How CPAs Can Help Clients Address the Number One Planning Obstacle

holding paper cut-outs, estate planningFinancial planners can help clients as they determine who should be named their children’s guardians in the event of the clients’ death.

As an estate planning attorney with 30 years’ experience, I can say with confidence that the No. 1 planning obstacle that couples with young children face is deciding who will be named the children’s guardian if the parents die. CPA financial planners can play a role in this crucial decision by helping clients work through issues such as the financial status of the prospective guardian, how the guardian will be compensated, and whether to name a trustee.

First things first: When counseling estate planning clients with young children, be sure they understand the importance of naming a guardian. When clients are reluctant to do so, I point out that a guardian would then have to be chosen by the court in the event of their death—and it might not be the person the client would have preferred.

Financial considerations

There are numerous considerations when it comes to choosing a guardian. While many may not involve input from a CPA financial planner, some could. For instance, clients may want to consider a potential guardian’s financial status and whether the guardian will be able to provide the lifestyle they desire for their children. At a basic level, clients should know whether the guardian they are choosing is financially stable enough to assume this new responsibility.

Prompt your clients to think about additional expenses that may occur if they die unexpectedly. In my decades of practice I have never seen any family spend less money after a family member’s death. They always spend more. Guardians’ income can be reduced if they take time off from work because of exhaustion or the need to care for other family members. At the same time, they may incur heavy counseling bills and spend money on activities meant to “blend” the two families, such as summer camp or vacations. If your clients want to “create” wealth to provide for the financial needs of their children (and perhaps the children of the adopting family as well), it may be prudent for them to purchase life insurance.

Do your clients need a trustee?

Clients should also consider having another person or institution serve alongside the guardian as trustee. There are several reasons why appointing a trustee is a good idea. First, the people your clients think will take the best care of their children may not be the best at handling money, so they may want to give that responsibility to someone more financially literate. Plus, guardians are often under a great deal of stress, as many are raising their own children as well as their deceased relatives’ kids, and they may prefer to have someone else make the financial decisions.

Guardians are also not always able to make disinterested decisions about their relatives’ children’s money. After the unexpected death of someone with minor children, there are many stressful decisions to be made: How should guardians be compensated? How should any changes to their house to accommodate deceased relatives’ children (such as an addition) be financed? If the clients’ children can afford to go to private school but the adopting family’s children cannot, should funds be made available for those children, too? Guardians tend to make decisions such as these with an eye to minimizing their own children’s resentment and helping their new, blended family become a unit. Trustees, however, can be more impartial and make decisions that make the best financial sense.

Should both members of a couple be named guardians?

Clients should consider whether to nominate one person or a couple as guardians. If they want to choose the wife’s married brother as guardian, for instance, they must decide whether to name the brother alone or both the brother and his spouse as guardians. In my experience, it is better to name both members of a couple as guardians. That way, both have the legal authority to access school records, attend parent-teacher conferences, and make medical decisions for the children. Difficulties and resentments can arise if one member of a couple has personal but not legal responsibility for a child’s welfare.

Clients should also revisit their choice of guardian as their children grow, because the proposed guardians’ financial status may change and because children’s needs vary greatly from one stage of life to another. The nurturing adoration of a grandparent that makes a 4-year-old feel loved and secure may suffocate a teenager, for example. At some ages a child may feel that being able to continue living in the same neighborhood with the same friends and going to the same school is more important than living with a beloved aunt and uncle. It is important that clients understand where their children are emotionally now and determine who would be the best choice to care for them if something happened in the next five years.

Any estate plan designed for the parents of minor children will have to take technical, financial, legal, and psychological components into account. A skilled financial planner will combine technical skill with emotional sensitivity to help his or her clients craft a plan that brings them all into balance.

 

Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning. She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about. Annino recently released her new book, “It’s More Than Money, Protect Your Legacy” available at Amazon.com. To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit, http://www.patriciaannino.com.

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