Becoming a parent for the first time is a momentous occasion in someone’s life. It is a time of celebration and joy, but also a time of great change and a shift in priorities. It can be a good time to think about creating or perhaps updating an existing Will to make sure that children are appropriately cared for, physically and financially, in the event that a parent passes away.
What is a will?
A Will is a document that controls what happens to an individual’s estate on death by setting out specific wishes. However, a Will can do much more than confirm how someone’s estate is supposed to be distributed on death. Wills can also be used to ensure that minor children inherit at a specific age (for example, 21 or 25) to ensure that young adults do not inherit ‘too much, too soon’. New parents can use the opportunity to set out who they wish to appoint to be the guardian(s) of any minor children to ensure they are looked after and secure in the event that they both pass away. Further, they are able to appoint more than one guardian to act together, and even substitute guardians if the first guardian is unwilling or unable to take on responsibility for any minor children.
Guardians take on the responsibilities of a parent, (‘parental responsibility’) meaning that they take on decisions about the child in different areas of life, such as education, medical treatment and so on. A letter of wishes could be prepared and stored with the Will, providing guidance to the guardians as to how you would like your children to be raised (such as honouring family traditions, any particular religious and cultural beliefs, choosing the correct schools and more).
If there are no Wills in place appointing any guardians and both parents pass away, then it is important to note that only the Court can appoint a guardian. In the event of any informal agreements with friends or family members prior to death, this could potentially lead to family disputes, custody battles and possibly, foster care.
There are also rules about appointing a guardian, and formalities to be complied with. Where such an appointment occurs within a Will, this is likely to help show that such rules have been complied with and that the appointment of a guardian is a valid one.
Furthermore, without a Will in place, your estate will be divided in accordance with the intestacy rules. These are a prescribed set of rules that govern the division of an estate on someone’s death, and may mean that your estate is not divided according to your wishes. By having a Will in place, you can give thought to balancing out the needs of any family members, and contributing towards the expense of raising children.
Trust mechanisms can be put in place to ensure, for example, that the cost of any education fees are covered, or perhaps a deposit for a new home or even a first car. In these cases, it is important to appoint appropriate trustees to safeguard the assets and grow them until the age of inheritance. This is not the same as guardianship; for example, it may be appropriate to appoint a family member to act as guardian. You may then decide to appoint a professional trustee (such as a lawyer or a financial advisor) to see that the assets are managed properly due to their specialist knowledge.
For further information, please contact Aneesha Dhami in the private client team on 01732 770660 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Warners Solicitors has offices in Sevenoaks and Tonbridge.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.