While estate planning might not be on the top of your already jam-packed ‘to-do’ list, it’s important that you make time to speak with an experienced estate attorney to plan out the future and how it will affect your family in personal and financial matters. It’s especially important if you’re the parent of minor children. Have you thought about appointing a legal guardian in the event of an untimely death?
Statutory Guidelines Explained
When you haven’t appointed someone you trust to become the guardian of your children in your will, and both parents are deceased, a judge will appoint a guardian on your behalf. The court acts in the best interests of the children and typically appoints someone such as a family member. However, if no such person exists, a state employee may be appointed. Your children then become wards of the appointed guardian. Sometimes a conservator is appointed to manage financial matters on behalf of the children, but the same person can be both guardian and conservator.
When your children reach the age of 14 years (or similar age), many state laws allow the child to declare a preference of who he or she wants as a legal guardian.
A few responsibilities of a guardian include:
- Ensure the well-being and health of the ward.
- Ensure the ward receives education.
- Provides a legal residence.
- Applies for public assistance benefits or public housing if necessary.
- Maintains finances and personal property for the ward (if a conservator is not appointed).
A guardianship ends when one of the following occurs:
- The ward turns 18 years old.
- The judge deems it unnecessary.
- The child dies.
Problems You May Encounter
A state-appointed guardianship can be problematic for your children for a number of reasons. If the guardian happens to be someone the children do not know well or get along with, problems naturally arise. As a guardian is essentially taking over the role of a parent, it’s important to think of someone who is nurturing, responsible and who ideally shares similar values and beliefs to your own. If this particular person is not well-versed in financial matters, you can choose to appoint a separate person as a conservator.
Vital Components of an Estate Plan
- A will – outlines your last wishes, inheritances, guardianship, etc.
- A revocable living trust – how you’d like your property to be distributed in event of incapacity or death.
- A special-needs trust
- A healthcare power of attorney – who will make medical decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated.
- A financial power of attorney – who will handle financial matters on your behalf.
- A living will – addresses end-of-life medical and health decisions.
Estate planning doesn’t have to be tedious and complicated. At Tolison & Williams, we personalize the estate planning process so that you receive services and advice tailored to your unique situation. Planning ahead ensures the well-being and happiness of your children and provides you with peace of mind.