As a single mom in my 40’s I’m embarrassed to say I’ve done nothing about estate planning.

A recent medical scare has caused me to pause and now consider planning a priority. Any words of wisdom before I do a will?

About 73% of parents have no will and some that do are unaware that their kids are not fully protected by their existing estate plan. So here are some common issues to address:

1. Name a Guardian. Only name a married couple as guardian of your children if you intend for both people to service alone as primary caregiver for your children. If not select the person, possible a sibling or grandparent, you really have in mind and then, if possible also choose an alternate guardian. Be aware that in South Carolina there is a presumption that the biological father is a suitable person to raise the children. If drug or alcohol abuse, sexual or physical abuse, serious mental illness or other reasons contributed to a divorce that would put the child(ren) at risk, then be sure to mention the same in your will so the probate court is alerted to the problem(s) and the proposed guardian has some evidence to fight custody.

2. Financial Issues. Do not focus solely on someone’s financial resources when deciding who should raise your children. It is your job to provide for the child(ren) through life insurance and other assets. Before you despair that you don’t have nearly enough to provide for them, remember your child(ren) would likely qualify for Social Security benefits on your earning record until they are 18 or leave high school. You can name a separate person in your will to serve as conservator for the child(ren) or set up an appropriate trust to protect a portion of assets until the child(ren) are adults. Both of these options may be needed. You probably should discuss long term care planning options with your attorney and possibly additional life insurance to fund goals for yourself and the child(ren).

3. Legacy planning. In addition to the usual terms of a will be sure to do some real legacy planning that passes the intangible gifts of dreams, ideals, family heritage, and love to your child(ren). Such items might include a journal or diary, scrapbook, family photos, genealogy, family stories recorded in video, audio or writing, newspaper clippings, military records, family recipes, and other family heirlooms that have little monetary value but a lot of emotional connection. Use a personal property memorandum to decide who gets these things. Legacy planning can also include business succession planning, charitable objectives, a last letter(s) possibly saying what you want to be remembered for, what you are proud of or see as your biggest accomplishments, life lessons you want to pass on or discussing someone that had a great influence in your life. My grandmother who raised 10 children alone after her husband died left me her sugar cookie recipe. It is legendary. As her health failed, Mum, my husband’s mother, left me hours and hours of wisdom on how not to complain with pain and insights on how to build a solid marriage. She framed a poem she lived by with some simple lace that I cherish.

4. Other parts of a solid plan. An estate plan may start with a simple will, but should include a health care and financial power of attorney. Your children may not be old enough now to serve as your agent, but you should discuss with your attorney how these essential documents can later be modified when they are mature enough to handle such responsibilities.


Disclaimer:  Information contained in this column is meant to be of general information on frequently asked questions concerning disability, elder law, estate planning and probate law, and does not contain specific legal advice to a client.  No attorney-client relationship is created by reading this column.

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