A Note From Paige
You asked. We listened. The firm will now be offering a few appointments in the early evening to accommodate clients whose hectic schedules don't allow them time for an in-office visit. Starting October 15th, we will offer both early evening appointments once a week and online conference consultations via Skype. These slots are first-come, first-served, and they're sure to fill up fast, so if you're interested, contact the firm's Direct or of Client Services, Kimberly Zwaagstra, at email@example.com to reserve your appointment.
In my last newsletter
, I discussed the crucial role that guardianships and conservatorships play when adults become unable to manage their financial affairs due to an incapacitating injury, event, or illness. This month, I take a look at guardianships and conservatorships for minor children and share some factors to consider when assigning those roles in your own estate plan.
(Image courtesy of arztsamui and FreeDigitalPhotos)
Guardians (And Conservators) of the Galaxy: Choosing a Caregiver for Your Child
I’ve written in previous newsletters
about the importance of having guardianship provisions in place for your child or children, particularly before you travel. Have you considered who you want to be your child’s guardian? Did you know that in addition to choosing a guardian, you should choose a conservator as well?
Know the Terminology for Guardians and Conservators in Georgia
Assigning a guardian and a conservator to take care of minor children is often the primary factor that motivates parents to create an estate plan. Before beginning the process, however, it’s important to know and to understand some of the specialized terms in this area of law:
- Ward: The person—in this case, a minor child—who needs a guardian and/or a conservator.
- Natural Guardian: A child’s parents are his or her natural guardians. A natural guardian may make decisions on behalf of his/her minor child in both financial and personal matters.
- Guardian: An appointed agent who is responsible for managing the ward’s physical needs, medical needs, educational needs, and general well-being.
- Conservator: An appointed agent who is responsible for managing the ward’s financial assets.
- Guardian Ad Litem: A court-appointed agent who represents the interests of the ward during the petition proceedings, should such proceedings take place.
Guardianships and Conservatorship: What’s the difference?
In order to have control over financial matters, a trusted individual needs to be named as the child’s conservator. Both the guardianship and the conservatorship will automatically terminate once the child reaches the age of majority, which is eighteen years old (18) in Georgia.
How Should I Choose a Guardian and Conservator for My Child?
Choosing your child’s guardian and conservator can feel like a daunting task; however, my estate planning questionnaires
can help you get started with the basics and provide a springboard for discussion. You have the option to choose one person to serve as both guardian and conservator, or you can choose two people to fulfill those roles separately. We will discuss your priorities, what you want for your child and make sure that your wishes are outlined in your estate planning documents.
Although everyone has different priorities, the place where your child will live is a good starting point. If the person you would like to serve as guardian and conservator lives out of state, that is an important factor to consider, especially if keeping your child at his or her current school is imperative.
Your decision doesn’t have to be permanent—you can, and should, update your estate plan as your circumstances or wishes change. Nor do you and your spouse have to agree on who you want to serve as guardian and conservator of your child. Although it's best if you do agree, you each have the option of designating different people in your individual wills to fulfill these roles. In that case, the surviving spouse’s choice for guardian and conservator would assume those roles after the surviving spouse’s death.
What if my family changes?
If you have more than one child, you should be careful to ensure that the provisions of your will or trust includes all of them. I can help you create a class in your estate plan to accomplish this goal and prevent one or all of your children from being excluded. Failing to mention one or more of your children in your will or trust can lead to a situation where no one is looking out as to how much—or how little—care your children receive from your estate.
Heath Ledger’s estate provided a fairly recent example of what can happen when you exclude your child or children from your estate plan. Ledger failed to update his will to include his daughter, and after his death, his estate went exclusively to his parents and siblings. His heirs decided that his daughter should inherit the estate
instead in spite of Ledger’s oversight.
As I mentioned above, choosing a guardian and a conservator is an important decision that requires a lot of consideration and an understanding of how your choices will affect your child’s future. For that reason, it’s important that you consult with a qualified estate planning attorney to ensure that your child is covered in your estate plan. Although choosing a guardian and conservator is an important decision, you should be proactive. Don’t let the gravity of the decision prevent you from making it. If you fail to appoint a guardian and conservator, the results could be disastrous.
As a parent, you know what your child needs the most and how he/she needs to be cared for when you’re gone. It’s important that you create a plan for your child’s personal and financial well-being by including both a guardian and a conservator in your estate plan. I can help you navigate the law in this area and understand the responsibilities of each role so that you can make the best decision on behalf of your child.