A few years ago, I read an article that reminded me of the extraordinary lengths parents will go to protect and provide for their children. It was about a woman named Melissa Bowmer, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
While she was preparing for her treatment, she learned that her four-year-old son had a rare brain tumor. Even though doctors warned that delaying her chemotherapy could prove fatal, she did so in order to be available for her son through his treatment. The article quoted her as saying “All I could think about was him.”
While most of us will not be faced with having to make the sacrifice that Melissa Bowmer made, we all do little things each day that put our children’s interests ahead of our own.
For example, we move to neighborhoods with the best schools, even though it means that our commute to and from work is longer. We forgo a vacation so that our kids can attend summer camp. We choose to retire a few years later, so that we can save more for their college education. From the time they are born, we go to extraordinary lengths to protect and provide for them.
But despite our willingness to prioritize their well-being, many of us have not taken the steps necessary to ensure they will be protected and provided for in the event the unthinkable happens.
The reason is often a combination of procrastination and denial. Young parents often think that estate planning is something only old, rich people do. Or they assume that extended family will step in to take care of everything if the need arises.
The truth is that all parents of young children, regardless of their net worth, need comprehensive estate planning. Why? Because if you don’t have an estate plan, you forfeit the opportunity to make many important decisions that you are in the best position to make. These include:
- Choosing a guardian for your minor children: If your children lost both you and your spouse in a tragic accident, would you trust a complete stranger to choose a guardian for them? I know I wouldn’t. But that’s exactly what can happen if you don’t take the time to designate a guardian for your minor children. If you die intestate without having designated a guardian, you leave that important decision in the hands of a judge who doesn’t know you or your kids.
- Choosing a person who will manage the assets you leave for your children: The same thing goes for your assets. If you do not choose a person to manage your estate, a judge who doesn’t know anything about your financial values may be required to appoint a guardian of the estate to oversee management of it. This is typically an expensive and cumbersome process that can be easily avoided with proper planning.
- Dictating how and when your children will receive the assets you leave them: With proper planning, you can have some say in how your children’s money is spent. Setting up a trust for your children allows you to delay when they get control of assets you leave behind, or even stagger the distribution over a number of years. Otherwise, your children could receive their share of assets at 18 years of age, when they might not have the maturity to manage it.
- Passing down intangible treasures such as traditions and life lessons: Often times, the most valuable thing you leave for your children may not have monetary value. These are the traditions and life lessons that make us who we are. Ethical wills are non-binding documents that allow us to pass on these intangible treasures to our loved ones.
No one knows and loves your children like you do. Estate planning puts you in you in control of making the decisions that are in their best interest. And really, isn’t that the way it should be?