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Planning for Minor Children

Who Will Raise Your Children?

Parents often delay writing a will because this particular question is too upsetting or couples cannot agree on a potential guardian. It is not enough simply to ask a friend or relative to raise your child if the need arises.

Unfortunately, not doing Estate Planning will likely cause your children to either be "caught in the middle" between relatives who fight over who would be the best choice or, worse, left in a legal limbo while the legal system decides who should care for them. If you do not have a legal document (most often a Will) a local Court will have to decide who will best "replace you" and bring up your children.

When thinking about selecting a guardian, parents first turn to relatives, their siblings or even their own parents. Even if there is a relative who will be willing to serve, there are a number of issues that you need to consider before making your choice. Will my children have to move from their home? Does the family member have the same or similar lifestyles and will raise my children with my values and goals? Would my guardian be able to protect my children and have them become part of a supportive family or will bringing my children into their family cause resentment? Does your relative have an understanding of any special requirements that need to be included in order to maximize the child's growth?

In addition, who is going to pay for the children's care. Even if you have purchased life insurance or have other liquid assets at your death. your children cannot receive any assets while they are minors. Absent planning, a Court will appoint a custodian to hold the assets for the benefit of the children and pay them over to the child on his or her 18th birthday.

However, with an Estate Plan you can pick a person who will be able to manage the assets you leave for your children. You can elect to have the assets held in a trust for the child's benefit and avoid the big birthday present at age 18. You can split the things you currently do so that one person is selected to raise your children (a guardian) and another will manage the money (a trustee).

In drafting the trust for your minor or under-aged children (18 may be the age of majority but is seldom the age of maturity) you can delay distribution until a date or event that makes sense to you. You can require that the child complete his or her education, find full-time employment or any other benchmark you think best. A trust for an under-aged child can provide more than just money management, it can serve as to implement and provide the life you envision for your children. And a trust can have just about any terms you choose -- there is no "right way" to draft the trust terms. 

Do Not Delay -- your child's well-being is at risk if you fail to plan.

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