Why you need an estate plan

Parents will often go to great lengths to ensure the safety, security, health and wellbeing of their children. 

But there’s one part of protecting kids that parents often overlook (or simply find unthinkable): “What if something happens to us?” 

Parents give of themselves — financially, physically, emotionally — to ensure the best for their children. It stands to reason then, that they need to plan for the continued protection of their children if they’re no longer there to personally watch their children grow into adulthood.

The way to ensure the continuation of what’s best for their children is for parents to establish an estate plan. 

An estate plan commonly includes a will and/or trust, health-care directives and power of attorney. An estate plan also allows parents to name a guardian, or guardians, should they pass away while their children are still minors. 

A question of guardianship

Many times, kids are concerned about what will happen to them if their mom and dad are no longer alive. This issue almost always comes up when there’s been a death in the family. 

Recently, a friend’s 6-year-old asked his mom, “Who do I live with if you and Daddy die?” The mother was able to respond with clarity and certainty about who would care for him because she and her husband had recently completed
a will. 

Without a will in place, there’s no guarantee your children will go to the guardian you know is best suited to raise them. Rather, a guardianship proceeding must be opened in court — an
oftentimes costly and lengthy process. 

In a guardianship proceeding, a judge ultimately determines what’s in the children’s best interest, based on what’s presented in the hearing by those who wish to have guardianship. The best way to ensure your children will be raised by who you want (in the event something happens to you) is by having an estate plan in place. 

Distribution of assets

An estate plan allows parents to ensure their children are beneficiaries of their estate — something that also isn’t necessarily guaranteed, particularly in blended-family situations. Parents can also plan for when distributions will be made — and what assets are to be used — by setting up trusts for their children. 

I recently had the privilege of working with a husband and wife to complete their estate plan. The couple was young, with a daughter who had just turned 2 before they came to meet with me. Like many couples I work with who have children, they explained that it was the birth of their daughter that led them to want to set up their estate plan.

They brought their daughter with them when we signed their documents. After signing their wills, health-care directives and powers of attorney, the husband, holding the stack of documents in front of his daughter, said, “This is all for you.”

Parents need to contact their attorney for the sake of their children, and schedule a meeting to talk about their fears and concerns, and learn what preventative measures can be taken. 

Factoring in the cost of estate planning to the family budget can help parents avoid potential worst-case scenarios and can help ensure the safety and security of their children.

Rachel Schromen of Schromen Law is an estate-planning and elder law attorney in St. Paul. She works primarily with parents of young children, establishing estate plans. She was named Solo Practitioner of the Month by Attorney at Law Magazine in October 2016.