Every parent should consider what legal documents can protect their children if tragedy strikes – and parents die or become incapacitated. Parents in Berks County should review their estate planning needs with an experienced lawyer as soon as their children are born.
With the correct legal documents, parents can determine who raises their children and how they are financially protected. Without the correct legal documents:
- The state of Pennsylvania decides which members of your family can raise your children. If none of your relatives are willing to assume the responsibility of care for your children, the state will make the decision for you – often placing the children in a state-run home.
- Pennsylvania’s intestate laws determine which members of your family receive your assets and in what amounts.
What are living documents?
Parents need to anticipate that they may be involved in an accident or may develop an illness that prevents the parents from handling their financial affairs and/or taking care of the children.
- A healthcare proxy appoints someone to make medical decisions for a parent if the parent becomes ill. The proxy often appoints the other parent. If both parents become disabled, alternative relatives such as aunts and grandparents may be appointed proxies. Protecting your health in emergencies helps protect your children.
- Powers of attorney. These documents appoint someone to handle your financial affairs if you cannot – for any reason. The person appointed in the power of attorney normally has the right to manage your funds. This management also affects your children. For example, if you suffer from a brain injury, the person with the power of attorney can deposit your disability checks and pay your mortgage which, in turn, provides money and a place to live for your children.
How do wills protect children?
Wills provide three basis protections for your children.
- The appointment of an executor. Parents, especially if they are married, normally prepare joint wills in which the other spouse/parent is named the executor of the estate of the parent who dies. Wills should also name an alternate executor in case the other parent cannot act or isn’t appointed. Executors collect and distribute the estate assets.
- The appointment of a guardian. The co-parent has the right to raise his/her own children. If both parents die (for example, in a car accident), properly prepared wills should designate someone who will be the guardian of your children. The guardian is the person who raises your children. Raising a child means loving your children, seeing that they obtain a good education, providing moral guidance, disciplining your children, and taking care of your children in every way that you would have if you were alive.
- Deciding what happens to your assets. A will designates which relatives get which assets. Many parents provide that their spouse gets the home and other assets. Parents also usually provide that the children will receive some or all of their estate (depending on how much the spouse receives. Wills generally provide that any share that minor children receive will be placed in a trust until the children become adults.
Parents may give some children more of their estate depending on various factors – such as the ability of each child to earn a living (if they are adults), whether any children have special needs (usually health needs), and the relationship between the parents and each child.
With a will, parents have a lot more discretion and control over who they choose to raise their children and who handles their finances. For example, parents can appoint friends to raise the children – provided the friends agree.
How do trust agreements protect children?
Parents can create trust agreements for their children that become active while the parents are alive. Parents can also provide that a trust be created in accordance with the terms of their will – after they die.
Trusts are legal documents that transfer assets of the parents to the trust. A person. other than creator of the trust, is named to manage the trust. A trustee can be the other parent, a friend, a bank, or other people. The trustee manages the funds in the trust on behalf of the children in accordance with the terms of the trust documents.
Normally, the trust ends when the children turn 18 – but it can also last throughout a child’s life or end at an age other than 18.
Parents often create trusts if a child has special health or education needs so that there are funds available to provide for the child’s needs.
Buying life insurance for your children?
Parents should normally buy as much life insurance as they can afford as soon as their children are born. Life insurance proceeds can be made payable directly to the children. Alternatively, the life insurance proceeds are paid to the estate. Adult children can keep their share of life insurance proceeds. A trustee or financial guardian must be appointed (by the will or by the court) to handle life insurance proceeds for a minor.
Talk with an experienced Berks County estate planning lawyer today.
The correct legal documents help protect your children in accordance with your wishes. Without these documents, your children may be raised by strangers and may not have have the funds they need for a good life. To discuss living documents, wills, and trusts, contact Antanavage Farbiarz, PLLC, today.