As a parent of a seven-year-old and five-year-old, I know that parents of minor children are juggling a lot these days: careers, homes, mortgages, children. Too often the daily activities of life cause many parents to neglect or postpone planning for their own estate. When the topic crosses their mind, they can easily push it aside with self-assurances that they are too young, too healthy or cannot afford the expense. Some may even subconsciously erase any thoughts of estate planning because thinking about it would force them to deal with feelings and attitudes that people often prefer to ignore.
Whether the excuses are true or not, it is important for parents of minor children to plan for the care of their children. Estate planning assures that certain things will happen after your passing;
knowing that your children will be taken care of may even reduce some of your fears.
Perhaps the most important benefit of an estate plan is that it allows parents to determine who will take care of the children if neither parent is able. If there is no Will nominating a guardian,
the Court will appoint one even though it cannot possible know the values, lifestyle and child rearing philosophy of the parents. It must make a decision based on state law and the best
interests of the children, which are often difficult to determine in a brief court hearing. Some parents postpone writing a Will because they cannot decide whom to name as guardian. It is far
better to name a first and second choice now and change your designation later than postpone it completely.
For married couples with minor children, most spouses want the surviving spouse to receive their property at death. In Connecticut, however, if there is no Will, the spouse’s non-probate assets
must be divided between the spouse and the minor children. The Court will likely place the children’s share of the assets in a custodial account to be held for their benefit until they turn 21.
Many couples do not feel comfortable with granting children full access to the inheritance at age 21. Many parents would prefer for the children’s assets to be held in trust until they are 25 years
or older. This can achieved with an executed estate plan that includes a trust for the children.
If you have minor children, the time to start estate planning is now. Make a list of property you own, how it is titled, its fair market value and the amount of debt against it. Include life
insurance policies and retirement accounts, their owners and primary and contingent beneficiaries. Think about the present and future needs of your family. Then ask friends and
family if they have an attorney they know and trust. After locating an attorney, call for an initial appointment. Ask if there is a fee for this appointment and how fees are structured. Bring
information about your family and property. Ask questions and be sure you understand the plan. And remember that it is possible to change the plan as your family’s needs and goals change.