One of my greatest passions as a Santa Barbara estate planning lawyer is teaching parents how to wisely prepare for death.
I realize the possibility of dying while your children are still young can be difficult to accept, and that's why many parents choose to not think about it. Unfortunately, this fear can prevent parents from taking the proper precautions necessary to ensure that their kids would be protected if something happened to mom or dad in the future.
When I speak at various groups around Santa Barbara, I try to deliver this message in an upbeat and empowering way, so parents can see that planning can be a positive and rewarding experience.
But today, I'm just going to be blunt and get right to the point.
It's critical for everyone to understand the importance of estate planning for those we love – especially our children. Your children would be incredibly vulnerable if you passed away while they are still minors, simply because they are unable to take care of themselves.
With that said, here are a few cold-hard facts about what could happen if you passed away suddenly without a will or trust in place.
First, a judge who doesn't know you or your children will decide who raises them.
Think about this—if something happens to you, who is going to step up?
Is it the person who you want to raise your children? If you don't have an estate plan in place, will your relatives squabble over who is or isn't responsible for raising them?
Do you really want to put your children through that?
Second, the person who the judge picks to raise your kids may also be responsible for their financial well-being.
This means if something happens to you, all of your assets will be handed to the guardian (that you didn't select) to be managed for them.
The obvious concern is that this person could possibly use the funds for something other than the care of your children. However, there are many other things to consider, including whether or not the person that the judge picked has the same financial values that you do.
Here's an example: you may feel strongly that you would like your children to attend summer sports clinics each year to help develop their athletic skills. But, will your child's guardian see the value in this? What if they think spending money on what you would have wanted is a waste? As you can see, the potential for trouble is endless.
This brings me to my third point and final point, which is that all of the money left from your estate (assuming there IS any) may go to your child in a lump sum when he or she is 18 years old.
Think about this one. What would you have done if you had been handed a bunch of money at that time in your life?
The hard truth is that most 18-year-olds are simply not mature enough to handle a lump sum inheritance. I have heard story after story of kids who should have been fine financially but weren't because they decided to buy cars and clothes instead of investing in their future by going to college.
It's a scary thought for anyone who has children.
That's why it's my hope that if you're reading this right now, you have already named guardians and have an estate plan in place to protect your children. But, if you don't, I would be happy to offer you a consultation at our Santa Barbara office to start you on the path.
I don't want you to worry about who you will choose as your child's guardian. I'll help you with that.
And please don't worry if you think you can't afford planning. I'll work with you on that, too.
Finally, don't put this off because you think you don't have the time. Instead, I want you to think about how your kids will spend their time if something happens to you and you haven't made these decisions for them.
With that said, I encourage you to do the right thing and call us today at (805) 946-1550 to schedule your Family Strategy Meeting. You will experience a peace of mind that you didn't even realize you were lacking.