A widowed mother of two children, ages 6 and 8, is severely injured in a car accident. She must stay in the hospital for a week before being transferred to a long-term care facility. Who will take care of her children?
A single father, whose ex-wife is addicted to drugs, has sole custody of his 10-year-old twin girls. He becomes the victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and is shot and killed by a stray bullet during a grocery store robbery. What happens to the girls?
After suffering years of abuse by her husband, a woman leaves him and wins sole custody of their three children. Soon after, she is diagnosed with cancer and must undergo invasive treatment. Ultimately, she dies from the disease. Where will her children go?
Compared with married couples or even those who share custody and co-parent, many single parents grapple with an extra layer of concern, uncertainty and fear around planning for the long-term care of their children should they not be able to. Estate planning ensures young children will receive the care and support they need should the single parent be unable to provide that — even temporarily. Having an estate plan in place removes a lot of the confusion and guesswork regarding who will look after the children and how to handle finances, and likely keeps the matter out of court. This keeps both stress and costs down for loved ones.
Here are six estate planning steps every single parent should take right away:
- Create a Will: A Will is a legal document that states a person’s wishes for how they want their property distributed after their death and names an executor to oversee that process.
- Nominate a Guardian: Name a specific person in the Will to take full-time responsibility for the child or children.
- Choose a Distribution Plan: In a Will or a trust, decide at what ages or life milestones the child or children can receive distributions from the estate.
- Create a Trust: A trust ensures assets are managed the way the parent wants for the benefit of the child(ren).
- Execute a Durable Power of Attorney: This is a legal document in which a person gives another the ability to make financial decisions for them should they be unable to do so.
- Execute an Advanced Medical Directive: This legal document specifically outlines what type of medical treatment and end-of-life care a person wants should they be unable to communicate their wishes themselves. This document includes the naming of an “agent” or “health care representative” to ensure the person’s choices are honored.
With nearly a quarter of U.S. children living with one parent and no other adults, according to the Pew Research Center, there are a lot of single parents feeling uncertain about what will happen if they become ill or die. Creating an estate plan shows children that you have their best interests at heart and that you have done everything to care for them even if you are unable to do it yourself.