Caring for Your Minor Children

Jun 24, 2013  /  By: Roger Levine, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Guardianship, Parents with Young Children

If you have minor children, consideration must be made for their care in any prudent estate plan. If you are survived by the child’s other parent, this parent will normally take custody upon your death. If they have predeceased you, or extenuating circumstances exist, another guardian should be listed in their place.

When you are selecting an appropriate guardian, your personal preferences are important. From your standpoint, you may ask if the guardian is going to raise your child with values that will closely parallel your own. If you are laissez faire in your religious practice, it may be a shock for the children to be thrust into a substantially more devout home. This will be compounded by the fact they have recently lost a parent. Value judgments about the educational and extra-curricular activities should also mirror your own.

Financially, can the guardian afford to care for your children? Will there be enough room in the new home for the children to have an appropriate amount of space to call their own? If your prospective guardian has children of their own, do the children get along well enough to live in the same home?

If you are satisfied with the types of answers you have found, it is time for the most important question to be asked. You need to let your potential guardian and any alternates you may choose know of your wishes. They are under no legal obligation to accept this tremendous responsibility and may decline the appointment. You need to know well in advance so alternate plans may be fashioned. Once suitable guardians are determined, consult your estate planner to make sure your plans are properly stated.

Levine & Furman, LLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Young Adults & Estate Planning

Nov 08, 2010  /  By: Roger Levine, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Estate Planning, Guardianship, Incapacity Planning, Parents with Young Children

The specialty of estate planning is in fact one aspect of elder law, so it is not surprising that it would be categorized out of hand as being something that younger people need not be concerned with. However, this is not entirely true. The minute someone else is depending on you in any way is the minute that estate planning becomes relevant to you.

Child Guardianship

When you have children the issue of guardianship is something that should be addressed. If you and your partner were to pass away in a fatal traffic accident, who would raise your children? This is a possibility that everyone should consider and it is a rudimentary staple of your estate plan if you have dependent children.

Life Insurance

During these times most young families depend on the combined income of both partners to make ends meet and maintain a particular standard of living. Should either party pass away in an accident or due to an unexpected illness, a significant financial void is likely to exist. Life insurance is the ideal income replacement vehicle, and it is important to make sure that your coverage is sufficient. Ask yourself how long your family will be able to get by given the coverage that you have. Do the math, review your coverage as the family grows, and make adjustments when necessary.

A Living Will

Looking out for your family in the event of your incapacitation or death is what estate planning is all about, and this extends beyond financial matters. You wouldn’t want your family to be faced with the prospect of having to make a life or death medical decision in your behalf without having full knowledge of your wishes. Through the execution of a living will, you can record your preferences concerning things like being kept alive on life support and take this agonizing decision out of the hands of your loved ones.

Levine & Furman, LLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Naming Your Live-In Partner as Guardian

Sep 17, 2010  /  By: Roger Levine, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Estate Planning, Guardianship, Parents with Young Children

For parents with minor children, a guardian plan is vital. You must name someone to care for your children if you don’t want the decision to be left to a court of law.

Adopted Children

If you have solely adopted the children in your household and you want your partner to receive custody upon your death, you should have a guardian plan. Your partner may also wish to adopt the children to ensure legal custody.

Children from a Previous Union

If you have children from a previous union that you prefer to leave with your live-in partner, you will have to take additional steps to ensure this custody choice. If the other parent of your children is still alive he or she may have a right to custody. If you do not feel that parent is capable, speak with your attorney about how to avoid that person receiving guardianship. If the other biological parent has passed away or has relinquished parental rights, you can more easily name your life partner as guardian.

If you do not create a guardian plan, other family members may fight for custody. If you do have a guardian plan, but you suspect a family member may fight your decision to name your partner, you should leave a letter of explanation for your family and for the legal system.

Leaving Funds

Once you name your partner as guardian, you can include an inheritance in your estate plan to be use for your children’s care. You can do this through a trust, by leaving funds directly to your children to be monitored by their guardian, or you can leave money to your live-in partner with the stipulation that it be used for the care of your offspring. TBe aware, this latter choice would create a moral rather than a legal obligation.

Levine & Furman, LLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Including Your Children in Your Estate Plan

Aug 30, 2010  /  By: Roger Levine, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Guardianship, inheritance planning

An essential aspect of estate planning is providing for your family members after you are gone. This is especially important if you have minor children. Until your children have reached adulthood they will need someone to care for them and financially provide for their needs.

Name a Guardian

You must choose a guardian for your children in case they are still minors when you and your spouse pass away. If you do not name a guardian, the choice will be left up to a judge. In this case, your children may become wards of the state if no available guardian can be found, or they may become ensued in a heated custody battle if several family members wish to be the caregiver.

As you consider possible guardians look at specific attributes such as age, availability, and lifestyle. Your guardian must be someone who is of a mature age without having health problems that would hinder caregiver duties. If a possible guardian has a busy career or a large family, he or she may not be able to provide the love and time your children need. You may also want to consider your guardian’s marriage status, morals and values, and religious views. As you take all of these factors into account, create a final list of two to three possible guardian choices. It is best to have one or two back-up guardians in case your first choice should become unavailable.

Leave Funds

If your children are minors when you pass away, they will not be able to directly accept and use the inheritance you wish to leave. If you do not make other arrangements, the chosen guardian may have control of your children’s property and money.

It may be best, however, to create a special trust to manage your children’s inheritances. You can name a different trustee than your chosen guardian if you feel the guardian may not be good with money, or if you would simply like to split the duties between family members.

The trustee can distribute funds on behalf of the minors or to the guardian as needed until your children reach adulthood. Further, you may choose to have the trustee continue to disperse funds over a number of years even once your children are grown. This is an option often chosen when a parent feels early receipt of an inheritance may lead to mismanagement.

Levine & Furman, LLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Understanding Guardianship or Conservatorship

Aug 18, 2010  /  By: Roger Levine, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Guardianship

Guardianship is a legal process where a court appoints a guardian and provides that individual with the legal power to make decisions for and handle the financial affairs of a person who is incapacitated or is a minor. The person appointed by the court is called a Guardian; the incapacitated person or the minor is called the Ward.

Setting up a guardianship starts with determining whether a person is legally incapable of handling his or her own affairs. Although the specific procedure for determining whether a person is incapable of making his or her own decisions differs from state to state, certain basic steps are common in all states:

  • Family, friends, or financial advisors file a petition questioning the mental state of a person who is alleged to be incapacitated
  • The court instructs third parties to analyze the mental capacity of the individual concerned
  • An attorney is appointed to represent the individual concerned
  • Experts evaluate the individual concerned to check mental state and judge his/her ability to make independent financial decisions
  • Reports are filed regarding about the individual’s mental and physical condition
  • The court reviews the reports and submits copies to the individual’s attorney
  • The court hears arguments for and against the appointment of a guardian, if necessary
  • The judge makes the decision regarding the concerned person’s state of mind and level of incapacity
  • The judge appoints an appropriate guardian or conservator, if necessary, who is capable of handling specified responsibilities on behalf of the individual concerned

The appointed guardian is required to make periodic reports to the court and in many cases is also required to purchase a surety bond, a type of insurance policy protecting the estate of the ward. The costs and expenses incurred by the guardian or the conservator to carry out his or her duties are paid by the incapacitated person’s estate.

Levine & Furman, LLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.