1. What is a guardian?
There are two kinds of guardians – (1) those appointed to care for a minor child when the child’s parent is unable to do so, and (2) guardians appointed for the care of an incapacitated adult who can no longer make his or her own decisions. Comprehensive estate planning addresses both types of guardians, so that you and your family are fully protected.
Although a guardianship for an incapacitated adult can be avoided by adding proper powers of attorney, and explicit directions for them, to your estate plan, you should always name guardians for minor children. A court will want to make sure the child’s best interests are cared for. The way that you, as a parent, can make your wishes known is to designate a guardian for your minor children in your estate plan.
2. If the person that would be a great guardian is not good with money, can I still select them?
Of course you can select them to the be guardian for your children. With a comprehensive estate plan, you can “split up” the roles: one person manages the money (the successor trustee) while another person raises the children (the guardian). Sometimes the same people are appropriate for both roles and other times, naming different people is the right thing to do. This is what we call a “counseling issue,” meaning that after we talk it through, you’ll know what decision to make. The people who care for your children day-to-day may or may not be the best fit to manage the finances as well. The responsibilities do require different skill sets. Luckily, your plan can be tailored to your unique circumstances and needs.
3. I already have (or I’m getting) life insurance to care for my family. Why would I need a will or trust too?
If you don’t have a will, the court will decide who settles your estate and raises your children and state law determines who gets your assets – and it may not be who you think. Most people want to make those decisions themselves; don’t you?
Additionally, life insurance may provide the money to provide for your family if you’re not able to, but it doesn’t provide any structure, guidance, or protection against waste or financial abuse. When you use a “plain” beneficiary designation, you lose the ability to provide this protection for you family. But, a comprehensive estate plan gives you the opportunity to provide safeguards and protection against waste or abuse. Life insurance can be very helpful component of estate planning, but only when it’s used properly.
4. How do I name guardians for my children?
Guardians for minor children must usually be named in a will. If you fail to appoint guardians in your will, the court will decide who raises your children. For parents of minor children, this is the most important estate planning decision you’ll ever make.
Even though it’s hard and no one can raise your children as well as you can, move forward and select the guardians you think will muddle through the best. Some people delay estate planning because they can’t make this decision. Don’t do that; your inaction puts your children at risk. And, be sure to name back-up guardians as well in case your first choice is unable to serve if the time comes.
5. What if the guardians I name for my children can’t serve when the time comes?
This is an important question that many folks forget to ask. It’s essential that you name contingent guardians in your will in case your primary guardians are unable or unwilling to serve if the time comes. Life does indeed change, so be sure to also indicate who get the kids if guardians divorce. Check in with the people you’d like to name to be sure they’re willing and able to serve.