Having children affects life in many interesting ways and requires new parents to not only focus on the present but to make plans for the future. While estate planning isn’t a pleasant thought, parents need to understand that something may happen to them while their children are minors. Parents with younger children should develop an estate plan to ensure that their estates are administered according to their wishes, that their children will be cared for financially, and that their minor children will be raised by an appropriate guardian. Every estate plan is different. However, if you have younger children then there are certain elements that are essential—in the eyes of the law—for your children to be taken care of per your direction. These are the Last Will and Testament, the Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Management, and the Durable Power of Attorney for Medical Care and Patient Advocate Designation. An experienced estate-planning attorney will help ensure you have the proper documents. This person will also make sure your estate plan documents are kept up-to-date with Michigan law. The Will
- Guardianship: For most parents, writing a Will is less about directing the disposition of their assets and more about naming guardians for their children. The guardian named in your Will is the person who will care for your minor children in the event both you and your spouse die simultaneously. While this is very unlikely, it’s worth addressing. Naming a guardian in your Will provides the best evidence of who you, as parents, would like to make decisions for your children.
- Either You Name a Guardian or the Court Does: If you don’t state your wishes in your Will, the court will appoint a guardian without any guidance from you. For example, you may have specific reasons for not wanting certain family members to be appointed as your child’s guardian or you may have a closer relationship and more aligned values with a friend than with family members. These are all reasons why you should name a guardian for your minor children in your Will.
- Assets: The Will also designates how you would like your assets distributed after your death. You will need to decide how your assets will be transferred to your children and who will administer the estate in the event both you and your spouse die simultaneously. Consider at what ages you want your children to receive your assets and if a Testamentary Trust is appropriate; without a Trust in place, your children will receive their entire share at 18 years old.
Medical Power of Attorney
- Durable Powers of Attorney for Medical and Mental Health Decisions and Patient Advocate Designations are specifically authorized under Michigan law. In this document, you specify your wishes for medical and mental health treatment in the event of your incapacity, your end-of-life care decisions, and who you appoint an individual to carry out these wishes as your agent. This document can be as detailed or as general as you wish. For example, you might simply say that you want everything necessary to relieve pain (called palliative care or comfort care) but don’t want to receive extraordinary measures in certain circumstances. This is very important as it provides the person speaking on your behalf with your wishes.
Financial/Property Power of Attorney
- Durable Powers of Attorney (DPOA) for Financial Management are specifically authorized under Michigan law. This document permits you to appoint an agent, typically your spouse, to act on your behalf for financial matters. A successor agent may also be named in the event that your spouse isn’t able to act in that role. This document generally only becomes effective on your incapacity, which must be established by two doctors. The DPOA for finances can be a big benefit to family members because without it, a court order could be necessary to access and manage your assets.
Summary Each of these documents is important to have even if you are young and healthy. It’s very unlikely they will ever be used while you are young; however, if you are seriously injured or die, these documents will make things much easier for your family and will let them know what you want, sparing them very difficult decisions and costly court proceedings. Although it’s extremely unlikely that a parent will not live to see their children reach adulthood, it always remains a possibility. Careful planning can give you, as parents, the peace of mind that if something happens then your spouse and children would be well cared for. – Alycia Wesley is an attorney and a mother of three young children. She’s an estate planning specialist with a particular expertise in developing estate plans for families with young children. You can email her at APW@Colombopc.com.