Many young families put off estate planning because they are young and healthy, or because they don’t think they can afford it. But even a healthy, young adult can be taken suddenly by an accident or illness. And while none of us expects to die while our family is young, planning for the possibility is prudent and responsible. Also, estate planning does not have to be expensive; a young family can start with the essential legal documents and term life insurance, then update and upgrade as their financial situation improves. A good estate plan for a young family will include the following:
This person will be responsible for handling final financial affairs—locating and valuing assets, locating and paying bills, distributing assets, and hiring an attorney and other advisors. It should be someone who is trustworthy, willing and able to take on the responsibility.
Deciding who will raise the children if something happens to both parents is often a difficult decision. But it is very important, because if the parents do not name a guardian, the court will have to appoint someone without knowing the parents’ wishes, the children or the other family members.
Most married couples want their assets to go to the surviving spouse if one of them dies. If both parents die and the children are young, they want their assets to be used to care for their children. Some assets will transfer automatically to the surviving spouse, depending on how the title is held or through beneficiary designations. However, an estate plan is still needed sothat the assets can be used to provide for the children in the event this spouse becomes disabled or dies.
Unless this is included in the estate plan, the court will appoint someone to oversee the children’s inheritance. This will likely be a friend of the judge and a stranger to the family. It will cost money (paid from the inheritance) and the children will receive their inheritances in equal shares when they reach legal age, usually age 18. Most parents prefer that their children inherit when they are older, and to keep the money in one “pot” so it can be used to provide for the children’s different needs. Establishing a trust for the children’s inheritance allows the parents to accomplish these goals and select someone they know and trust to manage it.
Income earned by one or both parents would need to be replaced, and someone may need to be hired to take over the responsibilities of a stay-at-home parent. Additional coverage may be needed to provide for the children until they are grown; even more if the parents want to pay for college.
There is the possibility that one or both parents could become disabled due to injury, illness or even a random act of violence. Both parents need medical powers of attorney that give someone legal authority to make health care decisions if they are unable to do so for themselves. (You would probably name your spouse to do this, but one or two alternates should be named in case your spouse is also unable to act.) HIPPA authorizations will give doctors permission to discuss your medical situation with you health care agent and alternate health care agents. Disability income insurance should also be considered, because life insurance does not pay at disability.
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