By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
September 12, 2019
How Single Parents Can Protect Their Children with Estate Planning
Statistics show more than half of U.S. adults do not have a will. Census Data also reflects that after decades of lower birth rates, more women are choosing to bear children again. Further, the tradition of needing marriage to raise a family continues to wane.
While thoughts of their child(ren)’s future are never far from any parent’s mind, these thoughts are often even more urgent for single parents.
A carefully drawn up will and an open living trust are imperative for any single parent formalizing their estate plans for their children. Why?
The Single-Parent Situation Is Unique
Estate planning is the last way you, as a single parent, can legally make decisions when you are gone. Although not every term may be legally enforceable, most are, and those that are not your loved ones can carry them out in your honor.
Every single-parent situation is unique, but our experience with a variety of single-parent scenarios tells us there are five primary decisions that should be made when outlining your wishes.
The Trust and Trustee
A trust is the most private (and often most cost-effective) way to pass along a parent’s estate. These documents are the written records allowing the court to determine your childcare expectations.
There are a number of different trusts appropriate for a variety of situations, but all of them establish who you want to carry out your wishes. Your chosen trustee is someone who will continue to advocate for and influence your child’s life.
Assign Guardianship and Name Alternates
Once you have decided who is trustworthy enough to oversee your estate, you must name an intended guardian for your kids and any alternates.
As a single parent, a useful way to approach this assignment is by imagining where your child will live. Who will raise them?
Who can and will provide your child’s daily care? Before and after school? In the summers? Who cooks their meals? Takes them to school? Who decides on their doctor and what sports they can play? Who buys their clothes?
Your Child’s Visitation Authorization
Most clients choose their child’s other parent to assume full custody, but sometimes this is not an option. Because the courts often try to place a child with next of kin, your estate plan must explicitly outline who is authorized to visit.
Detail who has the right to overnights, who can take them on vacation, and so on so that your true wishes are granted.
Additionally, it is paramount to have an experienced estate planning attorney and an established supportive network that is ready to advocate for the child in your absence.
Detailed Distribution Plans for Trust Funds
Now you know where your child will go, and who will make decisions in their best interest. What about the actual distribution of accumulated trust funds and assets?
You must explain how funds should be used, your child’s level of discretion in accessing them, if and when that level changes, and who you want involved in helping your child make financial decisions.
Talk with Your Child About Your Plans
Finally, we understand this kind of planning is never easy. What’s more, growing up in a single parent household often means your child may lose all sense of stability should something happen to you.
But while you are forever irreplaceable, talking with your child about your plans just in case can create a sense of safety and security they may unexpectedly need in your place.
The conversation should be age appropriate, and sometimes doesn’t even broach the topic of death. Rather, it can be about sharing the steps you’re taking to ensure your child’s future well-being.
Of course, there will be nothing to talk about if you aren’t moving forward with your planning. Working with an estate planning attorney to create a trust that supports your vision for a second-best scenario are tried and true ways to ensure your child’s future.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose®
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