discussed their specific situation and concerns. We were able to execute a very efficient, cost-effective plan that not only met their legal need, it gave her a tremendous relief.
“I Think I Need a Will”
Like most people, these parents came to the meeting with looking for a “Will.” People have heard they need a Will, but are not sure why. And, like most people, these young couples do not know the importance of several other key documents they should execute.
The primary concern as to who will care for their children does need to be addressed in a Last Will. The lingering concern that somehow the State will step in and take custody is a rare, if not, near-impossible. Even if parents die without a Will, a court can appoint a related adult as the children’s Guardian. In that situation, the parents would not be able to lead the court to their preferred Guardians. Additionally, it could turn contentious if there are different grandparents, aunts, uncles, or siblings who want to be the Guardian.
That only addresses the person with legal authority to act for the children. If there are assets to assist in their care, there may be a separate battle to be appointed the Conservator, or the person who oversees the assets (estate) of the parents. This decision and the planning to protect assets for the child(ren)’s up-bringing is often a huge point of exposure. It is very important to be very clear in planning and understanding this aspect. It requires a separate, diligent plan. This is discussed in more detail in Part 3 of this series.
A Last Will gives guidance to the court to allow the parents’ wishes to be known. The court has two considerations in its final decision – wishes of the parents and the best interest of the child. It is important for parents to put the proper documentation in place with the properly stated instructions so the court will accept it.
The Last Will is not the Last Document
However, there are other important documents for parents to put in place. In addition, if the parents have 401s, 403s, IRAs, Life Insurance, or other assets, default beneficiary settings can cause more issues. Children’s ages, needs, and other considerations may dictate the need to implement additional planning tools. In addition, there are several documents parents need to aid and simplify decision-making for each other if one becomes incapacity or limited in ability.
There are straight forward, complete solutions for every situation. It can be very valuable to speak with an attorney to properly work through your concerns and wishes. A good Estate Planning Attorney should be able to give you several options to consider that are appropriate based on your specific situation. Additionally, he or she should make sure that you ask all of the questions necessary to cover all aspects of this planning.
How do you start?
You can take advantage of a complimentary, 30-minute consultation with Estate Planning Attorney RG Skadberg to start the evaluation and discussion. There is no obligation to do anything with him. However, the information and options he can provide may give you a sense of relief. You will come away with a better understanding of solutions that will work for your family. CCSK Law is located in Valparaiso and we serve clients throughout Indiana. If you are ready to start the discussion, complete the form to the right or call (219) 200-3902.
Additionally, in January and February 2017, RG will host several open events for Young Parents to receive some base information and ask questions. The first event is Wednesday, January 18 at 6:30pm at Misbehaving Meads in Valparaiso. To learn more about the event and to reserve your spot, visit the event page.