Our Relationships Series previously has covered the unique estate planning challenges faced by blended families and by same-sex and other unmarried couples.  Today we will address another group that is in dire need of proper planning: families with children under the age of 18.

In Florida, as in other states, the law recognizes children as vulnerable members of society and therefore limits their legal rights and responsibilities until they reach the age of “majority,” or adulthood, on their 18th birthday.  For example, a child who is not yet 18, called a “minor” in legalese, cannot own property or sign contracts.  Instead, he must rely on his parent(s) to make decisions regarding his person (i.e. where he will live and go to school, what medical treatment he will receive) and his property (i.e. what to do with any assets he may receive).

As parents, we exercise these rights as a matter of course while raising our children.  We are able to do so without any legal process or reporting because we are the “natural guardians” of our minor kids.  But what would happen to your minor child if you were no longer alive or otherwise unable to take care of him?

When there is no natural guardian available, a court must authorize someone (a “guardian”) to step into your shoes and make decisions about your child’s person and property until he turns 18.  If you do not plan properly, the court will decide who the guardian will be based on who steps forward, and who the law prefers, rather than your wishes.

Even if you do have a plan that expresses who you want to be guardian(s) of your minor child, it may not fully protect him.  In the short term, your sudden unavailability, even if temporary (i.e. unconscious after a car accident), may lead to your child being taken into foster care.  In the long term, your plan may result in your child getting complete freedom and a big check at the age of 18 rather than receiving continued guidance.

If you would like to learn more about planning to protect your family, you are welcome to attend one of our monthly Truth About Estate Planning workshops.  The October 7th workshop will be specifically tailored for families with minor children.

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