As a parent, you want to ensure that your children are well cared for and provided for if you should pass away or become incapacitated while they are still dependent on your support. So, as a responsible parent, you diligently prepare. You create a will or a trust that will provide financial support for your children if you aren’t there to support them. You nominate a guardian, after careful consideration and discussion with your spouse and your preferred guardian. You purchase life insurance.
If you’ve made those arrangements, you’re a step ahead of many parents. However, you may still be overlooking something that may be just as important to your children as the financial security and qualified care you provide.
The Personal Touch in Estate Planning for Children
A child who loses one or both parents young loses more than financial and practical support. That child also misses many opportunities to learn from his or her parents, to understand who they were and what that means for the child, and to fully experience that parent’s love. While there is no way to truly compensate for those losses, there are many steps parents can take to ensure that if they are unexpectedly taken from their children, they leave behind more than legal documents and life insurance proceeds.
The right approach differs for every family, based on personality, values, relationships, and even factors such as the age of the children. Some examples that parents have employed include:
- Creating a video message on the child’s birthday each year, talking about important moments you’ve shared, what you love and appreciate about the child, and your hopes for him or her in the coming year and beyond
- Writing a series of letters to be given to your children when certain milestones arrive, such as important birthdays, high school graduation, and their wedding day
- Journaling important moments in your life with your child, moments when you’re especially proud of him or her, and more and making arrangements for that journal to be passed to your child at a particular age if you aren’t there to pass it along yourself
- Audio voice recordings, either speaking directly to your children or reading a favorite bedtime story or singing the lullaby you put them to sleep with each night for young children
Estate planning for children is difficult for many parents. Few people want to contemplate their own deaths and consider the impact on their loved ones, and that reticence is all the more powerful when contemplating leaving a child before he or she is ready to stand alone. And, of course, most parents of minor children are relatively young and reasonably healthy, and so understand that the odds favor them being around to raise their children to adulthood.
So, it’s no surprise that so many parents neglect even the legal necessities such as a nomination of guardian and some vehicle for passing assets to benefit the children. It’s even less surprising that few parents of young children want to specifically imagine not being there when that child is admitted to college or gets engaged or has his or her own first child. Fortunately, most families never have to rely on those documents.
But, protecting your children against the small possibility that you won’t be there to usher them into adulthood is no different from dozens of other precautions we take with children every day. You don’t expect to get into a car accident, but you still lock your child into a car seat and double check the straps. You expect a healthy child to grow and develop on schedule, but you still take him to his annual check-ups. And, you expect your child to grow up with two parents, but you take steps to make sure that he has a safe environment, material security, and a means of feeling connected with you even if you’re not there.