Creating an estate plan to protect your minor children is one of the most difficult—and most important—things you will ever do; this is especially true if you and your child’s other parent are separated or divorced. Relationships don’t always end amicably, but if you do have children it is definitely worthwhile to put aside your differences with your ex long enough to discuss estate planning for the sake of your kids.
There are three major things to consider when estate planning during or after a divorce:
- Financial inheritance
Guardianship: According to the law, if you pass away guardianship passes to your child’s other biological parent; this is the case even if you had full custody (unless it is determined that the surviving parent is unfit). This is something to keep in mind when you are nominating guardians. If you and your ex can sit down and discuss guardians together and agree on a few alternates it will make everyone (including your child) feel more secure about the future.
Financial Inheritance: Although many divorced couples may feel comfortable with their ex as guardian, most are dead set against their ex having any control over their finances. How then can you leave your estate for the benefit of your child without leaving it in the hands of your ex? The solution is to put your child’s inheritance in trust until they come of age, with a person you know and trust acting as trustee. Your trustee will have the responsibility to keep and maintain the trust, giving distributions to the guardian for the benefit of your child. Keep in mind that your trustee and guardian will have to work together quite often, if you and your ex can agree on someone with whom you both are comfortable it will make the process much easier on your trustee, your ex, and your child.
Remarriage: When you marry there is an inevitable mingling of finances, and this is no different for a second or third marriage. However, if you don’t make provisions for your children in your estate plan your assets may end up going to your new spouse when you die, leaving your child(ren) out in the cold. This can be easily addressed in your estate plan (or your ex’s estate plan, if he or she is the one getting remarried) as long as you talk to your attorney and take action now, before it’s too late.
If you are going through or have gone through a divorce you should have your estate planning attorney review your estate plan.