Estate Planning Tips For Parents Of Young Children

For new parents, developing an estate plan can seem like a daunting task.  Where do you even begin to make sure that your little ones are taken care of if the unthinkable happens?  The four special considerations below provide a good starting point for parents of young children who are ready to get their estate plan in order:

1. Appoint a guardian in your will to take over parenting responsibilities in the event that you and your children's other parent pass away.  Although this is typically the hardest decision for parents to make, a court will choose an individual to take over if you fail to name a guardian on your own.

2. Select a trusted individual or financial institution (a trustee) to handle your assets on behalf of your children if you pass away while they are still young.  This could be the guardian you have appointed, or you may choose another individual to act as trustee if you prefer to keep powers separate.

3. Choose an age or life event or achievement at which time you would like your children to receive your assets outright without the involvement of a trustee.  Many parents prefer to withhold outright distribution of assets until children exceed college age, but distribution could also be contingent upon milestones such as graduation, marriage, or purchase of a home.

4. Check your listed beneficiaries on life insurance, retirement, and other types of accounts to make sure your primary and alternate beneficiaries are up to date.  Any such beneficiary designations will occur automatically upon your death and will trump gifts made in your will.

If you take the time to think through these four considerations, you are well on your way to making sure your children are taken care of by your estate plan.

The Biggest Estate Planning Mistake?

What is the biggest mistake people make when putting together an estate plan?  We forget that an estate plan should not only be about writing a will to decide who gets our assets when we die, but it should also be, possibly more importantly, about handling our personal affairs while we are still alive in the event of incapacity.

A recent piece in Forbes outlines a concise list of documents to consider creating in addition to a will when setting up your estate plan.  These include:

  • Medical Power of Attorney
  • Living Will
  • Durable Power of Attorney
  • Revocable Trust
  • HIPAA Release
  • Organ Donation Authorization

Don't forget, your estate plan should not just take care of others - it should also take care of you!

Sun, Sand, And Starting Your Estate Plan: A Summer Checklist

Thinking about an estate plan, but not sure where to start?  If you are in the early stages of establishing your estate plan, below is a checklist of the major decisions you will need to make:

-Beneficiaries: Who will get your assets (house, cars, personal property, money, etc.) when you pass away?  Your spouse, children, siblings, friends, a charity, a combination of these?  Are there any specific items such as jewelry or family heirlooms that you would like a particular individual to receive?  If you are married with children, consider where you would like your assets to go in the unlikely event that your spouse and children predecease you.

-Trustee: If you have young children, it may be beneficial to appoint a trustee to manage and distribute assets on behalf of your children until they reach a certain age.  This trustee will be in charge of a testamentary trust that will be established in your will.  Your trustee will distribute assets for the benefit of your children until your children reach an age or life stage as determined by you.  Once your children reach the threshold you establish, the trust will terminate and your assets will be distributed to your children free of trust.

-Guardian: If you have at least one minor child, you will want to appoint a guardian in the event that you and your spouse or your child's other parent pass away before your child reaches age 18.  Otherwise, you leave this decision up to a court.

-Executor/Personal Representative: Testators typically appoint their spouses or close family members to this role which involves distributing your assets according to your will.  It is always a good idea to list a backup friend or relative just in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to serve.

-Power of Attorney for Medical/Financial Decisions: Typically, spouses serve as agents for each other when it comes to making medical or financial decisions in the event of incapacity; however, this does not have to be the case.  Naming an alternate agent for such decisions is a good idea in the event that your preferred agent is also incapacitated or otherwise unable to serve when needed.  You can select different individuals to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf, these powers do not need to be held by one individual.

Once you start thinking about these major decisions, you will be well on your way to putting together an effective estate plan.

Knowledge Is Power When It Comes To Your Estate Plan

If you are like many Americans who do not have an estate plan in place, your hesitance to move forward with a plan may stem from a lack of understanding of the probate process and from feelings of intimidation related to the gravity of the decisions to be made.  A recent article on financial news website MarketWatch can help to boost your understanding of the probate process and make you feel more confident as you start thinking about your estate plan.  In this piece, estate planning experts provide a comprehensive summary of information to guide individuals through the three common estate planning questions below:

1. How do I avoid probate?

2. Do I need a lawyer to write a will?

3. How do I pick an executor for my will?

While the idea of constructing an estate plan can be overwhelming, developing your understanding of the estate planning and probate processes will make it seem less formidable.


More Money, More Problems

Of all people, it would seem that celebrities and the ultra-wealthy would have access to every resource they might need to establish an elaborate and air-tight estate plan.  Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Most recently, Alan Thicke of "Growing Pains" fame passed away with a seemingly solid plan to split his assets between his children and his third wife, Tanya Callau Thicke.  However, an ugly battle has erupted between the parties stemming from disagreements related to Thicke's prenuptial agreement with Callau and the trust Thicke had established during his lifetime.  For more on this story, check out this piece from

6 Easy Tips For Writing A Will

The process of creating a will can be intimidating, but it doesn't have to be.  Kiplinger's Personal Finance has provided a simple six-step approach to creating a good will:

1) Sort out all of your assets including real estate, financial assets, personal items, and other possessions such as automobiles to help you get started.

2) If you have minor children, then select a guardian who will take care of your children if you pass away.

3) Designate beneficiaries who will receive your assets once you pass away.  This could include family members, friends, or charities.

4) Select an executor who will be in charge of distributing your assets according to your wishes.

5) Meet with an estate planning attorney to make sure your wishes are properly reflected in your documents.

6) Update your will from time to time as you go through life changes.

While thinking about death is probably not at the top of your to-do list, breaking down the pieces of a will into these six simple steps can make the process of creating a will much less daunting.


Do You Have An Estate?

Thinking about creating an estate plan?  The Vanguard Group, Inc., recently released a helpful piece listing five facts that everyone should know about estate planning:

1. If you own anything, you have an estate.

2. Your estate plan comes into play if you are incapacitated or if you pass away.

3. If you fail to plan, your state's laws will make decisions for you.

4. Update your estate plan regularly, as your plan is not final until you become incapacitated or pass away.

5. Although DIY estate planning can save money now, generic forms may be inappropriate for your situation, costing your loved ones in the long run.


4 New Year's Resolutions For Married Couples

Whether you are planning a wedding this year, or you have been married for 50 years, this helpful article from A Practical Wedding outlines four major planning discussions you should have with your spouse.  Writing your wills, purchasing life insurance, preparing living wills, and documenting various aspects of life can go a long way toward making an unexpected situation much simpler for your spouse or other loved ones to manage.

Thank you for a wonderful 2016, and best wishes for a safe and happy 2017!