Using estate planning to protect our children is one of the most important things we will do, or neglect to do, in our lives. Unfortunately, many parents of young children ignore or delay estate planning. Often, parents feel they are too busy or simply overwhelmed. Also, some parents avoid the subject because estate planning forces us to think about difficult topics, such as death, relationships between family members, divorce, and more.
In spite of the difficulty of having the conversation, if you are a parent, your children are counting on you. Someone must provide for their educational, physical and emotional needs if something happens to one or both parents. Who will that be? If you didn’t leave a valid Will nominating a guardian for your children, the court must decide on its own. The judge will do his or her best but, of course, the court does not know your lifestyle, family values or child-rearing philosophy. The court’s determination will be made based on California law and not what you, the parents, consider to be in the best interest of your children. A good estate plan must begin with ensuring your children will be raised by the people you want, the way you want, if something happens to you.
Here’s what could happen without solid, comprehensive planning for the care of your children:
- Your children could be taken from their familiar surroundings and placed in the care of Child Protective Services. This can happen even if you have a Will or a living trust in place. It would likely be temporary, but being placed in this system, even for a few days, would be a traumatic experience for a child who just lost a parent or who doesn’t know what’s going on. As parents ourselves, we would never want our children placed in the care of total strangers, not even temporarily.
- A huge portion of your assets – up to 5% – could be drained by court expenses and other fees through the probate court process. Additionally, this court process can tie up your assets for several years and starve your children of the means they need to live comfortably. This can be completely avoided with sound planning.
Your children may be placed in the care of a relative who means well, but you would definitely not want raising your children.
A long, protracted and nasty custody battle between family members can materialize.
- A random judge who does not know you or your family will be appointed and will decide who will raise your children.
- At age 18, whether they are financially mature or not, your children will get your remaining assets. Because this is a public process, predators are often waiting in the wings and monitor public records waiting to prey on young people who are inheriting.
- Very few estate planning attorneys thoroughly address these issues from the parent’s perspective.
Every parent with minor children should have a Will nominating a guardian for the children. In selecting a proper guardian, it is important to consider many factors such as lifestyle and values. Also, careful consideration should be given to the age and physical fitness of the potential guardian. You should consider the possibility that the potential guardian may get divorced or relocate to another state, away from your children’s friends. Good planning also dictates that you name back-up guardians in the event your first choice cannot serve. There are many other considerations we will be happy to review with you.
At Oakley Law Group, we can help you choose the ideal guardian for your children and design a plan that will help ensure your children will be cared for according to your wishes if something happens to you, your spouse, or both. It’s not something any of us wants to think about, but as parents of minor children, we must. Contact us today to discuss your particular situation.