4 Documents Every Parent With Minor Children Should Have
Welcome to the last installment of my five-part series, The Basics of Estate Planning. In part I, we defined estate planning and provided examples of what could happen to you if die without an estate plan. In part II, we discussed Wills, the advantages and disadvantages of having a Will as part of your estate plan, and we also discussed what you should consider before making a Will. In part III, we discussed Trusts and the advantages and disadvantages of having a Trust as part of your estate plan. We also discussed how to determine if a Will or a Trust is right for you. In part IV, we discussed the different types of power of attorney. Review parts I-IV on my blog. This last installment will focus on guardianship planning for minor children.
If you have minor children, then you need a comprehensive guardianship plan to ensure your children will always be taken care of if something happens to you and your spouse, if you are married.
A comprehensive guardianship plan is a set of instructions and legal documents to establish who should take care of your minor children and how they should be taken care of. If you are in an accident or you become incapacitated, your comprehensive guardianship plan will make sure your children are not taken into the custody of Child Protective Services or a stranger until the State appoints a guardian to care for your minor children.
A common misconception is that some people believe it is sufficient to tell family members who they want to take care of their children if something happens. I call this the “momma said” misconception (e.g., “well, momma said I should take care of little Billy not you”). “Momma said” will not hold up in court. That is why you need legal documents to name guardians for your minor children.
A comprehensive guardianship plan allows you to choose guardians to provide temporary and/or permanent care for your children and provide instructions to your caregivers and guardians so they will always know what to do if something happens. Some people think naming a permanent guardian in their Will is sufficient. However, a guardian named in your Will only takes effect after you die.
At the very least you should have the following four documents:
1. A legal document to name short-term/temporary guardian(s). In this document you will name someone (or a couple) who lives nearby and who can immediately be there for your children. The temporary guardian(s) should have a copy of this document to establish to law enforcement or a court that he/she has the legal authority to care for your minor children.
2. A legal document to name long-term/permanent guardian(s). In this document you will name someone (or a couple) to provide long-term or permanent care for your children. Again, the permanent guardian(s) should have a copy of this document to establish to law enforcement or a court that he/she has the legal authority to care for your minor children.
3. Instructions and Guidelines. You should also have a set of instructions for anyone who takes care of your children so they will always know what to do if anything happens to you. For example, if you use a babysitter, provide him/her with detailed instructions including who to call and all necessary contact information. In addition, you should prepare guidelines for your long-term/permanent guardian(s) stating how you would like your children to be raised.
4. A Medical Authorization and Power of Attorney for your minor children. This document is especially important when your children travel without you or when you travel without them. A Medical Authorization and Power of Attorney will allow your children’s caretaker to make medical decisions for your children so they will receive medical care when they need it.
I hope this estate planning series has been informative and educational for you. If you have any questions about estate planning or want additional information about estate planning, please feel free to contact us at any time.