Who Would Care For Your Baby If Something Happened To You? 5 Legal Planning Steps For Parents of Minor Children
September is Baby Safety Month. While most parents associate baby safety with having the best car seats, monitors and child-safety locks, Savannah attorney, Michael Smith, reminds parents that naming legal guardians and creating a plan to ensure the care of their child(ren) in the event of mom or dadâ€™s death or incapacity is often the most important baby safety measure of all.
Parents know that their childâ€™s safety is paramount. They spend countless hours and dollars to ensure their childâ€™s health â€“ regular doctor check-ups, the best car seats, child-safety locks, all the protective gear. But oftentimes, the most important key to protecting your loved ones during times of tragedy is overlooked.
Facing what would happen to your children in the event both parents are killed or incapacitated in an accident is not a pleasant topic. In fact, studies show that over sixty-nine percent of parents have not created a will or trust to protect their children.
Some of the most common excuses include: â€śthereâ€™s plenty of timeâ€ť, or, â€śmy family already knows my wishes.â€ť But it only takes seconds for something to happen, and in the absence of a valid legal plan, a judge (who doesnâ€™t know you or your children) will be forced to make sensitive decisions about your childâ€™s custody and future well-being.
â€śEvery parent of a minor child needs some sort of estate planning,â€ť says attorney Michael Smith â€śChildren are vulnerable â€“ if you arenâ€™t around to care for them, even temporarily, who will?â€ť
Smith says that parents can have the peace of mind knowing their children will always be cared for by the people they want, and in a manner they feel is best for their future upbringing by following 5 easy steps:
1. Name Legal Guardians
Not only should parents handpick legal guardians who can oversee their childrenâ€™s long-term care, but there also needs to be someone legally named who can provide for emergency short-term care in case of an accident or illness, as well. Unless these guardians are documented legally, no matter what the expressed wishes of the parent are, guardianship decisions will be left up to the courts.
2. Prepare Your Resources Through Estate Planning
Naming a guardian is not enough if the children do not have financial support. Taking on the unexpected role of funding an extra childâ€™s, or childrenâ€™s, care is not always feasible for the guardian in place. This is where tools such as life insurance, savings accounts and other investment vehicles can ensure your children have enough resources to grow up without worry or struggle.
3. Avoid Probate
Probate is the court process that distributes assets after someone passes away. This process is particularly difficult for minors as it is expensive, time-consuming and worst of all, entirely public. Anyone can see what the children stand to inherit and can take advantage of the situation. A living trust can avoid probate entirely and help ensure sensitive financial matters stay private.
4. Place Safeguards Around The Inheritance
Without proper planning, your child(ren) will be entitled to receive the balance of their inheritance at the age of 18. Giving over a large sum of money to a teenager is probably not the wisest decision. Here again the living trust comes into play â€“ it can add â€śspeed-bumpsâ€ť in the inheritance process. The children receive chunks during important milestones, such as graduation, marriage or buying their first house. It also allows mom or dad to stipulate at what age they feel their children will be mature enough to handle the funds.
5. Plan for Special Needs Children
Parents with special needs or disabled children should consider a Supplemental Needs Trust. Otherwise, if a parent dies unexpectedly and leaves their child even a modest inheritance, it could jeopardize their ability to quality for Social Security benefits and Medicaid (which is often the only health insurance available).
No parent knows when tragedy might strike. Just an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure when it comes to ensuring their childrenâ€™s wellbeing into the future. Smith believes that allowing wishes to be known through legal planning can alleviate some of that burden of the unknown.
About Michael Smith
Michael H. Smith attended the University of Georgia School of Law, and graduated in 1996 with a Juris Doctor degree. He was selected as one of America's Techiest Lawyers in the April 2012 edition of the ABA Journal. Mike is a frequent lecturer on Estate Planning, Elder Law and Special Needs Planning, Veterans Aid, and Attendance and Medicaid Planning. In an effort to help the community gain awareness of the importance of proper estate planning, Smith Barid regularly holds free workshops focused on this topic.