Estate planning can be a complicated field, with terms like Domestic Asset Protection Trust, and Deceased Spousal Unused Exclusion being thrown around by attorneys in this area. Unfortunately, when this type of language goes over someone’s head, they often conclude that estate planning is only for the wealthy and they do not need to do anything. Indeed, proper planning can definitely help one reach sophisticated objectives with regard to the transmission of assets with minimal tax impact, but it is important to keep the basics in mind, too.
For families of young children, one of the most important objectives of estate planning has nothing to do with financial assets or taxes. It is of utmost importance to name a guardian for your minor children. A guardian is a person who will raise your children in the event that you and your spouse pass away.
What happens if you do not nominate a guardian in your Will? A court will name one for you, after you are gone and without your input. Under that circumstance, you cannot assume that the court will choose the most qualified person or the person who you would necessarily want. In fact, the court might appoint the one person that you do not want!
While there may be plenty of qualified, suitable candidates in your family, you really want to pick one that shares some of the same parental values as you. In most Wills for our clients, we also spell out what some of those parental values are. While not legally binding, these value statements help guide the guardian in raising your children the way you want them raised with respect to such things as religion, education, culture, travel, family, and extra-curricular activities. This is information that the court is not likely to have to evaluate after you’re gone.