As a mother, you naturally want to ensure your child’s future in every way. For many new mothers, infancy is a time for celebrating new life, and making a Will is the last thing on their minds. For others, the process of bringing new life into the world sparks intense feelings of wanting control and needing organization. Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, you might be struggling to figure out what steps you need to take to protect your children’s future should the unthinkable happen. Here are five key things you should know about Wills.
1. Naming a Guardian could be the most important part of your Will.
If you pass away while your child is a minor, the first issue to be addressed is who will assume responsibility for your child’s care. If you don’t name a guardian for your child in the Will, the courts may decide this question for you, and the guardian might not be the person you would choose. Selecting a trusted guardian is in many ways more important at this stage than deciding about how to pass any assets you own.
2. Name a Trustee you trust.
To ensure your child receives all that you have allocated when your child comes of age, choose a trustworthy trustee. Many people choose a family member, but it is just as acceptable to appoint a trusted friend who may be well suited as a trustee because of his or her particular skills or profession. There is also an expanding number of professional trustees that may be an appealing choice because of their objectivity and continuity.
3. Named beneficiaries on accounts and insurance policies may override your Will.
Many accounts allow you to name a beneficiary. When you pass away, the funds go to the beneficiary named on the account, even if your Will states otherwise. If you’re creating a Will with your child in mind (or adding the child to an existing Will), you should review your investment and bank accounts with your financial advisor to make sure there are no inconsistencies when naming beneficiaries. It’s also a good time to check retirement account and life insurance beneficiary designations with your financial advisor and your attorney.
4. A Will alone is probably not sufficient to support your goals.
First, if your Will leaves property outright to a minor child, the court may need to step in and hold the assets until your child turns 18 or 21. Most young adults lack the maturity to handle even a modest estate, so we do not recommend outright inheritance for minor children. The solution is for your Will to include a “testamentary trust” to provide the structure and manage the assets you leave behind for the benefit of your child.
Second, a Will only goes into effect after you die. So, what happens if you become incapacitated and cannot care for your child? The solution is to make sure you have a General Power of Attorney that also names your selected guardians (usually the same guardians as named in your Will). An experienced estate planning attorney can advise you on the best options for your family and your circumstances.
5. In the absence of clearly stated intentions, the state steps in.
Think of a Will, trust and other estate planning documents as an instruction manual for your selected fiduciaries and the courts to follow. You must be clear and consistent in your stated intentions regarding your child, as well as for others. If you are not clear or if you do not leave any instructions, the probate courts will step in and follow the government’s plan, which can lead to delays and is probably not the plan you would have selected for your child and family.
Providing for your child’s long-term welfare may start with just a simple Will, but to be fully protected, you probably need more. That is why it is important to talk with a competent estate planning attorney to make sure you have the right plans in place to fulfill your goals. We are here to help! Contact us today to talk about your options to protect your child.
Disclaimer Notice: This information is intended to provide you with general information that may be of interest and of value to you. You should not construe any of this information as legal advice or my opinion as it may relate to your specific circumstances. Please feel free to contact me directly if you would like to discuss your own estate planning needs.