6 Steps to Select and Name the Right Guardians for Your Children—Part 2
Selecting and naming the right guardians for minor children in the event that something happens to you is a critical component of your estate plan. Last week I’ve outlined some basic steps to select and name a legal guardian in Part One of this two part series. Regardless of whether you own any other assets or wealth, it’s vital to complete this process immediately, so you know that who you care about most—your kids—will be cared for the way you want, no matter what. While it’s rare for something to happen to both parents of a minor child, it does occur, and the consequences are simply too severe to not take a few simple steps to select and legally name guardians the right way. Even if you don’t have any minor children at home, please consider sharing this article with any friends or family who do—it’s that important!
6 Steps to Select and Name the Right Guardians for Your Children—Part 1
One of your most important responsibilities as a parent is to select and legally document guardians for your children. This doesn’t mean just naming godparents or trusting the grandparents will step in if necessary. It means consciously deciding who would raise your children if you cannot. And then it means legally documenting your choices and making sure the people you’ve chosen know what to do if they’re ever called upon.
However, most people have no idea how to even start this process, much less create a legally binding plan. Because of this, many parents simply never get around to doing it. And those who do often make one of several common mistakes—even if they’ve worked with an Attorney. Why? Because most lawyers haven’t been trained properly to help parents with this vital issue.
As a result, unless you’ve worked with me or another trained Personal Family Lawyer®, it’s likely your children are extremely vulnerable to being taken out of your home and placed in the care of strangers. This might be temporary, while the authorities figure out what to do, or they could end up being raised to adulthood by someone you’d never choose.
Protecting Your Children’s Inheritance When You are Divorced
Consider this story. Beth’s divorce from her husband was recently finalized. Her most valuable assets are her retirement plan at work and her life insurance policy. She updated the beneficiary designations on both to be her two minor children. She did not want her ex-husband to receive the money.
Beth passes away one year after her divorce. Her children are still minors, so the retirement plan and insurance company require an adult to be appointed to receive the inheritance Beth left behind. Who does the court presumptively look to serve as the caretaker of this money? Beth’s ex-husband who is now the only living parent of the children. (In some states, this caretaker of the money is called a guardian, whereas in others it is the conservator. The title does not matter as much as the role, which is to manage the funds on behalf of a minor, since the minor is not legally able to handle significant assets or money.)
Sadly, stories like Beth’s are all too familiar for the loved ones of divorced people who do not make effective use of the estate planning tools. Naming a beneficiary for retirement benefits or life insurance, or having a Will can be a good start. However, the complexities of relationships, post-divorce, often render these basic tools inadequate. Luckily, there is a way to protect and control your children’s inheritance fully.
3 Things You Must Do During and After Divorce
The divorce process can be long and expensive. However, the work does not end once the divorce decree is signed. In order to ensure that your assets and estate planning wishes are carried out in light of this major life change, there are three things you must do as soon as possible: Changing beneficiaries on life insurance policy, changing beneficiaries on retirement accounts and creating and/or updating your estate plan.
If you do not have any estate planning documents in place, now is the perfect time to get everything in order. After going through the divorce, you probably have a good idea as to what assets you own and the value of them. This will be very helpful as we discuss the right estate plan for you.
Your estate plan is more than just a Trust. It is a customized plan that ensures that you, your family and your assets are taken care when “something happens.” Something will happen and we do not have the fortune of knowing when, where and how. If you have an estate plan, this is the time to review them as many changes occurred post-divorce. Chances are you no longer want your ex-spouse to have the authority to sign documents on your behalf or make medical decisions for you. To avoid confusion by third parties as to who should be acting on your behalf, make sure to call me, your Personal Family Lawyer so we can update these essential documents.
Why Not Just Go on NoloⓇ and Create Your Own Estate Planning Documents Cheaply?
In almost all scenarios, do-it-yourself estate planning is risky and can become a costly substitute for comprehensive in-person planning with a professional legal advisor. Typically, these online programs and services have significant limitations when it comes to gathering information needed to properly craft an estate plan. This can result in crucial defects that, sadly, won’t become apparent until the situation becomes a legal and financial nightmare for your loved ones.
Creating your own estate plan without professional advice can also have unintended consequences. Bad or thoughtless documents can be invalid and/or useless when they are needed.