Who Takes Care of Your Children After an Accident

Boy playing with building Blocks

Your children are the most important thing in your world. If you are a single parent, or even a married couple, the question of who takes care of your children after an accident can keep you up at night. Find out how proper estate planning can put those fears to bed and make sure your children are safe, and what to do to have a “guardian of the person” appointed if the accident comes before the plan is complete.

Estate Planning Considers Who Takes Care of Your Children When You Can’t

A thorough estate plan directs what happens to everything in your household after your death: your bank accounts, your home and property, even your sentimental keepsakes. Of course it should account for those most precious to you: your children. However, the way that an estate plan accounts for the people in your life is different from gifts of money or property. If you are a parent of minor children, your estate plan should include a:

  • Power of Attorney designating someone to manage your child’s affairs if you are unable to.
  • Healthcare Surrogate Designation naming someone to make medical decisions for your child when you can’t.
  • Guardianship designation identifying someone to take custody of your child if you pass away.

In most cases, it is wise to have alternates for each of these designations. If you are married to the child’s other parent, your spouse will not need these designations to take over caring for your child. If your child’s other parent is not your spouse, remember that courts will assume he or she will take over providing for your child when you have passed unless he or she is unfit to do so. However, if you are a single parent or your spouse is a stepparent, you may want to designate him or her as the first alternate caregiver, and then name other friends and relatives in case something happens to both of you.

Providing for Your Children After an Accident

Just because someone is your child’s caregiver doesn’t mean they have the money to pay for your child’s expenses. In most cases, if something happens to you, you will want most of your assets to pass to your spouse (if you have one), and then your children for their care. However, handing your life savings to a teenager probably isn’t the best financial plan.

That’s why most parents can benefit from establishing a trust to pay for their children’s needs while they are growing up and pass their assets down to their children in a reasonable and conscientious way once they reach adulthood. A trust can hold the money intended for your children, including insurance proceeds and investment interest, until they come of age or maturity. In the meantime, the trustee (the person administering the trust) can disburse funds to cover any of your child’s needs, from daily living expenses, to medical care, or even pay for college.

Guardianship of the Person or Property Covers the Gaps in Your Estate Plan

Trusts and estate plans are the best course of action for most families, but sometimes accidents happen when you least expect. If your family members find themselves needing to care for your child unexpectedly, they may need to go to the Florida Probate Court to seek designation of a “Guardianship of the Person” and “Guardianship of the Property” (also called a conservatorship). This can be a complicated and often emotional process, especially when maternal and paternal grandparents (or other relatives) both want a say in how their grandchildren are going to be raised.

The Probate Court will turn to any estate planning you have done first. In most cases, if you have a guardianship designation or power of attorney included in your estate plan, the Probate Court will respect your choice. However, without that advanced work, your family members could end up fighting over who has your child’s best interests in mind.

Who Should Be Your Child’s Guardian or Trustee

You can give your aunt a painting and if she doesn’t like it, she can sell it or give it away. But when someone takes over caring for your children, they are in for a years-long commitment of time, energy, and money. That is why you should be certain that your chosen guardians, healthcare surrogates, and powers of attorney know what to expect ahead of time. You should also carefully consider the person you choose based on family members’:

  • Willingness to serve in the requested roles
  • Ability to provide for your child in your place
  • Understanding of your child’s needs (especially if your child requires special education or medical care)
  • Existing relationship with your child
  • Ability to provide your child with love and emotional support during their grief
  • Religious and moral perspectives
  • Age and physical health (remember that grandparents may not be physically able to keep up with young children as they grow older)
  • Geographic proximity to your child’s school, friends, and community

The trustee or “Guardian of the Property” can be the same as your designated guardian, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, having two people involved is often the wisest choice, since it makes it harder for either the guardian or trustee to neglect your child’s care or take advantage of your assets. This also allows you to select a guardian who will be able to provide for your child’s upbringing and emotional needs even if that person isn’t an expert in financial management.

At Harrison Estate Law, we can help you build a complete estate plan that includes a guardianship designation, power of attorney, healthcare surrogate designation, and trust, so that your children will be cared for after an accident. We can also help your loved ones go to the Florida Probate Court for a Guardianship if you are hurt before your estate plan is complete. Please contact us online or via email or call 352-559-9828 to schedule a free consultation. If you don’t live close to Gainesville or are sheltering in place, we are happy to set up a phone or Zoom call.

Categories: Estate Planning