By Lauren Weliver, Estate Planning Attorney at Murray Plumb & Murray
Many people believe that the realm of estate planning belongs to the wealthy and elderly. The truth is, however, that every adult, regardless of net worth or age, should create an estate plan. This is particularly important if you have minor children. At a minimum, every parent should have a legally effective plan that decides who can raise their children in the event of the parent’s death or incapacity.
In your estate plan, you have the ability to nominate adults who can serve as legal guardians for your minor children during any period you are unable to care for them yourself. You may name one or multiple adults to serve in this role (and should name some back-up choices in case these individuals cannot serve when needed). Your chosen guardians will have the legal authority to make all of the decisions you currently do, including choosing where the kids will live and go to school and the kind of medical care they receive.
If you have not nominated a guardian for your minor children and your children are in need of one because of a parent’s death or incapacity, Maine law provides a process for the appointment of a guardian. Specifically, any person interested in the well-being of the child may petition to be a guardian and a judge (who does not know you or your family) will decide who will serve in that role.
How the process goes really depends upon individual circumstances. For example, are there several family members or friends who may wish to serve as guardian, resulting in an ugly court battle over who is most suitable? What if no one steps up, leaving your child with an uncertain arrangement?
Even under the best of circumstances, the appointment of a guardian is a serious court process and takes money and time that could be better utilized during this difficult period of your child’s life.
So, who do you nominate to take on this incredibly important responsibility?
Choosing a guardian for a minor child is the hardest decision parents make in their estate plan. And it is this decision that keeps many families from creating an estate plan in the first place because the parents cannot think of anyone who is the right fit or cannot agree on whom to name. This is a deeply personal decision. To assist you in the process, I offer you a few questions that you can ask yourself.
- Are there responsible adults whom your children love and trust?
- How do you want your children to be raised?
- Is it important to you that your children live in a certain place, go to a certain school, be active in a certain religion?
- Is it important that your children be raised by family, wherever they live?
- Are there certain values that are essential to you that your guardian must embody?
Ask yourself these questions and see who in your life meets the relevant criteria.
Once you have a short list of names, I then encourage you to reach out to a local estate planning attorney who can provide counsel specific to your family and help you put a legally effective plan in place documenting your wishes. The estate planning team at Murray Plumb & Murray would be happy to assist your family with this important work.