Following Aretha Franklin’s death last month, it was reported the singer did not have a will for her $80 million estate, and she has a son with special needs who requires financial assistance the rest of his life.
Regardless of the size of your estate, having a will is important, especially if you have minor children. Kissimmee attorney Jennifer Bondy advises people to draw up a will when they have a child or when they start acquiring assets – even if it’s just a car and a bank account.
“Make sure your final wishes are written down,” she said. “Just because you know what you want doesn’t mean your wishes will be carried out if it’s not documented.”
When parents are married and one spouse dies, the care of the children typically remains with the surviving spouse. However, in the unfortunate event that both parents die at the same time, or in the case of a single parent, a will can help ensure children are cared for as the custodial parent wanted.
Bondy said sometimes problems can arise when a single parent does not have contact with the other biological parent; the maternal and paternal grandparents may begin fighting over who will care for the child. A will can name the child’s guardian until he/she comes of age.
If a parent wants to leave property or other assets for a minor child, Bondy recommends creating a testamentary trust to name an adult who can manage the property for the minor beneficiary. In this instance, assets would not go into the trust until the parent dies. A designated trustee would be responsible for the trust and ensuring the child is cared for.
The will can also stipulate at what age the child receives the assets and how the money should be used, such as to pay for college, a car, or to buy a house. If you have a child with special needs, a special needs trust can be established to help pay for the care of the child as a minor and into adulthood.
Having a parents’ wishes outlined in a will gives the courts guidance during the formal guardianship process for a minor child. “It makes things a lot quicker and easier for your family,” Bondy said.