Single parents cannot afford to neglect estate planning.
Parenting is a significant responsibility.
For single parents, the roles of provider, mentor, teacher, and protector rest solely on their shoulders.
Although losing any parent is tragic to children, the death of a single parent often leaves them orphaned.
According to a recent The Orange County Register article titled “Estate planning 101 for single parents,” estate planning is a simple and effective way to continue to protect and care for minor children if their parent dies or becomes incapacitated.
Why is an estate plan essential for single parents?
Guardians are named in estate plans.
Children will need someone to rear them if a single parent dies.
Sometimes people are single parents through the death of a spouse or when the other parent has lost parental rights.
If there is another parent in the picture, then that parent will gain full custody.
This is not a guardianship arrangement.
Guardianship is essential when single parents are completely alone.
By nominating a guardian in your last will and testament, you can help control who would take custody of your minor children.
Often it is wise to include a primary guardian and a secondary guardian if the first is unable to fulfill the responsibility.
Although most states provide for guardians to be nominated in a last will, some allow for a separate “Nomination of Guardianship” document.
Because your last will is only legally effective at your death, the separate document can provide direction should you become incapacitated.
A health care directive provides additional incapacity protection.
Single parents benefit from the support of trusted individuals.
Sometimes these are close friends and other times they include parents or siblings.
When single parents become incapacitated, these loved ones may not have access to their physicians and will not be able to make medical decisions.
By creating a durable power of attorney for health care decisions and a HIPAA authorization, single parents can appoint agents to discuss their health with doctors and make any health care decisions on their behalf.
It is also helpful to provide directions in a health care treatment directive about the types of life-sustaining care one would like to receive or not receive.
Single parents can set up a “Nomination of Health Care Agent” should their minor children also require medical attention and care while they are incapacitated.
A trust can help protect and provide for minor children.
There are two fundamental ways to create a “trust” to administer the inheritance of your children.
One way requires probate.
It is created under your last will and is known as a testamentary trust.
The other is created under your revocable living trust and avoids probate.
Once established, however, both trusts basically operate the same.
You appoint a trustee to administer the trust assets according to your instructions.
If your ex has custody of the children, you can protect these assets from this ex-spouse and for the children.
Depending on the state, the children may need to be 18 or 21 to inherit outright.
Most young adults do not have the maturity or financial knowledge to manage an inheritance wisely at these ages.
A trust, whether a testamentary trust created under your last will after probate or as part of your revocable living trust without probate, helps you protect your children from themselves.
Once children are legal adults, they no longer require a guardianship or health care agents nominated by their parents.
Nevertheless, adult children must create and execute their own estate plans.
Because as newly-minted adults, their parents have no legal authority to make personal, financial, and health care decisions for them.
Consequently, every adult child needs a general durable power of attorney, advance health care directive (i.e., health care treatment directive and durable power of attorney for health care decisions), anatomical gift declaration, and HIPAA form documents.
Although single parents have no lack of responsibilities, it is wise for them to prioritize working with an experienced estate planning attorney.
Reference: The Orange County Register (March 12, 2023) “Estate planning 101 for single parents”