As an estate planning and elder law firm, we can always be called upon to address guardianship and conservatorship matters. Our practice is located in the state of Connecticut, and in our state, a guardianship applies to a minor, and a conservatorship applies to an adult. To start with child guardianship, there are a couple of different types guardianship for minors.
Guardianship of the person is more or less self-explanatory. Someone would be appointed to provide food and shelter and other forms of care, and this guardian of the person would make educational and medical decisions on behalf of the ward as well. There can also be a guardian of the estate. This individual would be empowered to handle the child’s financial assets.
A guardianship can be necessary when parents are unavailable for some reason, or when they have serious personal problems or health issues. However, since we are estate planning attorneys, we often deal with guardianship as it applies to our area of legal specialization. Unfortunately, far too many people never address this issue, and the consequences can be severe.
Studies are conducted periodically that are intended to gauge just how prepared people are for the inevitable, and the results are not encouraging. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, only 44 percent of people in the United States had a will or some other estate planning document in place.
As you might imagine, younger adults were particularly remiss. Just 35 percent of people between the ages of 30 and 49 had estate plans. For respondents between the ages of 18 and 29, the figure was a paltry 14 percent. Obviously, most people do not pass away when they are less than 50 years old, and this fuels the lack of preparedness. However, people of all ages do in fact expire each and every day.
The sad thing is that in reality, estate planning may actually be more important for younger adults than it is for their older counterparts. In the United States, the average lifespan is about 79 years. If you were to pass away when you are this age or older, it is very likely that your children will have been self-supporting adults for decades. It’s great to leave inheritances to your grown children, but they are not depending on you for everything
Things are entirely different for many younger adults. Young married couples typically rely on two incomes even if they have no children. When there are dependent children in the home as well, the reliance on the earnings of both parents will be magnified. If no estate planning has been done, and the unthinkable takes place, and emotional nightmare can be compounded by financial devastation.
This is one part of the equation, but there is also the matter of guardianship. If you are a single parent and you were to pass away unexpectedly, who would care for your children? And if you are married, what if you and your spouse pass away simultaneously in an accident?
When you plan your estate effectively as a younger adult, you can name a guardian that would be empowered to care for your children if it ever becomes necessary. You can also make sure that you have enough life insurance to serve as an income replacement vehicle, and you could include a testamentary trust in your will to hold the insurance proceeds for the benefit of your minor children.
Many adults become unable to make sound decisions at some point in time, and this is something that we are very well aware of as estate planning attorneys. There are various different causes of incapacity, and Alzheimer’s disease is the leading culprit. It strikes about 13 percent of all senior citizens, and upwards of 40 percent of elders that are 85 years of age and older have contracted the disease.
If you were to be in this position, the Probate Court could appoint a conservator to handle your personal and/or financial affairs. Most people would prefer to choose their own decision-makers, and you can do this if you plan your estate effectively. With a durable power of attorney for health care, you could name someone to make medical decisions on your behalf.
A durable financial power of attorney could be included to name an agent to manage your financial affairs. If you were to create a revocable living trust, you could empower a disability trustee to administer the trust if you were to become unable to effectively direct its actions.
Schedule a Free Consultation
If you would like to discuss guardianship, conservatorship, or any other estate planning or elder law matter with one of our attorneys, you can schedule a free consultation if you give us a call at 860-548-1000.