Thank you to Dugan & Giroux Law, Inc. for sponsoring this post and providing estate planning and other legal services for Wichita families!
Many people fall into the trap of thinking that because they don’t have substantial assets, they do not need to worry about estate planning. This is not true for most people, and it is especially untrue for parents. Rather than thinking about it as estate planning, think about it as succession planning: planning for what happens if something happens to you. Who will care for your children? How will they afford to care for them? Who will make decisions for you if you are unable to do so? Will your spouse get everything you leave behind? Proper estate planning can address each of these concerns and a vast array more.
Consider the following reasons every parent needs an estate plan:
1. Selecting a guardian. This is by far the number one reason that every parent should have an estate plan in place. As part of your estate planning process, you will designate a guardian (or guardians) for any minor children that you might leave behind. When selecting a guardian, it is important to select someone who shares your parenting philosophies and will raise your children the way you want them to be raised–particularly with regard to schooling and religion. Ultimately, after some careful thought, you might surprise yourself by choosing a friend over a relative–but if you leave it to chance, your family will likely have to battle it out in court to determine who will raise your kids. Even more terrifying, if no one steps up, your children could come into state custody. Proper estate planning can help ensure that your children seamlessly transition to their new home, selected and planned by you.
2. Funding and control. In the event something happens to you and you leave children behind, you’ll need to consider how they will be provided for. Proper estate planning can help ensure that the money you leave behind is managed properly and held in trust for your children’s needs as you might designate. Importantly, the right kind of trust will allow those funds to be held for your children’s benefit beyond their eighteenth birthday–perhaps until they’ve finished college or turned 25.
3. An honest evaluation. Beyond planning what will happen with your current assets, proper estate planning will give you an honest evaluation of the obligations and burdens you might leave behind. If you have minor children, are you saddling your chosen guardians with a financial burden they cannot carry? Will your family have the funds to pay for your funeral expenses? With proper estate planning, you can avoid the consequences that might otherwise result if you do not have the assets to cover the liabilities you leave behind.
4. Single parents and blended families have even more reasons. If you are a single parent, creating an estate plan is especially important to ensure that there is someone available to care for your children and the funds in place for them to do so. If you have not planned for this contingency, any funds you might leave behind might be required to go into a conservatorship with the court and potentially out of reach of your child. If you have a blended family, you may want to provide for your stepchildren or keep your finances separate. Proper estate planning can help you consider all of these variables so nothing is left to chance.
5. Everyone needs a Power of Attorney. Even if you do not have children or assets, you should have a power of attorney to ensure that someone can take care of your finances and make medical decisions for you in the event of your death, disability, or incompetency. You can even create a medical power of attorney for your children that allows caregivers to make medical decisions for the children when you’re unavailable.
6. Proper estate planning has layers of protection. With proper estate planning, you can change beneficiary designations, create trusts, and change how property is titled to make sure that everything passes just as you would like it to without ever probating your will. The will then acts as a safety net to make sure that anything that slips through the cracks is still distributed in accordance with your wishes.
7. The State’s one-size-fits-all plan probably doesn’t fit you. If none of the above reasons are compelling, consider this: the State of Kansas has a one-size-fits-all plan for you and it is called “intestacy.” If you die without a will (“intestate”), half of your estate will pass to your spouse and the other half will pass to your children–which your spouse may not be able to access. This one-size-fits-all plan rarely fits anyone.
This post is merely intended to offer suggestions as to why estate planning is important and does not constitute legal advice or otherwise create an attorney-client relationship. Please consult an attorney to obtain advice tailored to your circumstances.
This post is co-authored by Jordan Kieffer and Paul Dugan of Dugan & Giroux Law, Inc., which has a strong estate planning practice.
Jordan Kieffer is a regular contributor and serves as General Counsel for Wichita Moms Blog. At Dugan and Giroux, Jordan primarily focuses on civil litigation and business advising. She also advises and represents clients in the areas of water law and estate planning. Jordan is married to Jarrod, and they are raising a total of five kids! In addition to staying busy with kids’ activities, Jordan enjoys running, volunteering at her church and kids’ school, and riding her horse. You can learn more about Jordan on our Meet the Team page.
Paul Dugan has extensive experience with legal representation in the areas of Personal Injury litigation, Worker’s Compensation litigation, Estate Planning (drafting of Last Will and Testament and Revocable Living Trust Agreements) and Probate law matters. Paul is married to Nancy and they have five children between them. Raising children has given Paul the opportunity to coach youth basketball for his children’s teams, as well as, be involved in their school classes and activities. He has enjoyed over the last 21 years involvement in professional organizations, such as, serving as a director for the Kansas Association for Justice, as well as, volunteering at his Church and in community organizations such as the Sedgwick County Fair Board, the West Sedgwick County Sunrise Rotary Club – serving on the board of directors for several years and president for a one year term, and the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton school advisory committee.