Estate Planning for the Single Parent

It happens to the best of us. That whirlwind romance that resulted in a baby and baby’s father who can’t be bothered. He’s not important. Your kids are. And we know you would do any and everything for them, but what happens when you are not able to do for them anymore? Because you are either no longer here with them physically or mentally? What happens then?

You can’t depend on the father who’s never been there to all of a sudden do the right thing. You have to do the right thing for them NOW, and that means planning for your untimely death or incapacitation. As much as we hate to think about it, it could be your family’s reality. It’ll be hard enough having to deal with mourning your loss or dealing with the consequences of your incapacitation, don’t make it any harder by not making plans for your personal, business and family matters ahead of time.

Estate planning is important for us all, but it is of utmost importance for the single parent of minor children. All your minor children have is you. Think about it. Think about how much you do for them on an everyday basis. Think about how much does not get done when you leave them with the most well-meaning of caregivers. Think about all of the values, morals and behaviors you instill in your children and how much teaching and unlearning of unwelcomed behaviors you have to undo on the daily. Think about how much you sacrifice your dreams, desires, and plans, just to ensure the best for them. No one can be you to your children, but you must have someone in mind who could play second best. But having that person in mind does absolutely nothing for your kids if something happens to you. Because no one reads minds. This is exactly where an estate plan comes in.

In planning for disability, you must select a caretaker of sorts – someone who will not only take care of you, but your minor children. If the disability is physical and limits your mobility, luckily you will still be able to do a lot of parenting. If the disability is mental and limits your mental capacity, this is where selecting the correct caretaker or agent to act on your behalf becomes vital. You want to identify someone you trust, that has sense, that loves you and your kids, that will live long enough for your kids to make it to the age of majority, and that fits into your family’s lives with the least amount of disruption. Does someone come to mind? You better think on it, long and hard. Because the alternative is that the decisions are made for you, and sometimes without consideration for what you would have actually wanted.

The estate plan documents that would assist you in disability are a power of attorney for healthcare, power of attorney for finances, an advanced medical directive (living will) and temporary guardianship for your children, as well as a power of attorney for finances over your kids.

As a single parent in planning for death, you really have to get your affairs in order while alive, especially if you don’t want full custody of your minor children to automatically go to their father, unless of course, he was not an absent parent. This means you want to first consult a family law attorney and learn the differences between custody and guardianship and find out the implications of legitimation on your children when it comes to your death. In most states, where one parent dies, the surviving parent gets sole and full custody of the minor child, regardless of what guardian provisions the deceased parent put in its will. If the father is a danger to the children, then your appointed guardian may gain custody of the kids, but they have to be prepared to fight and win in your honor. Aside from who gets actual physical custody of your children, of equal importance is who is financially responsible for them. And they may not always be the same person. The individual you entrust with the love and care of your child may not be the most financially responsible individual, in which case you would want to appoint someone different to handle their property.

The estate planning documents that would assist you in the event of death are the last will and testament and a revocable living trust. The last will and testament provide the instructions for who gets what and allows for the appointment of guardians over minor children. And the living trust appoints a trustee to govern and distribute property to the named beneficiaries according to your wishes.

Single parents! I beg of thee. Get an estate plan. Your children will thank you for it. And you can rest easy knowing that you did the best you could do for them, even when you were not really here to do so.

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