Designating a guardian >
If your child is a minor (younger than 18), be sure to name a guardian. A guardian is the person who would have custody of a child if there are no surviving parents. The only way to designate a guardian is in your will. So having a will is a “must” for every parent with young children.
If assets are left to a minor child, it may be wise to make provisions to leave assets in a trust. This allows you to designate a trustee, give specific instructions about how the trust will be managed, and decide how long the assets will remain in trust. If you leave assets to a minor child and do not create a trust, the assets will be placed in a guardianship estate under supervision of the probate court. Guardianships terminate when a child reaches the age of majority (18 years in most states). In most cases, it is preferable to create a trust to help assure that your wishes are carried out instead of relying on default rules under state law.
Planning for family relationships when you’re not “next of kin” >
Strong familial bonds can exist in settings that are different from “traditional” families. The individuals you care most about, and want to provide for, may not all be “next of kin” or related to you. For example, consider these situations:
- Andrew is married to Karen and helped raise Michael, Karen’s child from a previous relationship, from a very young age. Andrew and Michael have a strong parental bond, but Andrew has not legally adopted Michael.
- Kevin and Cheryl built a strong relationship with Austin, a nephew whom they took in after Austin’s parents died when Austin was in his late teens. Although Kevin and Cheryl never adopted Austin, they want to include a bequest to him in their estate plan.
- When Ann married Hector, she initially was not sure how his children from a prior marriage would accept her. But she quickly developed close bonds with Hector’s grandchildren, who live in the same city and visit frequently. Ann wants to provide for the grandchildren as part of her estate plan.
You can proactively include someone in your estate plan whether you are a legally recognized parent or not. At the same time, special attention is needed any time you want to provide in your plan for someone who is not biologically or legally related to you or whose relationship is on a different branch of the “family tree.” In these situations, it is important to give clear instructions in your estate planning documents about whom you want to provide for. Conventional language that leaves assets to “children” or “descendants,” or “per stirpes” designations, may not work in these situations. Accordingly, it’s important to work with an experienced local attorney to design a plan that reflects your unique situation and desires.