If you are a mom or dad with children under the age of 18 at home, your number one estate planning priority should be selecting and legally documenting both long and short-term guardians for your kids. Guardians are the people legally named to care for your children in the event something happens to you.
And if you’ve named guardians for your children in your will—even with the help of another lawyer—your kids could still be at risk of being taken into the care of strangers!
One of the most disturbing aspects of this situation is that you probably have no idea just how vulnerable your kids are, since this is a blind spot inherent to the estate plan of countless parents around the world.
Why? Well, most estate planning over the years has been primarily focused on the elderly, not on young families.
A Far Too Common Problem
As you’ll learn here, without proper planning, your children could be vulnerable to being taken out of your home and placed in the care of strangers. This might be temporary, while the authorities figure out what to do, or they could even end up being raised to adulthood by someone you’d never choose.
Even if you don’t have any minor children at home, please consider sharing this article with any friends or family who do—it’s that important. While it’s rare for something to happen to both parents of a minor child, it does occur, and the consequences are simply too severe to not take the few simple steps to select and legally name guardians the right way.
Regardless of whether you own any other assets or wealth, it’s vital to complete this process immediately, so you know the people you care about most—your kids—will always be in the care of people you’ve chosen, no matter what.
What’s So Complicated About Naming Guardians?
Naming and legally documenting guardians for your children might seem like a fairly straightforward process, but it entails a number of complexities most people simply do not think about. Parents typically make at least one of nine mistakes when naming long-term legal guardians.
If you named legal guardians for your kids in your will—whether on your own using a do-it-yourself (DIY) online document service or with the help of another lawyer—consider each of the following scenarios to see if you have a blind spot in your estate plan that would leave your kids at risk:
Did you name back-up candidates in case your first choice of guardian is unable to serve? If so, how many back-ups did you name?
If you named a married couple to serve and one of them is unavailable due to injury, death, or divorce, what happens then? Would it still be okay if only one of them can serve as your child’s guardian? And does it matter which one it is?
What would happen if you become incapacitated by illness or injury and are unable to care for your kids? You might assume the guardians named in your will would automatically get custody, but did you know that a will only goes into effect upon your death and does nothing to protect your kids in the event of your incapacity? Have you created a guardianship plan that goes into affect if you become incapacitated?
Do the guardians you've named live far from your home? If so, how long would it take them to make it to your house to pick up your kids: a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks? Who would care for your kids until those guardians arrive? Did you know that without legally binding arrangements for the immediate care of your children and without blood relatives nearby, your kids are likely to be taken into the care of strangers until those named guardians arrive?
Would your care providers even know where to find your will and other legal documents if you didn’t make it home? If not, what would the authorities do while they tried to figure out who should care for your kids?
If you named a family who lives nearby as guardians, what happens if they are out of town or otherwise can’t get to your kids right away?
Have you provided the guardians with financial resources to care for your children, so they do not feel burdened or inclined to decline becoming legal guardians for your children?
Assuming the guardians you named can immediately get to your home to pick up your kids, do they even know where your will is located? How will they prove they are the people you wanted named as your children’s legal guardians if they can’t find your estate planning documents?
The Kids Protection Plan®
These are just a few of the potential complications that can arise when naming legal guardians for your kids, whether in your will or as a stand-alone measure. And if just one of these contingencies were to occur, your children would more than likely be placed into the care of strangers, even if just for a short period of time. If the idea of this is as frightening to you as it was to me when I discovered it, you need to put a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan® in place to make sure this never happens to your family. It is such a vital piece of the planning that a Kids Protection Plan® is included with every estate plan I prepare for families with young children.
The Kids Protection Plan® provides parents of minor children with a wide array of legal planning tools—including legal documents to name short- and long-term guardians, instructions for those guardians, medical powers of attorney for your minor children, an ID card for your wallet to let authorities know you have minor children at home, and much more—to make sure there is never a question about who will take care of your kids if you are in an accident or suffer some other life-threatening incident.
Get Started Right Away
Fortunately, whether you’ve named guardians for your kids in your will or have yet to take any action at all, you’ve come to the right place. I focus on legal planning for the unique needs of families with minor children, and together we can ensure that you have all of the proper legal safeguards in place so that your children will always be cared for by the people you would want, in exactly the way you would want, should anything ever happen to you.
If you are wondering how to choose guardians in the first place, download The Ultimate Guide To Choosing Guardians For Your Children so that you can avoid every single one of the nine common mistakes people make when naming guardians!
After you’ve read through the guide, schedule a Life & Legacy Planning Session with me, so we can determine if there is anything else your family needs to ensure the well-being and care of your children no matter what happens, and put a full Kids Protection Plan® in place as part of your overall estate plan.
If you have already named long-term guardians in your will, either on your own or with a lawyer, we can review your existing legal documents to see whether you have made any of the nine common mistakes that could leave your kids at risk, and then revise your plan to ensure your children are fully protected.
Comprehensive Protection For Those You Love Most
While selecting and naming guardians for your minor children should be at the top of your to-do list, when it comes to estate planning, that’s just the start. Once you’ve named guardians, you should seriously consider putting a variety of other estate planning tools, such as a revocable living trust, in place for your kids.
These tools can help ensure that the wealth and assets you want your children to inherit will be passed on in the most effective and beneficial way possible for everyone involved. Contact me today to determine which planning strategies and tools are best suited for your family’s unique situation.
This article is a service of Jeni Snider, Personal Family Lawyer®. I do not just draft documents; I ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death for you and the people you love. That's why I offer a Life & Legacy Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love.