Every adult should have a well-considered estate plan, but being prepared is never more important than when you are solely responsible for a minor child. Like anyone creating a comprehensive estate plan, you’ll need a will or a living trust—or some combination of the two. However, estate planning for single parents involves special considerations and accounting for additional factors.

Providing for Custody or Guardianship of Your Children

If you’re like most single parents, ensuring that someone you trust will be in a position to step in if you should pass away unexpectedly or be unable to care for your children will be a top priority. That makes the appointment of a standby guardian one of the most critical elements of estate planning for single parents. Your options in this area will depend to a great degree on the status of the children’s other parent. If the other parent is deceased or parental rights have been terminated, then you are free to choose a standby guardian.

Standby Guardianship in New Jersey

Under New Jersey law, a standby guardian is a person appointed by a parent or parents to take guardianship of minor children if the parent becomes incapacitated or passes away. You will also generally appoint an alternate or successor standby guardian, who can be substituted as guardian if the person you have appointed predeceases you or is otherwise unable or unwilling to assume guardianship.

Deciding for Children with Another Living Parent

If your children have another living parent whose legal relationship to them has not been terminated, the legal situation differs significantly. In most cases, the other parent will be granted custody of the children, regardless of whether custody was previously shared or the deceased parent had full legal and physical custody. The primary exception would be a situation in which the court found the surviving parent to be unfit. Typically, this occurs when the surviving parent has a serious disqualifying condition, such as drug addiction, or has a history of abusing the children.

Don’t assume, though, that you shouldn’t bother making provisions for the care of your children although they have another living parent. There are several good reasons to make such a provision, even though custody will almost certainly pass to the other parent if you pass away or become incapacitated.

  • If the other parent passes away or becomes incapacitated, having already named a guardian will save you from having to quickly amend your documents to ensure that there is no gap in provision for your children
  • If the other parent is deemed unfit to take custody of the children upon your passing, your stated wishes will be considered by the judge determining guardianship
  • If the other parent receives custody but then passes away or becomes incapacitated without appointing a guardian, your stated wishes may be used as evidence when the judge appoints a guardian

In addition, depending on your relationship with the children’s other parent and his or her relationship with the children, you may be able to agree on a standby guardian and make those arrangements together.

Separating Guardianship from Financial Management

Although your children’s other parent will most likely be granted custody of the children should you pass away or become unable to care for them, that doesn’t mean your ex will automatically gain control of any assets you may leave for the benefit of the children. Similarly, you may determine that the person best equipped to attend to your children’s day-to-day needs is not the best person to manage their finances.

The best way to manage assets for the benefit of your minor children may differ depending on your circumstances and the assets in question. One possible solution is to create a living trust to be administered for the benefit of your children, and to appoint a trustee to make distributions to or on behalf of the children pursuant to terms you’ve created. In this manner, you can provide for the physical, emotional, and financial well-being of your children, even if that means placing different responsibilities in different hands.

An Experienced Attorney Can Help with Estate Planning for Single Parents

With something as critical as your children’s futures at stake, you can’t afford to delay and hope for the best. If you are a single parent and have neglected or put off estate planning, take the first step as soon as possible.