Tim Alles

Jordan Bush

Chris Shourds

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Previous Newsletters

April 2021 Does My Estate Plan Have An Elephant In The Room? (Part I)

March 2021 How Can I "Trust" My Trustees?

February 2021 What Do Tiger Woods' Tweets, and Your Social Media Content Have to Do with Estate Planning? (Part II)

January 2021 What Do Tiger Woods' Tweets, and Your Social Media Content Have to Do with Estate Planning? (Part I)

December 2020 What Are Estate Taxes And Why Do They Matter?

November 2020 What Life Events Should Trigger an Estate Plan Review?

October 2020 My Child Is A Spendthrift. What Can I Do To Protect Their Inheritance?

September 2020 What Is the Difference Between Estate Planning and Elder Law?

August 2020 Estate Planning After a Divorce - What Does It Mean for Your Estate Plan?

July 2020 What Should You Expect From Your Trustee?

June 2020 Should You Pass Your Assets Through A Trust Or A Will?

May 2020 Important Issues To Consider For Your Estate Plan

April 2020 Important Estate Planning Considerations During a Pandemic Crisis

What Does Estate Planning Have To Do With My Child's Skinned Knee? Part I

As parents

As parents, we will do just about anything to protect our young children. Their health, safety and well-being are our #1 priority! We strap them into a car seat when they are infants. We run to the pediatrician at the first sign of illness. We don them with knee pads, elbow pads and helmets when they learn to ride a bike or go skateboarding. But if we can't bandage our child's skinned knee, then who will?


How Can I Make Sure That My Minor Child Is Protected If I Die Or Become Incapacitated?


Two issues arise with estate planning when parents are unable to care for their young children. The first is guardianship. The second is leaving money to minor children. In this month's newsletter, we explore how to protect your minor child's welfare by selecting the best guardian. Next month, we will review ideas for how to ensure that money and property are managed so that minor children have their financial interests protected. 


What Is Guardianship?


A guardian is a person who stands in your place to make day-to-day decisions, on behalf of your children, should you pass away or become incapacitated.  Guardians play a vital role in protecting your children and making sure that they grow into responsible adults. This is the primary reason that you want to name a guardian for your young child as soon as possible.


Spouses will often name each other as their first choice. However, it is important to name a contingent guardian, known as a "back up guardian". While most parents are comfortable with their spouse becoming a guardian, this isn't always the case. Some parents are single, widowed, divorced, or emotionally and physically unable to become a guardian.


The simplest and safest way to name a guardian is in a Last Will & Testament. This ensures that the decision of who shall become your child's guardian will not be left in the hands of the court system, but in your hands.


What Will Happen If I Don't Choose A Guardian?


If parents have not selected a guardian, and both parents die, or they are unable to provide appropriate care for their minor child, a court will decide. The judge will act in the minor's best interests and decide who is in the best position to care for the child.  It may be a family member, friend, or other adult, who can care for the minor until they reach the age of majority. In most states, the age of majority, commonly known as the age of adulthood, is 18 years old.


Unfortunately, court ordered guardianship is fraught with peril. It can cause family members to get into legal disputes over who is in the best position to care for the minor. Even worse, bitter disputes can ensue over who should take over financial control of the minor's assets, until they reach the age of majority.

These disagreements can cause family instability, as well as unexpected legal costs.  The good news is that they can be avoided by naming a guardian now and keeping that decision up to date.  A minor child is in a better position to thrive when guardians are decided by their parents, before anything unexpected occurs.


How Do I Select A Guardian?


Choosing a guardian is a very difficult decision. It is natural that young couples may feel comfortable selecting grandparents and siblings as guardians.  However, even choosing the closest relatives can cause family tension and uncertainty.


Which set of parents will be chosen?  Should it be the grandmother or grandfather?  Which sibling should be chosen, the husband's sister or the wife's' brother? Will there be hurt feelings?  How do you explain your choice when you ask your relative or friend to become a guardian? Worse, how do you explain your choice to those who are hurt because you didn't select them as a guardian?


Fortunately, there are some general considerations to follow that will assist you in selecting the best guardian…at least for now. 


  • Family Culture and Values: Does your guardian share a similar outlook on life that you do?  Will they respect your wishes regarding educational, religious, medical, and family life decisions? Can they connect emotionally with your child?  Will they make sure that the child's close family members, extended relatives and friends are included in their lives?

  • Time of Life: Is your guardian able to handle the physical riggers of raising a young child? Are they emotionally resilient, and in good mental health?  Oftentimes, parents are the first choice for guardianship; but they may be slowing down and unable to handle raising a family for a second time.

  • Parenting Experience: Does your guardian have children of their own? Are they still raising their own children, and able to devote parenting time to your children? Do they share the same philosophy regarding discipline? Is their spouse or partner supportive of the guardianship?

  • Financial Experience: Are they skilled at managing family finances and teaching children about money? Can they manage your child's assets, and should they?  A guardian can also become a custodian, otherwise known as a ‘property guardian', for your child's financial resources.  It is ideal to select a guardian who can be trusted with both roles; but this isn't always the case. You need to be prepared to have two people, one who takes care of the child, and one who takes care of finances, in the mix.

  • Geographical and Physical Desirability: Does your guardian live in the same state and school district as your children?  Do they have a home large enough to make your child comfortable? Can they possibly move into your home so that your child is not uprooted and remains in the same school district and near their friends?


Choosing the right guardian is a herculean task. Yet, these hurdles should not stop you from deciding. While guardian selections are not always perfect, they aren't set in stone either. Keep in mind, as your children grow, their needs will change, and your choice of guardian may change as well. As parents age, siblings or very close friends can start to look like a better option. A relative who lived out of state may move back home. Life circumstances are always changing.


As with all estate planning, it is best to work with our experienced estate planning attorneys who will guide and help you work through the complex decision of selecting the right guardian. We will help make sure that someone is always there to bandage your child's skinned knee.

Important Information: The information contained in this newsletter, and any related web page(s), is for general information purposed, by its nature, and does not contain any legal or tax advice. It is written to be accurate and educational. This newsletter may not be construed as legal or tax advice, or solicitation for legal or tax services of any kind. For this reason, no attorney-client relationship is created, and no one should take any legal, tax or other action, based on the information contained in this newsletter or any related web page(s), until having consulted competent professional advisor(s) and attorney(s). Some links in the newsletter may lead to other places on the worldwide web, that are for informational references only. We do not necessarily sponsor, endorse or otherwise approve of the materials appearing in such sites. Nothing contained in this newsletter and any related web page(s) is intended or written to be used, can be used by any taxpayer, or may be relied upon or used by any taxpayer for the purposes of avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code. No information contained this newsletter and any related web page(s)relating to any federal tax matter may be used by any person to support the promotion or marketing or to recommend any federal tax matter. Taxpayer(s) should seek advice based on the taxpayer's particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor with respect to any federal tax transaction or matter described in this newsletter and any related web page(s).

Alles Law | 5360 Cascade Road SE | Grand Rapids, MI 49546 | 616-365-5055
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