If you’re a single parent, everything falls on your shoulders, from earning a living, to keeping the house, to helping with homework. You’re so busy, in all likelihood, that you may not even have had time to consider what would happen to your family if anything happened to you. When you do pause to think about it, it can be terrifying. Your kids count on you. They need you.
Hopefully, you’ll be there for your kids well into their adulthood. But since life doesn’t offer guarantees, the best thing you can do for them right now is to make sure their future is secure.
All parents of minor children need an estate plan, but single parents need one more than most, since they don’t have a spouse they can count on to continue raising the children as they had been doing. If you are a Michigan single parent, here are five things you need to do now:
1. Name a guardian for your children.
Especially if your children’s other parent is unavailable or is not involved in their lives, you must name a guardian for them in a legal document such as a will. Unless you specify a guardian for your children, a court will do so, and the judge may well choose someone you would not.
Consider whether your chosen guardian has similar values to yours, whether they have the physical ability and emotional resources to raise children, and whether they will make sure the children maintain relationships with family members who are important to you. If you are worried about your kids’ other parent being unsuitable to raise them, consult with an estate planning attorney who is knowledgeable about family law to discuss any rights the other parent may have.
2. Establish a trust for your children.
Trusts aren’t only for the wealthy. They are simply a way to ensure that assets and property are managed as the person funding the trust wants them to be. If you leave all your assets directly to your children, they will likely need someone to manage their money for them anyway. By establishing a trust, you decide who manages those assets, and how. That person need not be the same person who is the guardian of your children, and making sure different people are in charge of the children and the money can be a good way to protect both.
3. Remember to fund the trust.
A trust is only useful if you place assets in it. Make sure you have a life insurance policy (term policies are usually reasonably priced) and that the beneficiary of the policy is the trust you have created, not the children themselves. Your lawyer can give you guidance as to how to make sure any assets you leave behind go into the trust you’ve created.
4. Leave a “love letter.”
It is tremendously helpful if you can also leave behind a letter for your children’s guardian letting them know things that are important to you with regard to how your children are raised. Writing such a letter is always emotional, but it provides your guardian with essential guidance, and it will comfort them to know they’re raising your children as you would have wished.
5. Let important people know where your estate planning documents are.
Many people put their estate planning documents away safely–so safely that no one can find them. Tell at least a few people close to you the name and phone number of your estate planning attorney and where they can quickly access your estate planning documents, so that your wishes will be known and honored. Remember to update your documents at least every couple of years (and remind people of their location at that time, too).
For single parents, estate planning can be anxiety-provoking before it’s done, but provide a tremendous relief upon completion.
If you are a single parent in Oakland County, Wayne County, Macomb County, or anywhere in Southeast Michigan, you need to have a comprehensive and updated estate plan. Contact our Bloomfield Hills office to schedule a consultation with Jim Hubbert to get started on safeguarding your children’s future.