Baby Steps: Basic Considerations in Estate Planning for your Child’s Future

Every parent seems to have the “perfect” advice when it comes to rearing children: “We don’t let Abby watch TV because it leads to A.D.D.;” “Oh, we don’t let John eat anything but organic foods;” “Let him cry it out;” “Don’t let him cry it out.” Child-raising techniques vary with each child and parent. Some seem odd; some seem too traditional. The “dos” and “don’ts” of child-rearing are generally relative.

However, I think it’s safe to say that the following piece of parental advice is universal: you need to put together a plan for your children in the event that you are not around to raise them.

Estate planning is so much more than deciding how to divide and distribute assets. Individuals who have minor children or are the guardian of an adult child should plan for the care of their children regardless of the size of their estate. The absence of such a plan could result in a court appointing someone to control your child’s life and estate—someone who you otherwise might not have chosen. We suggest that you begin the process of planning for the future of your child’s care and estate before or just after the birth of a child.

In planning for the potential appointment of a guardian of a minor or adult child’s person and estate, we encourage our clients to consider the following:

a.  Nominate a guardian who is capable of developing and fostering a close emotional bond with the child.

b.  If you have more than one child, consider whether you want to keep the children together as a group. If so, the nominated guardian should have the ability to accommodate (physically and financially) more than one child. Generally, the guardian’s expenses in caring for the children will ultimately come out of the child’s estate. However, the estate may not be of sufficient size to adequately provide for the care of one or more children. If this is the case and the guardian already has an existing family (spouse and children), consider the impact of the guardianship on the guardian’s family and your children: Will the guardian’s natural children and spouse conflict with your children? Could a potential decrease in the guardian’s family’s standard of living cause them to resent your children?

c.  Consider whether the nominated guardian has business and financial knowledge and skill sufficient to handle the child’s needs and estate.

d.  If possible, it may be advisable to avoid nominating a guardian who is advanced age or too young. For example, consider whether the child’s grandparents (or someone of similar age to the child’s grandparents) would be willing and able (mentally, physically, and emotionally) to handle the great responsibility of raising children.

The above is just a starting point in considering how to plan for the rearing of your children in the unfortunate instance that you are not around to do it. For example, as guardianships of minor children will generally end once the children turns eighteen, it may be advisable to establish a trust for your child rather than merely leaving property directly to an eighteen year old.

Contemplating situations in which another individual raises your children can be sad and perhaps involve morbid thoughts. However, like all good parents, you understand the feeling of sacrificing your own comfort for that of your children—like foregoing sleep when your child is up sick. Despite the discomfort experienced in thinking your inability to raise your child, planning for your child’s future in the ways discussed within this article can result in ensuring your child’s future comfort and your present comfort in knowing that they will be taken care of as you see fit. If you would like help in nominating a guardian, we encourage you to contact our experienced team of Tennessee estate attorneys. Our Nashville based lawyers would love to answer any questions that you may have.