In this post, I discuss the ramifications of parents’ dying without a will.
Guardianship When Dying Without a Will
Dying without a will can have significant ramifications if you have young children. A will is the best way to name a guardian for your minor children in the event of your untimely death. Without a will, custody of your children can become a matter of bitter contention. This is particularly true where the other parent predeceases you.
Simply put, if you die without a will, a court will pick your children’s guardian for you.
Of course, the judge will try to decide according to the best interests of your children. The judge will not, however, have your experience with the potential guardians. Consequently, the brief information of a relatively quick court hearing will limit his or her assessment. The court may, therefore, award guardianship to someone you would never have wanted to raise your children.
In addition, there may be situations where multiple family members—such as both sets of grandparents—will want guardianship of your children. This conflict could result in lengthy and traumatic court custody battles. And, of course, your children would be caught in the middle.
A simple will can help avoid this. For these reasons, parents should have a will. Even if they have little property, a will can name a guardian.
Financial Issues When Dying Without a Will
As discussed above, naming a guardian is probably the most critical reason for parents to have a will. The management of your children’s inheritance, however, is also an important matter to consider.
Your children’s inheritance may be more significant than you realize. This is particularly true if you have a life insurance policy. A simple trust, which a properly-worded will can create at your death, can help provide for your children’s support.
Say, for example, that you pass away and your seventeen-year-old son survives you. You died unmarried, and you do not have much property. You do, however, have a $250,000 life insurance policy.
Without a trust, your child could receive uninhibited access to these funds within a year of your death. If you do not think a high school student would be ready to manage $250,000, a trust may offer a good solution. Through a trust, you can appoint a trustee to distribute funds to your child according to your instructions. Your child would not have unfettered access to the funds until he reaches an age you deem appropriate.
In addition, creating a trust through your will provides you with the opportunity to appoint a trustee of your choice. This person will manage your child’s inheritance until he can control the funds for himself.
The mention of trusts may conjure up images of the super-wealthy living off fortunes made long ago. Trusts can, however, can serve a valuable purpose for middle-class families. They are particularly useful for managing life insurance proceeds.
Testamentary trusts—trusts created through a will—can help provide for your young children’s needs until they can stand on their own.
A well-drafted will can serve your minor children well. So, if you are the parent of young children, you should consider contacting an attorney about drafting a will that protects both your interests and the interests of your family.