Why Single Parents Need Wills and Estate Plans
By Christine Henry Andresen
Maybe you are recently divorced or maybe being a single mom or dad is old hat. Either way, have you thought about what would happen to your kids if you were to get hit by a car? (Sorry, we do lots of hypothetical car crashes when we talk about wills and estate planning.) Maybe your ex is a superstar co-parent, and you two merely decided it was time to consciously uncouple, and your ex is the logical first choice to care for your kids. But who is your First Alternate Guardian? Or maybe your ex is a first class jerk or totally MIA. If that is the case, you need to designate another person in a document called Guardian for My Child in the Event of My Death or Incapacity so that this person will have more of a legal leg to stand on when explaining to the judge why this document should trump biology. Either way, part of being a responsible parent is to think about all of this stuff, and get it in writ.
What if you are in the hospital? Not everyone dies instantly. You need that Guardian document for your kids, but you also need to appoint your medical agent in a Medical Power of Attorney. Maybe your child is a mature 16-year-old, and should be on your medical agent list, or designated as first alternate medical agent after a parent or sibling. But maybe your kids are small and they cannot be on that list. If you are single, and have living parents or siblings, the State of Texas is going to assume these are the people that should be making important life and death decisions about your care. But maybe these are exactly the wrong people to be making those kinds of decisions for you. Maybe your friends are your family and they are the ones you want to have that authority. But no one is going to know that if you don’t write it down.
And of course there is the will. You have children, so as a single person, if you die intestate (without a will), then Texas will assume that your children should inherit—probably what you want. But someone needs to be your children’s trustee. The State does not just give your house and your life savings to your kids. There is going to be a person who is in charge of this money. Should this be their other bio-parent? Can your parents, the child’s grandparents, handle this responsibility, or are they too old or far away? Do you have a trustworthy sibling who lives nearby who could handle this responsibility? Or would it be better to assign the job to a trusted friend? As hard as all these choices are to think about, and as hard as these judgment calls are to make, it is so much better for your children if you, their parent, picks the trustee, first alternate trustee, and so on. The probate court is going to have a much more difficult time assessing who is who and what is what if you do not leave your wishes about these matters in an enforceable legal document for all to see.
Parents love their kids. But singles have a little bit more of a responsibility than the smug marrieds to provide for the children in the unlikely event that a worst-case scenario happens.
(Also: go get life insurance, my friends. But I’ll let you hold on that until you get the will and estate planning sorted out.)