The Basics of Estate Planning for Young Families & Families with Dependent Children

Jun. 2, 2022Updated Aug. 9, 2022

**by Brianna Davidson Jarrett

(It’s not as bad as it sounds.)

(Well, it is as bad as it sounds, but you still need to read this!)

If you’re like most parents of young kids, you probably have a sizable collection of important papers that seems to be growing alongside the complexity of your household. And there are really critically important things that demand 150% of your time and attention on a daily basis, so you spend your time putting out the biggest fires: Have all the kids’ graded assignments been turned in? Do I have everything I need to make the next birthday happen?  Does my kid have PT or OT today? Definitely OT. It could also be PT. Are they the same (asking for a friend)? OMG. Tomorrow is PICTURE DAY. And when did the boss want that project back from me? Have I started it yet? Did everyone get a physical this year? Is that a rash or did one of the offspring draw on me with red marker? Is today Tuesday or Wednesday? (If it’s Tuesday, everything’s fine; if it’s Wednesday, everything is NOT. FINE.)

But then maybe your neighbor tells you that his dad is in the hospital and he had to go dig up his parents’ important documents. Or you go in for a routine procedure and the nurse asks you for a copy of your living will or health care power of attorney or advance directive and all you can do is look at her. Or you just found out you’re having another baby and you remember you haven’t decided on who gets the kids (and how the hell do you make this official again?).  Or . . . you know . . . maybe there’s a deadly virus on the loose and you’re confronted with the not-too-remote possibility that you could become very ill, very quickly.  In any event, you’re likely occasionally and inconveniently reminded of the fact that if something happens to you, there’s no backup plan.

But the idea of tackling this part of your life is overwhelming, and you have no idea where to begin or how much it will cost.

The purpose of this article is to put into your hands the basic information you will need to start asking the right questions about your estate plan and to prepare to meet with an estate planner and develop the tools to make sure that, if you’re not around, the wheels of this family keep on turning. So many important pieces of your family rest on you—the CEO, CFO, Medical Director, President, Treasurer (you get it) of your household. You have put in too much blood, sweat, and tears to have this thing fall apart if, for any reason, you weren’t able to do all the things.

The importance of developing an estate plan when you have dependent children, and particularly when you have a child with disabilities, cannot be overstated. While it can be overwhelming, and incredibly complicated, your plan should be one that you feel confident in understanding as well as adapting over time with your growing or changing family. Here are three main areas of planning to get you started.

I. Your Medical Decisions

II. Your Financial Decisions

III. Distributing Your Assets After You Pass Away

And now for the piece of the estate plan with which most of us are probably familiar: the document that directs where your stuff will go, and to whom, after you die.

This piece of the estate plan can feel overwhelming, so I’d like to try to break down for you the decisions that you will likely need to make in order to begin organizing your thoughts on this topic:

DECISION 1: If your spouse/partner survives you, will everything be distributed to that person?

DECISION 2: If your spouse/partner does not survive you, how will your assets be distributed among your children? Equal shares? Different percentages for each?

DECISION 3: It’s likely that if you have young children, you’ll want to prevent them from inheriting from you at an early age, so they should instead inherit their shares in trust.  What would you want to allow the trust to pay for? Who would you want to serve as the trustee? (Note: there are specific considerations for special needs trusts, which is the topic of another article that you can read here, as there are already too many words in this article and I’m losing my own interest.)

DECISION 4: In the unlikely event that you pass away and your spouse/partner is not living, who would serve as the legal “guardian” (term may vary by state) for minor children and for disabled children? Have you determined the living arrangements for minor and disabled children?

DECISION 5: Who would be the person to handle the paperwork involved in administering your estate after you die?




I. Your Medical Decisions

II. Your Financial Decisions

III. Distributing Your Assets After You Pass Away

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