This is a topic of much passion for me. Estate planning is a necessary protection for all parents with minor children. Yet, national surveys reveal that less than 40 percent of Americans with children under the age of 18 have their estate planning documents in place. (LexisNexis 2011 EZLaw Survey).
As a parent with young children myself, I understand that it may seem impossible to find the time to meet with a lawyer and get estate planning documents in place. Life is busy! Estate planning often seems like something that can wait to another, less hectic time. Or, some parents, especially those with young children and just beginning their careers, feel that they have not yet accumulated sufficient assets to warrant the need for such a plan. And, if I’m being honest, although I personally find estate planning to be a topic of great interest, most people do not particularly enjoy the topic or find it unsettling. Who wants to talk about planning for death?
Estate planning is necessary! It is as important as the other basic protections we have in place for our children and loved ones. Here’s why:
1. Avoiding Intestate Distribution. You likely do not want your Estate distributed according to the “intestate” or default distribution plans put in place by Indiana Probate law.
2. Naming a Guardian For Minor Children. You will want to name an individual(s) to care for your children in the event that both parents should pass. In the absence of a written appointment by the minor’s parents (through a Last Will & Testament or other document), the Court will select a Guardian, most likely choosing among surviving family members who seek the appointment, and without the benefit of instruction from the child’s parents.
3. Putting in Place a Plan to Manage Your Children’s Inheritance. If something should happen to you (and your spouse) while your children are minors, you will want to put into place a trust to manage and distribute your children’s inheritance. Without such a plan, the Court will appoint a custodian to manage the money while your child is a minor and, in most cases, your child will receive her inheritance outright at the age of 18. Planning with trusts will allow you to put in place the management of your child’s inheritance until ages you determine are appropriate for distributions, holding it in trust beyond the age of 18. In addition to managing and investing the inheritance funds, the trustee will use the inheritance to provide for your child’s care, support and education until the ages of distribution.
4. Planning with Beneficiary Designations. An estate planning lawyer will help you set up your beneficiary designations to fully take advantage of trusts you put in place for the protection of your minor children. Without such properly worded designations, your children will receive assets such as life insurance, 401(k)s, and IRAs, outright at the age of 18, and not protected by trust.
5. Planning for Incapacity. In addition to protecting your family in the event of death, an estate plan should also include incapacity planning documents, including a General Durable Power of Attorney, Living Will, and Appointment of Health Care Representative. If you should become disabled or incapacitated, these documents will be essential to the continued function of your family and eliminate the public and potentially expensive and time-consuming process of a guardianship.
6. Other Concerns. A solid estate plan (and counsel of an estate planning attorney) affords other protections. Additional topics that may be relevant to you and your family include Federal Estate Tax, avoidance of probate, second (or subsequent) marriages, blended families, children with disabilities requiring long-term care, and capital gains/income tax planning.