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It’s no secret that many Americans put off creating a will — even those who need it most. But one milestone event often triggers a shift in mindset: the arrival of a child or grandchild. Usually, it hits people right before they get on a plane for the first time following the child’s birth: “If the plane crashes, what happens to our children, and how do we make sure they’re taken care of after we’re gone?”

If you have not put your estate plan into place, the answer to that question is that state law dictates who gets your assets, and a court decides who will act as guardian of your minor children. Picture in-laws fighting over custody of your children, assets being misappropriated and mismanaged, and a spendthrift child 18 years in the future, riding off into the sunset in a shiny, new Lamborghini.

A thoughtful and well-constructed estate plan can make all of these worries obsolete. If you put an estate plan in place years ago, it may be time to revisit the documents and revise where needed. If your estate plan was created before the significant tax law changes of 2018, it should be reviewed by an attorney. Here are four essential questions you should be able to answer about your estate plan.

Are estate-planning documents in place and up to date?

For most people, “basic” estate-planning documents include the following:

Will, Revocable Living Trust, Financial Power of Attorney, Health care directives and a living will.



This primary estate-planning document dictates how a your property will be distributed at death. A will also names the individual in charge of managing the property’s distribution — the executor — and includes a nomination of a guardian for any minor children.


Revocable living trust

In many cases, it’s important to have a revocable living trust in addition to a will. For example, in states where probate is unusually expensive or burdensome, a properly funded living trust avoids the expense and delay of a probate proceeding. The living trust becomes the primary estate-planning document, dictating how an individual or couple’s property is distributed upon death and who manages the process (in this case, a trustee).


Financial power of attorney

In a financial power of attorney, an individual names an agent to act on her behalf with respect to her financial matters. The powers granted under a financial power of attorney range from very narrow (i.e., granting the agent power to act on behalf of the individual with respect to a specific transaction) to very broad (i.e., giving the agent the authority to take virtually any action with respect to the individual’s financial matters).


Health care directive and living will

In this document, which has many different names and comes in many different forms, the individual appoints an agent to make health care decisions if she is unable to do so and makes known her end-of-life wishes.

Who should be trustee? Executor? Guardian? Do your clients understand the roles and the differences between them?


These terms can be confusing, but here’s a simple distinction: the trustee/executor is in charge of the “stuff,” and the guardian is in charge of the children. There will be many intersections of the two roles, but each requires a different skillset, meaning different individuals may be needed:


Charged with raising the children if you are unable to do so, caring for the children daily.



In charge of overseeing the gathering of your assets, the payment of taxes and any other final expenses, and then the distribution of the assets to the clients’ beneficiaries. If your estate-planning documents provide for continuing trusts for the children, the trustee will handle the ongoing management and investment of the assets.They will also oversee the distribution of the assets to the children and their guardians.

Some common questions you may have about the two roles are:

Should the trustee/executor and guardian be the same person?


It depends on the client’s situation. The roles require two very different skill sets, but if you have a go-to person you trust to serve in both roles, it may make sense to name the same person. The checks and balances and diversity of perspectives afforded by two different individuals serving in the roles can be beneficial. If you decide to name two different individuals, they’ll need to work together.

Should the trustee/executor and guardian be a family member?


Again, this depends on your situation and relationships. Some things you should keep in mind are the age of the individual you’re considering, as well as where the individual lives (i.e., does the individual live in the same city where the clients are raising their children, or across the country), the individual’s own family composition (i.e., is the individual married, does the individual have his or her own children) and the individual’s personal financial situation.

Is the guardian appointed in the will guaranteed to be the children’s guardian?


No, it is merely a suggestion. The supervising court must officially appoint the guardian but is usually deferential to the parents’ wishes, unless there are extenuating circumstances.

In any case, whether trustee, executor or guardian, it is important to get permission from the person being appointed prior to naming them in the plan.

What if my children can’t handle money?

If the children are minors, an outright disposition of your assets is not appropriate. This means that after your death, continuing trusts will likely be put in place for the children’s benefit, and you need to decide what these trusts will look like. Although estate-planning attorneys will likely have helpful recommendations on how to structure the ongoing trusts for children, some factors you must consider include:

  • The standard of distribution (How does the trustee determine if a distribution is appropriate?)
  • The term of the trusts (Are there mandatory distributions at certain ages, or do the trusts continue for the children’s lifetimes?)
  • The identity of the trustee


Do you have sufficient life insurance?

If the children are minors, an outright disposition of your assets is not appropriate. This means that after your death, continuing trusts will likely be put in place for the children’s benefit, and you need to decide what these trusts will look like. Although estate-planning attorneys will likely have helpful recommendations on how to structure the ongoing trusts for children, some factors you must consider include:

Because of the high cost of raising children today, new parents need to consider purchasing life insurance. There are two basic types:

  • Term insurance – provides coverage for a term of years and pays out a death benefit if the insured dies during the term.

  • Permanent insurance – includes an investment component and is usually structured to pay a death benefit no matter when the insured dies.

One of the primary benefits of insurance is that beneficiaries receive the proceeds free of income tax. Further, if you have substantial net worth and purchase an insurance policy with a significant death benefit, it may make sense to hold the policy in an irrevocable life insurance trust. If structured properly, an irrevocable life insurance trust ensures that any insurance proceeds received by the trust are sheltered from the estate tax.

If you are young and healthy, term insurance is a relatively cheap and effective way to provide an income-tax-free pool of money to provide for surviving children in the case of your premature death.


Start the conversation

A new child or grandchild is a beautiful joy. The new addition to the family usually means an adjustment to estate planning. By working through the four questions above, you’ll take an important step in thinking about your estate plan — and you may rest easier knowing everything is in place.

Are you on track for retirement?

Making sure you will be ready for retirement can be overwhelming. Funding your retirement accounts over the years is just one part of your journey to the retirement of your dreams. A Certified Financial PlannerTM can help you navigate the complexities of financial planning. Talk to a Financial Planner>

Dream. Plan. Do.

Platt Wealth Management offers financial plans to answer your important financial questions. Where are you? Where do you want to be? How can you get there? Our four-step financial planning process is designed to be a road map to get you where you want to go while providing flexibility to adapt to changes along the route. We offer stand alone plans or full wealth management plans that include our investment management services. Give us a call today to set up a complimentary review. 619-255-9554.


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