Estate planning is something that is very easy to put off. Most of us do it, sometimes for a very long time. Some of us until it is too late. Estate planning is also something that keeps us awake at night with questions like: What will happen to my children if I die?
That question is what estate planning is all about. We plan our estates to provide for our loved ones. We provide for them by the assets that we leave them, but we also provide for them in planning out our estates so that they don’t have to scramble to tie up all of the loose ends we leave behind. Estate planning ties up those loose ends for our loved ones.
Children are the centerpiece of most estate planning. This is especially true when our children are minors. Minor children cannot own property or manage property. Even when our children reach adulthood, most children are not ready to take on the burdens and responsibilities of handling an estate when they are young adults.
Many people put off estate planning into middle age, or even or old age. Some people get motivated to do estate planning after dealing with the nightmare left by their parents. Unless you have carried the burden of handling a poorly planned estate (or one that isn’t planned at all), it’s hard to appreciate the angst and difficulty.
The thing is that estate planning is most critical when our children are still minors. Minors need guardians. Minors can’t own or manage property. If you have minor children, you should seriously consider getting your estate planning done so that you can plan how your children will be taken care of, rather than leaving it to the default provisions of state statutes and whoever may be willing to step up to the plate.
For married couples, if you could ensure that one of you will survive, you might take some comfort in putting off your estate planning. At least, maybe it won’t keep you up at night. Most married couples, however, travel together often. Life doesn’t always work out the way we expect or think it will.
For single parents, the concern is a bit more real and urgent. Maybe you have the good fortune of co-parenting with a reasonable, caring and involved father or mother. Many people don’t feel so lucky. Even if you know your children will be well taken care of by the other parent, you might ask yourself whether you want the other parent having unfettered control over the assets that you leave for your children.
Regardless of your situation, doing your estate planning for the benefit of your children is the right thing to do. Your estate planning allows you to choose who the guardians will be and to provide some basic direction for how your guardians will care for your children. Do you want to encourage them to keep your children within the same school district? Do you want your children kept together? You can address these things in your estate planning.
Who will handle the assets that are left behind? Are the people you want to be the guardians of your children also the best people to manage your assets? Often, they are not.
On the other side of the coin, the people that might make the most sense to manage your assets are not necessarily the people you would leave your children with. Whatever your circumstances, doing your estate planning allows you to choose who will care for your children and who will manage your assets when you are gone.
Even if you have no qualms about who will be the guardian of your children and who will manage your assets, your children will become legal adults at the age of 18. Are you okay allowing your 18-year-old children to have unsupervised access to whatever assets you have left? Some 18-year-olds might be up to the task, but most are not. Doing your estate planning allows you to protect the assets until your children reach an age at which you feel comfortable “letting them have at it”. You can ensure that they don’t buy a hotrod, rent an upscale apartment and drink until the money is gone, or whatever an 18-year-old might do.
Nobody wants to plan to die. We all hope to live a long, happy life, but failing to plan for the possibility of an early death will not ward off the inevitable if the inevitable happens. Doing your estate planning will give you peace of mind, even if an early death is not in your cards. Putting off your estate planning, at best, will leave you with the nagging question: What will happen to my children when I die?