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As parents, our biggest responsibility is to support and care for our children, but we don’t always think about planning for a future where a child is left without both parents. It’s a distressing topic, but one that’s important to consider and plan for because we cannot assume that family will automatically be able to take care of our children.  

I strongly recommend consulting an attorney who specializes in wills, trusts and estate planning for specific advice.  Norms and laws about insurance and guardianship differ greatly between different places, and also change periodically. Here are some questions to think about.

Should I get Life Insurance?

  • Life insurance is an effective way to ensure that your child is provided for financially in the event of one or both parents passing away.  
  • Consider whether the beneficiary should be the child (or children) directly or the other parent (with the children being secondary beneficiaries).  
  • Consult a lawyer who specializes in wills, trusts and estate planning, for advice about possibly creating a trust to look after the children’s interests and manage tax implications efficiently. 
  • Specific complications can arise if the parents are separated so seek guidance from an attorney on what steps to follow.

Should I Appoint Guardians and Custodians?

  • It is critical to appoint guardians to care for minor children in your absence.  
  • Guardianship and overseeing children’s assets are separate functions that can be performed by the same person or by different people.  
  • You can appoint guardians in your wills or through separate legal documentation. Ideally, both parents should appoint the same guardians. It’s a good idea to also name individuals who could serve as guardians if their appointed guardians cannot.  
  • Parents can appoint separate custodians for managing children’s assets, but It’s important that custodians and guardians work efficiently together. 

What can I do if my child’s guardian lives abroad?

  • It’s simpler to appoint someone locally; if the guardian lives far away or is based abroad, It could delay them getting custody of the child; in some situations, the child may be sent temporarily into a government-run program.  
  • If the guardian is abroad, plan where the children should go immediately until their international guardian can take over. 
  • With an international guardianship, consider whether  your child will be comfortable living and studying in a different country- an issue the US courts may examine.

Appoint a guardian your child trusts

What will a  Guardian do?

  • Choose guardians who would provide an environment and upbringing that would be consistent with what you envision for your child. 
  • Consider someone who is familiar  to the child and who can provide stability and emotional support as they adjust to trauma and change. 

Should I Create a Will?

  • Create a will which specifies who would manage the child’s assets in your absence. Consider whether the person is likely to have a conflict of interest and whether they can be fully trusted to prioritize your child’s welfare.
  • The will should consider scenarios where one or both parents are no longer alive. Ideally, both parents’ wills should be such that the management of the children’s assets is consistent and smooth.  

Should I Create A Trust?

  • While a will can ensure the inheritance directly goes to the child, a parent may also want to consider whether the child gets control over the inheritance on attaining majority, or, whether you want another person to manage their assets for a longer period.  
  • Some parents give children a percentage of their inheritance when they attain certain age-based landmarks (for example, 50% at age 30 and 50% at age 35).  
  • It may be advisable to create some sort of trust for the  child’s benefit – from the perspective of tax implications or better management of funds. 
  • If you have assets in India, carefully consider the ability of the person appointed to manage the child’s assets to handle legal and practical issues in India. You may wish to create a different structure for managing your assets abroad.

This article is intended for informational purposes only. Individual circumstances differ for everyone. It is always advisable to get professional advice specifically suited to your circumstances.

Svati Kania Shashank is a lawyer practicing in New York for over 20 years. 

Edited by India Currents Contributing Editor, Meera Kymal

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