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How Does Estate Planning Protect Young Children?

Once you have a child, you’ve got a bundle of joy—and a lifelong commitment to caring for the child, sometimes even after they reach adulthood. What would happen if something happened to you and your partner? To be sure your child or children are taken care of, you’ll need to take these estate planning steps, as explained in a recent article from Kiplinger, “To Protect Your Kids, Consider These Estate Planning Steps.”

Appointing a guardian. Planning for the absence of parents from a physical and financial perspective needs to be done. Parents need to establish a guardian and have the person named in their will. It may be a good idea to name a secondary guardian if something happens and the primary guardian is unwilling or unable to serve in this role.

Create a trust. Parents should consider creating a trust for their children to ensure that there is money to provide for their care if both parents die. A child under the age of 18 is a minor and, as such, may not legally hold title to property. A trust is used to hold assets for the child’s benefit. The language of the trust would have instructions to provide for the children’s education, health and support.

There are two basic trusts to consider. A revocable trust is created during a person’s lifetime and can be changed anytime by the trustmaker. A testamentary trust is created as part of a will. Neither trust needs to be funded until the person passes away, at which time the property of the decedent is placed in a trust if the will contains the correct instructions. An estate planning attorney will be able to structure this plan.

Assign a trustee. This person manages the trust assets for the children's benefit. They need to be financially responsible people who can manage the funds for the children. The trustee can be a family member but should not be the same person chosen as the guardian. Keeping these roles separate ensures that the guardian will not misuse funds. Another option is to hire a professional to serve as the trustee. Professional trustees, including banks or financial advisors, usually charge a percentage of assets. In some cases, estate planning attorneys serve as trustees for minor children.

Establish terms of distribution. It’s up to the parents to decide how their children should receive trust assets. They can mandate principal distributions at certain ages, like a certain percentage at age 20, another at 30 and the balance at 40. While the parent dictates the terms of distribution while the children are minors, the trustee will be the one to decide on distributions for food, health, education, or extracurricular activities.

How do you be sure there will be money for your children? Parents should purchase life insurance, since most young parents don’t have a lot of liquidity. Term policies are the least expensive and can be for ten, twenty, or thirty years, during which the policy is guaranteed if the premium is paid. Whole life insurance is another option. However, it is more expensive.

Start a 529 college savings fund. These accounts can be funded through automatic withdrawals from a checking account, or family members can be encouraged to make gifts to these accounts. In some states, there are state income tax benefits for residents. The growth is tax-free if the funds are used for qualifying educational expenses.

When the child becomes a legal adult. Once a child celebrates their 18th birthday, they are legal adults, and parents lose their rights. New adults should have a healthcare proxy so someone can make medical decisions for them in case of incapacity. They should also execute a HIPAA disclosure form so healthcare professionals can discuss their medical care with parents.

If a child has special needs. An estate planning attorney will create a Special Needs Trust to hold assets and name a trustee to manage the funds. This trust allows a child with special needs who may be eligible for government benefits to continue to receive benefits in addition to distributions from the trust.

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 19, 2023) “To Protect Your Kids, Consider These Estate Planning Steps”

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