Estate planning is often a difficult and emotional task. If you’re a single parent, however, the process of estate planning can become even more challenging to navigate. When your child is fully dependent on you to take care of them, it can feel like the stakes are even higher as you make plans for the unthinkable.
Single parent estate planning is critical
Typically, if a parent dies, the child still has another parent to take care of them. They may not have to worry about leaving their home, their school, or their community. When a single parent dies, the reality can be much different. The child may have to move to school districts, sometimes even their hometown or state, to live with another relative or friend.
It’s hard to think about, and it can be even harder to plan for a day when you may not be there to take care of your child, but it’s important that you have a plan in place so that your wishes are met. Below, we’ll discuss things to consider if you’re a single parent looking to create an estate plan for your family.
Do you have a support network to turn to?
One of the biggest factors in your planning decisions will be your relationship with the other parent of your child. For some, the other parent still maintains some form of custody or scheduled visitation rights and so the other parent is the best choice for who should take over full custody in the event of death or incapacity.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an option for some single parents. If the other parent is completely out of the picture, or already deceased, then you have to take extra care when crafting your estate plan. Additionally, you want to make sure to lay the groundwork for creating a supportive network that your child will be able to lean on and will advocate for your child’s needs when you’re gone. This could be other relatives such as your parents or siblings, or it could be friends of yours that you trust deeply.
What’s important is that you solidify those relationships and that your child has their own relationships with those contacts so there is a foundation of trust that all parties feel confident in.
Who will manage your assets?
Any good estate plan should include a Trust and Trustee, but this is critically important for single parents. A trustee is a person who will take control of your assets, including any retirement plans or IRAs you may have, as well as the money from your life insurance settlement and any other claim, judgment, or settlement that may come about due to your death. The trustee tells the court exactly what your wishes are when it comes to who should be responsible for carrying out your plans and who will advocate and watch over your child.
A trust gives you the opportunity to formalize your wishes in a legal setting. Along with naming who you wish to carry out your wishes, the trust should also outline the following:
- Who do you wish to be your child’s intended guardian? It may be smart to include some alternatives should your first choice be denied custody or be unable to take care of your child for some reason.
- A detailed vision for how you wish for the funds in the Trust to be used.
- Clarification on who is allowed to advise or consent on any major decisions in your child’s life. This should include choices regarding schooling, doctors, sports, and activities, as well as who has the authorization to visit your child or take them on extended trips/vacations.
Be thorough as you work through these questions so that you aren’t leaving any crucial decision-making to change once you’re gone.
Questions to think about
Obviously, it’s important that you’re as clear and detailed as you can be in your Trust, as you want to ensure that your child is being taken care of and protected in your absence. It can be overwhelming to sit down and think about all of the various ways you want to influence your child’s care when you’re gone, especially if you’re doing this alone and your child is young. Consider these questions as you’re constructing your Trust:
- Who do you trust to provide care for your child on a daily, weekly, or after-school basis?
- Who do you trust to feed, clothe, and house your child?
- Who do you know that would be willing to take your child into their family and raise them as their own?
- Who are you comfortable interacting with and visiting with your child?
- Who do you trust to make decisions related to the health and well-being of your child?
- How much money do you want your Trust to have when you die?
- What should be the primary purpose of the money in your Trust? To pay for healthcare, education, or general financial support?
- Is there any other money coming in, say from Social Security, that will be paid to your child? Who do you trust to be the payee?
Since many of these questions are complicated, you may benefit from working with an estate planning attorney.
Concluding thoughts about estate planning for single parents
Thinking about what life will be like for your children once you’re gone is never easy, especially if you’re the sole caretaker. As a single parent, none of your preparations or planning will feel adequate enough because you’re irreplaceable to your child. However, having a plan in place is significantly better than not having one in place, and your child deserves the best care and supports possible should the unthinkable happen. Plus, it will give you great peace of mind to know that your child will be taken care of according to your wishes.