If you have minor children, providing for them is a major estate planning goal. This is true even if you are young and healthy and likely to live many more years. Because life is unpredictable, even though you do not expect to die with young children, planning carefully for the possibility is the right thing to do.

When it comes to providing for your minor children, there are three issues that you need to address in your estate plan:

  • Who will raise your children if you (and your spouse) both die.
  • What assets will be available to support your children.
  • Who should manage those assets.

Name a Guardian, Even if You Never Expect Your Children to Need One

Guardians come in two types: to be guardians of your children and guardians of your assets. The former cares for your children, and the latter cares for your child’s property. These can be two different people, or the same person.

Even if your spouse survives you, you should name a guardian for your children. There is always a possibility that your spouse will predecease you or be disabled or otherwise unable to care for them at the time of your death, so it’s good to have a backup.

As a general rule, a court will appoint the person designated by the last surviving parent unless it finds that person is disqualified, deceased, unwilling to serve, or would not serve the minor children’s best interest.

If you don’t name a guardian and one is needed, the court will appoint someone who may not be the person you would have chosen. The most likely candidates are grandparents followed by aunts, uncles, and then more distant relatives.

Who May Serve as a Guardian

In general, the person you choose must be an adult and otherwise suitable to care for children. Naturally, convictions of certain crimes (e.g. violent felonies, child abuse, child sexual abuse, and domestic violence) may be disqualifying in the eyes of the court. Physical or mental incapacity is also disqualifying. Usually, only one guardian is appointed at a time, but some parents decide to appoint a couple as co-guardians of the children.

So What Should I Do?

I recommend that everyone have an estate plan and one that makes sure the children are cared for. If you want more information about them, what documents are included, and things you need to think about to prepare them, then I recommend that you download my free book, A Guide to Creating Your Estate Plan. It will get you a long way towards achieving that goal.

But if you live in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem, or Cumberland counties, have decided that you need to put together an estate plan, and are ready to move forward to create one, then just click here to schedule a free, no obligation phone call to discuss it.

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Steven J. Richardson
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Bankruptcy, Collections, Student Loan, DUI and Traffic Court attorney in Woodbury, NJ.