Posted by: Katie May

From the moment a child is born, and perhaps even before that, a parent’s heart awakens and feels an indescribable love. Suddenly, the parent’s world is forever changed. Initially, that change takes the form of sleepless nights and diaper changes, but once the fog clears, it is replaced by an overwhelming desire to love and protect the child indefinitely. In fact, parents often spend a great deal of time and energy trying to find the best person to “babysit” while they attend a dinner and a movie on date night.

You should put that same thought and effort into long-term estate planning to protect your children in the event something happens to you unexpectedly. While none of us want to contemplate the possibility that we may one day be unable to care for our children, it is imperative that you put a contingency plan into place to address that possibility. A solid estate plan can ensure that your children will be cared for by a trusted guardian in the manner that you direct. Additionally, an estate plan prevents children from receiving assets before such time as they are able to determine their best interests and properly manage the funds.

Parents often mistakenly believe that they don’t have enough money or assets to warrant an estate plan. Avoiding the emotional and financial burden of a Guardianship proceeding for your children is, perhaps, the most persuasive reason to execute an estate plan, even beyond avoiding the estate tax or passing wealth to your heirs. Children of parents who do not have a plan in place are at risk of becoming involved in lengthy court proceedings or worse, getting lost, temporarily or permanently, in the foster care system.

What do parents of minor children need in order to protect their children in the event of disability or death?

  • Will: A Last Will and Testament allows you to make decisions regarding the distribution of your assets at death, and to communicate those decisions. Most importantly, however, it is through a Will that you can name a Guardian of a child if you should die prematurely. If you fail to nominate a Guardian, a Court is left with no direction and must make the decision without your guidance. The Court has no personal knowledge of your child, the dynamics of your family, or the ability of the person appointed by the Court to raise your child as you would wish.
A Will also names an Executor, the person who will handle the assets you owned at the time of your death. The Executor is charged with the duty of taking an inventory of the estate, giving notice to creditors, evaluating and paying claims against the estate, managing the assets of the estate within the limitations established by the your Will and the probate laws, and eventually distributing the estate to the named heirs or legatees.
  • Trusts for the Benefit of Children: In the event you predecease a minor child without an estate plan, estate assets are equally divided among children, to be administered by a court-appointed Guardian. The Guardian must account to the court on an annual basis regarding the use of funds for the child’s benefit, a time-consuming and costly endeavor. The Guardian manages the assets for the benefit of the child until the child reaches age 18, at which time the remaining estate is turned over to the child, outright, free to do with as the child pleases.
Most parents would want to preserve and protect their child’s inheritance and, at a minimum, delay distribution until such time as the child has both financial and life experience and maturity. One way to ensure the proper management of funds for children is through the use of trusts for their benefit. That way, a parent can specify the purposes for which a Trustee can use the child’s inheritance for the child’s benefit, and the age at which the child is given authority to manage his or her share of the estate assets.


A trust arrangement can be set up in a Will, known as a “Testamentary Trust,” or in a standalone “Living Trust.” Additionally, a child’s trust arrangement may serve as the vehicle through which beneficiary-designated accounts are received to coordinate the overall plan and protect the funds for the benefit of the child.
  • Life Insurance: Purchasing the proper amount and type of life insurance allows you to ensure that your children will be financially secure in the event of an untimely death. While the purpose of life insurance is not to create wealth, it serves as a replacement of lost income due to the death of the parent. Term policies usually work well in these situations, and are relatively inexpensive; they can provide parents with a sense of peace knowing that there will be money to support a child if the parent is unable to do so.
It is important to seek the advice of an estate planning attorney when determining how to set up a beneficiary designation on any account, including life insurance, to ensure that the results you seek will be realized. A Revocable Living Trust may be the best vehicle through which life insurance proceeds can be paid, since it provides management of the funds for the child under the parent’s stated directions.
  • Letter of Instruction: Having the proper plan in place requires that the participants in the plan understand your specific wishes and desires regarding the care of your children. After you have settled on the identity of Guardians, Trustees and other fiduciaries, take the time to have an open discussion with them about issues important to you regarding how children should be raised, how their finances should be handled, and other matters. Parents may wish to provide direction to the Guardian regarding religious views, educational goals and general life philosophies.

The attorneys at Huck Bouma have the experience and the background to understand the issues facing families with young children. We have a program specifically designed with parents of young children in mind. Call our office at (630)682-0700 to take the necessary steps to protect your children today.