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Estate Planning Tools to Keep Lex-the-Ex Away

By December 14, 2011No Comments

Young male graduateOutside of food and clothing, 2 of the most critical matters parents manage for their children are education and housing. Single parents are typically even more concerned with managing these issues because ultimately the responsibility falls on the primary custodial parent. Divorcees may breathe a little easier because of settlement and child custody agreements, but not necessarily. Family courts around the country are filled with defendants and plaintiffs arguing over alleged breaches of such agreements. Consequently, as a single parent, the burden is heavier.

Managing housing and educational issues can be made easier with proper estate planning tools. An earlier blog post addresses basic estate planning instruments parents should have in place. This post discusses some of those instruments in more detail.

Property Power of Attorney. As mentioned here, this authority, which you to give to another person, allows that person to make and carry out financial decisions for you when you are physically incapacitated. Thus, if you’re ill for a long time and need someone to pay the rent, mortgage or any other expenses associated with your family’s home, you should designate a trusted agent under a property power of attorney.

Guardian of the Estate. A will allows parents to designate who should care for their children in the event of a parent’s death – a guardian. This is critical to single parents. However, in Illinois, there are 2 types of guardians: a “guardian of the estate” and a “guardian of the person.” A guardian of the estate status allows the guardian to manage the financial affairs of the minor, e.g., gifts received under a will or trust. This makes sense because sometimes the person you would trust to raise your children may not be as financially well informed as needed to manage large sums of money. So I typically advise clients to consider guardianship from both “personal values” and “financial expertise” perspectives.

Trustee. In a vein similar to a guardian of the estate, a trustee is the person, or entity, you authorize to administer, preserve, protect, and grow trust assets. Note: Many people think they’re not personally wealthy enough to require a trust; many are mistaken in this thinking.

Example: Sharon is the single mom of a 14 year-old daughter and has a home valued at $150,000 with a mortgage balance of $30,000.  She has about $100,000 in a retirement account, and $500,000 in life insurance. Additionally, Sharon keeps approximately $1,000 in her checking account and $2,000 in her savings.  She doesn’t feel like she’s wealthy, but if Sharon were to pass away today, her estate would be valued at $723,000. She would have died almost a millionaire!

An important and related consideration is that unless other designations are made, life insurance and retirement account proceeds may be paid out to a very young adult, e.g., an 18 year old. How many 18 year olds do you know who are mature enough to manage receiving a lump sum of $600,000? Returning to Sharon’s scenario, where her daughter is a minor: If Sharon didn’t designate a guardian or trustee, but Sharon’s ex-husband, Lex, is lurking around, guess who would likely obtain control over the $600,000 – yep, Lex the ex.

Life Insurance. Typically, life insurance is a death benefit and can be used to pay off mortgages and for other housing expenses. An Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (“ILIT”) is a time-honored estate planning tool and excellent for providing for education and housing costs, especially if one does not intend to benefit from a policy otherwise. Transfer the policy in a trust where someone other than yourself is trustee and your child’s education is relatively secure.

Securing the hearth and educational future of children is critical, so review your policies and plans today and get a good night’s sleep going into the New Year. Well…after midnight anyway.

Your comments are welcomed as always!

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