I work with many parents of young children. As an estate planner, I have to ask that difficult question: if you are not around, how will you provide for your child? It sounds like a contradictory question, but the truth is that right now is the best time to arrange your assets and affairs to provide for your child if you fell ill or if you passed away.
First, be realistic about who your child is and what they will need. Do you have a super star athlete? A child facing medical or addiction challenges? An ace student who will go to Harvard? Or a cute toddler, that you just do not know what she will do yet? In developing any plan for your child, you must be honest about where the child is headed. A plan for the Harvard student is very different from a child with autism.
Second, be realistic about your assets. Once you know where your child is headed, you need to look at your assets and liabilities to see what type of resources you would leave behind to support your child. Normally, a parent relies upon their income to support their child and to help pay for things like dance classes, football, or college. But if you have passed away, your assets will need to help any guardian afford those things. If you do not have enough assets (and, really, most of us do not), then you need to purchase enough life insurance to replace your income plus cover big expenses (like her first car, or college) for the period of the child's minority.
Third, what do you want for your child? If someone else has to raise your child as a guardian, they want to know what you want for your child. They want to know what to do with the assets and life insurance you left for your children. You can continue to provide parenting guidance through a last will & testament or a trust by outlining the things you want for them. For example, you can designate that the child's inheritance be used for purchases like their first car, college, or home. You can add guidance by directing that any pay-outs from a trust not exceed last year's earned income, or restrictions like drug testing and "bonuses" for achievements like earning a degree. You can share your values by encouraging the visitation with your extended family, involvement in your church, or participation in certain extra-curricular activities. Your estate plan should not just pass your valuables to your children, but also your values.
Just because you have passed away, does not mean you stop parenting your children. Not only should you nominate a guardian for your minor child, but you should also ensure that your children have the resources and guidance from you that they will need.
Cassandra Jones is an elder law and family law attorney in Gardnerville. She can be reached at 782-0040.