Too many people think that estate planning is just about the money. If they don’t have a great deal of money, they think they don’t need to do any estate planning.
Nothing could be further from the truth, especially for parents of young children. A very important part of a person’s estate plan, whether a simple will or a revocable trust with a pour-over will, is the designation of a guardian for minor children.
If the parent dies without having named a guardian, the state will make the decision as to care of the children. Surviving family members will not.
Here’s a recent, real-life example:
A young couple residing in Missouri had two young children. The father died of natural causes. Tragically, the young widow was killed in a traffic accident a year later, leaving the two minor children orphaned. Neither parent had executed a will naming a guardian for the children in the event something happened to the parents.
The maternal grandparents, who live in Kansas, wanted the children. A distant relative on the father’s side was also willing to take them. Missouri’s Division of Social Services named the distant relative who lived in Missouri as guardian for the children. DSS had no power to name the Kansas grandparents as guardians absent those Kansas grandparents undergoing background checks (including being finger-printed) and participating in an ICPC (Interstate Compact for Placement of Children). The ICPC is the legal process that allows for transport of children from one state to another.
Had the parents executed wills naming the persons of their choice as guardians, the Kansas grandparents could have been granted custody without all the legal expense and time required by the state and the ICPC process when the parents die without naming guardians.
Parents of minor children should spend a few dollars nowwith an attorney and do some estate planning, including naming guardians. This will not only save surviving relatives time and legal expense, but those parents will also ensure that THEIR wishes are followed. Parents are the best decision-makers for their children. The state generally is not.
Andrew Ralls is a business and estate-planning attorney, licensed in both Missouri and Kansas. He can be reached at (913) 744-6589.