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Every parent wants to makes sure their children are provided for. But not every parent makes suitable arrangements should something happen to them. Would you rather choose your own back-up parents (Guardians), or let a judge make the selection without your input?
There are three critical issues when dealing with minor children.
If one biological parent is alive, then that parent will (continue to) be their guardian, absent a court-proven case of unfitness. But if both parents pass away, or the surviving parent is deemed unfit, a new guardian will need to be appointed. While every family is unique, there are some overall criteria that most parents will want to consider for the guardians:
- Do the guardians share your faith, values, and life priorities?
- Do your children already have a positive relationship with your minor children?
- Would your children need to uproot their lives and move away, or can they remain close to their friends?
- Do the guardians need to drastically change their lives, or will the addition of your children into their family be a relatively smooth transition?
- Consider naming only one member of a couple, in case that person predeceases or gets divorced
- Have you discussed the possibility with the guardians?
- Do you have a backup?
Are your finances sufficient to provide for your children until they become self-sufficient? This is especially important for younger couples who haven’t had as much time to build their net worth, and whose younger children will be unable to provide for themselves for a much longer time. Recent estimates show that it costs roughly $750,000 to raise a child from birth to 18, if you include childcare, extra-curricular activities, and college savings. At a minimum, basic care for food, housing, clothing, and health care, is an average of about $14,000 per year.
- Is your appointed guardian able to cover those costs themselves?
- How would they feel about that added burden?
You could, and many people probably should, supplement their nest egg with life insurance, and we at Forks Law will gladly coordinate with your insurance agent, or assist you in any way we can to ensure you get the coverage you need.
If the biological parent is alive, do you want him or her to control your children’s inheritance? Is your self-selected guardian capable of managing funds on their behalf? Especially if it’s someone you love, it’s difficult to consider, but the person looking after your children has a conflict of interest when it comes to your children’s expenses. And if there’s (more than enough) left over after your child turns 18, should he or she get full control right away?
- You could name a different trusted family member or close friend look after the money. The upside is that they likely know the strengths and weaknesses of your loved ones, and there’s a good chance they can guess what your wishes would be. Moreover, they probably won’t trust much, if anything, to oversee the inheritance. The downside is they may not have the experience and skills needed to manage funds and budgets, or they may be distracted by their own life and financial responsibilities. Also, it could make for some awkward family dynamics.
- You could appoint a professional fiduciary, such as the trust department of a bank. The strengths and weaknesses are the opposite of naming a trusted friend or family member – the professional fiduciary will be an expert at managing the funds and will be readily available, but won’t necessarily know what’s best for your child.
- A third option gives you the best of both worlds, the friend or family member provides the personal touch, while working in conjunction with the professional trustee who manages the day-to-day management of the funds, and who can act as a “no-man”.
- If there’s enough left over, rather than pay out a lump sum the day they turn 18, limit permissible expenses until your child reaches a more mature age, or stagger the distribution over a period of years.
Selecting guardian and fiduciaries for your minor children is essential for their physical and financial well-being if you were to pass away prematurely. Few decisions in life are more important, so please let Forks Law help you create an Estate Plan that will make sure your loved ones are taken care of.