before you’re gone
If you have a family, you need a will—and more.
Dance class, soccer practice, homework time for big kids, tummy time for babies, laundry, cleaning … and then more laundry. Is anyone’s “to-do” list as extensive and exhausting as that of a parent?
When the day-to-day activities of your children easily fill the too-small squares of your planner, it’s easy to put off planning for your family’s future security. And of course no one expects to die while they—and their families—are young, and planning for the possibility can seem downright scary. What’s scarier, though, are things like not leaving proper funds for your kids, or having the courts unwittingly assign custody of your kids to someone you’d never want to raise them.
creating a will
“It’s important to have a will regardless of whether you have children or not, but if you happen to have children, it is essential to have a will,” Geoffrey Michel, a family attorney with his own practice, says. “By having a will and working with an estate planner, you can make sure your children are taken care of in the event of a parent’s or parents’ death.”
While estate planning may be thought of as something exclusively for the elderly or wealthy, there are many reasons why families of all age ranges and financial situations should plan now for death or disability. Even if a large financial estate doesn’t exist, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t important considerations that should be thought about and planned for.
Local mom Kathy Padian, who has a seven-year-old daughter, says the reality of having no estate plan became all too real this year when she lost her 44-year-old partner. Dealing with his sudden death, she says, was greatly compounded with the tasks and decisions that had to be made because of that fact that he had no will.
“When you’re young you put it off and think there’s time,” Kathy says. “You just can’t imagine it until it happens to you… then to have it happen to you and have to, on top of that, have things to figure out legally… it’s a nightmare.”
Kathy says she was forced to make final decisions for her partner, including if he would have wanted to be buried or cremated, and other important decisions, all in a time of immense shock and grief.
“I had to keep asking myself, ‘What would he have wanted?’” Kathy says. “All of those questions and decisions would have been in a will. It’s important to have those hard conversations with loved ones.”
Kathy says she thinks it’s hard for parents even to think about not being there for their children, much less to plan for it.
“People put it off because it’s unpleasant to think about,” she says. “But it’s not for you. It’s for who you’re leaving behind.”
Whom you’re leaving behind and what you’re leaving behind are the two key factors to consider in estate planning, Michel says. Creating a will takes into account who will care for your children, how your property will be managed until your children are of a proper age, and how and to whom your possessions and assets will be distributed. Who will be responsible for managing the estate, as well as who will make financial and health-related decisions if you’re unable to do so, are also crucial.
establishing a trust
Along with deciding what should happen after you die, an important part of estate planning is about deciding what should happen when you may still be alive but unable to act on your own accord due to disability.
“A way to ensure your children are taken care of is by including a provision in your will to set up a trust for the benefit of your child or children upon your death or disability,” Michel says. “A parent can choose to put all or some of their assets in a trust for the benefit of their child or children.”
Michel says if you choose to set up a trust, you will need to pick a trustee who will manage the assets in the trust for the children.
“A parent can put very specific conditions in the will with relation to the trust,” Michel says. “For instance, the child could only get a portion of the money set for him in the trust upon graduation of high school, and additional money after certain ages set forth by the parent.”
special needs considerations
Joel Mendler, an attorney in the Law Offices of Baldwin Haspel Burke & Mayer, says estate planning for minor children is important regardless of any disability, but becomes especially crucial for parents who have a child with a disability because under Louisiana law, all children are “forced heirs” upon their parents’ death if the parents die without a will.
“People with disabilities are living longer than they have in previous decades and in more frequent cases are outliving their parents,” Mendler says, adding the crucial mistake parents can make comes in leaving money directly to special needs children because large, inherited sums can mean jeopardizing certain governmental benefits, including SSI and Medicaid.
“Parents who have a child with a disability need to make sure whatever they leave their child will not jeopardize their eligibility for special care,” Mendler says, explaining that creating a will, and especially establishing a trust, are secure ways in which parents can insure they are taking care of their children’s long-term well-being.
Mendler says it is not uncommon for a trust to specify different people or parties to take care of children physically and financially.
“Sometimes there may be a case where there are certain people parents want to raise the children but not handle the money,” he says.
Whatever the details, Mendler says it’s simply imperative to have a plan.
creating a complete plan
Raymond Daigle, Jr., JD, AIF and Partner with CBD Wealth Management, says the first step in estate planning is to call an attorney you trust and allow them to guide you through the estate planning process.
While creating a will is important, Daigle says, so is ensuring that all beneficiary information on 401K, IRA, life insurance and other accounts and policies are up to date.
“I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had to deal with a situation where people come to me and say a parent has died and an ex-spouse or deceased spouse is the primary beneficiary on an account,” Daigle says, adding any life-changing event such as marriage, divorce, death, birth, new job or new house all should warrant a revisit and reevaluation of policy information.
Kathy says her will and life insurance plans have kicked into overdrive since her partner’s death, and she urges all parents to make sure estate planning is part of their plans and conversations with loved ones.
Her own words give enough reason why: “It’s for who you’re leaving behind.”
Monique Roth is a freelance journalist who is a mom to two daughters, Olivia, three, and Charlie, one. This is her first article for nola family.