The legal part of the divorce is behind you and you’re a single mom. Now, besides making a living and all the work that goes with that, you’re also responsible for the care of minor children—little people whose daily lives and long-term future depend on you. How will they be cared for if something happens to you? Will they be cared for the way you want them to be? To make sure, you need an estate plan that spells out what you want done and how your assets are to be used for their care.


Who Carries Out Your Wishes

An estate plan allows you to name a person of your choosing to care for your kids if you aren’t able to. That includes your incapacity as well as your death. Depending on the state where you live, children under the age of 18 or 21 are legally not allowed to care for themselves. A guardian must be appointed to care for the kids if both parents have died or if the parents are unable to care for the children.

If the other parent is still alive, that parent may receive custody. But if something happens to you, and the other legal parent has died or is unable to care for the minors, and you have not chosen a guardian, the care of the children will be decided by a judge according to state law. It may not be a choice with which you would agree.


Nominating a Guardian


Nominating a guardian can take several forms.


  • You can name an individual in your Will. The guardian will take over care of the children after your death. You can name the person who cares for the kids as the one who also controls the assets you leave behind for them. But you may choose to name someone different as a financial guardian.
  • You may use a pour-over will to name a guardian for your children upon your death. A pour-over Will allows you to name a trust as the beneficiary of any money and property that goes through the probate process.
  • Using a Trust allows you to name a guardian for your kids at your death, but also in case you become incapacitated, which is not possible with a Will.
  • Some states allow the naming of a guardian in a separate document. Some people prefer the separate document because they can change guardians without having to update their entire Will or Trust.


Who Will Be in Charge of the Kids’ Inheritance

A minor child can’t legally handle their own financial affairs; an adult has to be in charge of the money until they reach the age of majority. If you pass away without an estate plan, the other legal parent may be in charge of managing the money and property. If the other legal parent doesn’t possess the skill to manage your child’s inheritance, then the court will appoint someone. A judge will make a choice based on state law and the people who appear in court.


How and When Your Kids Will Receive Their Inheritance

Without an estate plan, your kids’ inheritance will be managed for their benefit until they reach the age of majority, and then it will be given to them outright. Although they will legally be an adult (at 18 or 21) they may not be prepared for the responsibility that comes with receiving a large amount of money and property.

Also, you may have certain things you want the money to be used for, like going to school, buying a house, or starting a business. With a trust, you can specify exactly how you want the inheritance to be used. You can create a revocable Trust or include the instructions in your Will. Here’s the difference between the two options. A Will has to be filed with the probate court, the proceedings will be public and overseen by a judge. A properly crafted and funded revocable trust can be managed without probate, and no documents will be made public.

There are lots of options for specifying how and when the kids get their inheritance. Your minor child can receive a percentage upon reaching a specific age. The Trust might specify that they receive 50 percent at thirty years old and the remainder at fifty years old.

You can also structure your child’s trust as an incentive trust to allow the trustee to give your child money only after they meet certain goals such as successfully completing postsecondary education or being sober for one year.

Alternatively, you can leave the decision of how and when to give out the funds exclusively up to the trustee’s discretion. This is sometimes referred to as a discretionary trust. Because your child will not be guaranteed a specific amount of money or piece of property, the funds will be better protected from any future creditors or divorcing spouses that your child may have. However, when deciding to use a discretionary trust, it’s important to choose a trustee in which you have complete faith and provide clear guidelines.


Choosing a Trustee

When selecting a trustee, you could choose a family member or a close friend who knows your child and understands your wishes. Whoever you choose, make sure they have the necessary skills to carry out your wishes and to manage the Trust.

If there’s no individual you want to serve as trustee, you can hire a professional trustee. While all trustees are entitled to compensation, a professional trustee may be more expensive and have set fees.


If you don’t set up an estate plan to take care of your kids in the event of your death or incapacitation, state law will do it for you, but it will be something you have no control over managed by people you don’t know with a distribution plan that probably won’t be anywhere close to the way you want it done. So, single Mom, as busy as you are handling all the requirements of a single parent, squeeze in some time to build an estate plan that will take care of your kids the way you want it done. It’s time well spent to take care of your kids and give you peace of mind.