By Elaine Dougherty, CPA
Married and unmarried couples with minor children need to think about their plans for their children’s care if the unthinkable happens. An estate plan can help map out your wishes if one or both guardians pass away. Having the proper legal documents will ensure that your wishes are followed. These documents typically include your will, power of attorney, and medical directive.
Normally, in the case of an untimely death of one parent the surviving parent will become the sole guardian of the children. In the unfortunate event that both parents die simultaneously, there should be a statement in your will that expresses your wishes of who will be the guardian. When deciding on a guardian, you must think about several things, for instance, the proximity of the guardian’s residence to the children’s current home, the lifestyle and religious beliefs of the guardians, and the financial situation of the guardian. Guardianship is a big responsibility, so parents should ask their preferred guardians before naming them in their will.
If there is no estate plan in place in the event of the death of both parents, the children would inherit their share of their parent’s estate. One way to handle the assets inherited is by the creation of a minor’s trust. This trust would have the ability to distribute assets for the child’s health, education, maintenance, and support throughout their lives.
Parents must also think about supporting their children financially in the case of an untimely death. Do you have sufficient life insurance and/or savings to provide for your children’s needs through college/trade school graduation? You can ensure that you do with the use of prepaid college plans, education savings accounts, or withdrawals from inherited IRAs.
Estate Planning for Parents of Children with Special Needs
If you have a child with special needs, you may want to establish an estate plan earlier and more detailed than you thought. This could include a larger life insurance policy to help pay for their needs after you pass.
There are special types of trusts that can be set up to preserve the beneficiary’s (your child with special needs) eligibility for needs-based government benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). These trusts are known as Special Needs Trusts (SNT). Your special needs child may be eligible to receive this government assistance in addition to any inheritances that they receive. To best protect the government benefits that your child may receive it is important to discuss which type of SNT should be used in a specific situation with an attorney and accountant who are proficient in special needs and estate planning.
If you have any questions you would like to have answered about this topic, please reach out to Elaine Dougherty, CPA in our Morgantown office at 304-554-3371. You may also email Elaine at firstname.lastname@example.org.