Most people think of estate planning as something only older people do. But, it is vital for families with young children.  Although losing a parent is awful to even think about, a well-crafted Relational Estate Plan® can avoid the worst-case scenarios.  We encourage families with young children to focus on four things: life insurance, naming a guardian, protecting funds, and an ethical will.

Life Insurance

The first priority for most young families is making sure there will be enough assets to take care of the family if one parent dies or becomes disabled.  While there are many different ways to do this, the easiest and most common is life and disability insurance.  How much insurance you purchase will depend on your specific situation, but here are some questions to think through:

  • How much will the family need to survive without one parent?
  • If one parent is gone or unable to help, who will care for the children, and what will that cost?
  • Will the family be able to stay in the current home without one parent’s income, and if so, what will that cost?

When purchasing life insurance, make sure you get the shortest term that will still protect your family.  For example, you may not need a term of 30 years if your children will be adults in 15 years.  You can save a substantial amount of money by shortening the term.

Make sure you purchase insurance from a reputable carrier.  Insurance providers do go out of business, and when they do, the policy you purchased may not have the same value.

Guardianship of Minor Children

The next priority for young families is making sure they appoint a guardian for the minor children.  A guardian is the person who will care for and raise the children (and has the legal authority to do so) if both parents die.  If no guardian is selected, then the state determines where the children will go.

In Virginia and West Virginia, a guardian can only be named in a properly drafted last will and testament.  We also recommend naming at least one backup guardian. Also, name a temporary guardian if the selected guardian lives far away.

[Related: Who Will Take Care of My Kids If I Die?]

Protection of Your Minor Children’s Funds

The third priority we discuss with young families is limiting when their children will get control of their inheritance.  By default, children receive complete control of their inheritance at age 18.  This is rarely a good idea.  Instead, we always encourage parents to use an under-age trust.  It extends the time before a child gets their inheritance from age 18 to a later date.  You can create this under-age trust in a last will or revocable living trust.  But, it is easier to implement in a living trust because probate is not involved.

Until the child reaches the specified age (usually 25), someone else selected by their parent manages and uses the money on their behalf.  This allows for the funds to be used on behalf of the child while protecting the child from unwise choices.

For maximum accountability, the person who manages the assets for a child should not be their guardian.  Instead, the guardian should receive and review reports from the money manager on how the funds are being used.  This provides accountability for everyone involved.

[Related: 3 Tips for How to Choose a Guardian for Your Child]

Use an Ethical Will

The fourth priority for young families is an ethical will.  An ethical will is a way to leave behind values and beliefs and to affirm relationships.  Although they are rarely used, we firmly believe they are the most powerful part of a Relational Estate Plan® involving young children.  They allow a parent to ensure the child knows that they were loved long after the parent is gone.  They also allow the parent to encourage the child and provide guidance for a guardian on how the child should be raised.

[Related: Parents, Here’s The Inheritance Your Children Really Need]

When in Doubt, Consult an Attorney

If you or a loved one is interested in creating a Relational Estate Plan® that protects your young children, we at Relational Law would love to help.  Contact us today.  We would love to talk with you!


Joshua E. Hummer, Esq. is the founder of Relational Estate & Elder Law, and he has been a practicing attorney for over 15 years. While experienced in many parts of the law, Josh specializes in estate planning, estate administration, and elder law. He is licensed in both Virginia and West Virginia. Josh’s passion lies in helping people gain peace of mind about the future through holistic legal planning. When he isn’t meeting with clients or crafting legal documents, Josh enjoys spending time with his lovely wife, Jill, and their four vibrant children.


Disclaimer: The information you obtain in this post is not, nor is intended to be, legal advice. This blog shares general best practices when navigating Virginia or West Virginia law, but you should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.