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Parents: Here's What You Need to Know about Estate Plans and Guardianship

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Parents: Here's What You Need to Know about Estate Plans and Guardianship

Making sure your children have their needs met — both now and as they get older — is central to the parenting experience. Planning for the milestones you’ll see them through (birthdays, summer camps and college) is important, of course. Equally essential is the need to think through how they’ll be cared for if you’re unable to do so yourself.

toddler, man, woman and dog smiling while sitting on couch

Yes, thinking through how your estate may cover their physical and educational needs is another way of marking their development. It’s also a step toward providing them with a more secure future, in the event you won’t be there.

During our younger years, we tend to think of these details only in the wake of a crisis — during a personal illness or witnessing the aftermath of a tragedy in our community. But the truth is that estate planning and parenthood are topics worth tackling, perhaps as soon as your first child arrives.

After all, knowing that your children will be well cared for — even if something happens to you — can take a common parenting worry off your plate.

When should you work on your estate and guardianship plans?

If you’re a parent — or if you are the guardian of a grandchild or other relative — there’s no time like now to start making or updating your estate plans to include their future needs.

It’s also important to update those plans any time there’s a major life change within your family, such as the arrival of a new sibling, a move to a new state, or a marriage or divorce. Similarly, a diagnosis of a significant illness or a special needs matter can serve as a trigger for action.

Define what your children would need

Start your plan by thinking through all the things your child or children would need to maintain stability and reach their future goals if you couldn't be there.

For example, you might want to work with an estate planning team (e.g., attorney, trust administrator, financial planner, accountant) to puzzle through how you might provide:

  • A stable environment with a guardian who has your child’s best interests at heart
  • Financial resources for daily living, including housing, medical needs, clothing, pets, clubs and lessons, vacations, social activities and events
  • Educational savings for college, trade school or professional training and certification
  • Any special needs resources or support your child might require

Understand which legal instruments can help you create your plan

Once you have those concerns outlined, consider the various legal documents you may need to help protect your children’s future.

These may include, but are not limited to:

A will
A will is key to ensuring your children’s future is managed as you’d prefer. Without a will, a state court1 can decide everything from who becomes your children’s guardian to how your assets are distributed.

Your will should spell out who you want to act as guardian of your child or children if you (and your partner) are no longer here. Your will is also the document to use to allocate resources for your children and specify how those resources are to be used.

» Tip: To avoid delays in accessing resources while your will is going through the probate process, you can create a testamentary trust for any minor children, funding their needs until the estate is settled.

Formal designation of a guardian (or guardians)
First and foremost, the guardian you choose for your children — and name in your will — should be willing and able to step into the role if needed. Before you ask a friend or relative to take on such a big responsibility, ask yourself if they are truly right for the role.

For example, it’s easy to assume that your parents would be the best choice. But if they are elderly or have serious health issues, it may not be fair or practical to ask them to raise your children.

» Tip: If you have more than one good candidate for a guardian, consider outlining alternates in your will. Then, if your first choice is unavailable for any reason — such as a major illness or cross-country move — your children will still have access to a good guardian with minimal disruption.

A trust
A trust allows you to set aside money for your children’s care, outline what those funds are for and create a plan for responsible spending. Part of creating your trust is appointing a trustee to oversee the funds and follow your directives.

The ideal trustee can work well with your chosen guardian and is sensitive and flexible to accommodate your children’s needs as they grow. You can choose a family member or close friend, or a fiduciary — a trust services professional whose job it is to build and manage a trust. A fiduciary acts in the best interests of the beneficiaries as they carry out their responsibilities.

If one or more of your children will require additional support or ongoing care after they become adults, you also may want to create a special needs trust.2 This can ensure that they have the funds to pay for the resources they need when they become adults.

The value of working with estate planning pros to protect your children’s future

Although it’s technically possible to create some of these documents, like a will, yourself, a trust requires professional help — and your children’s future care is too important to plan without professional guidance.

Working with estate planning professionals can help you explore your options, choose the ones that are the best fit for your family and make progress toward ensuring that your estate and guardianship plans are created in a way that minimizes the potential for confusion or challenges later.

» Tip: Once your estate plan is in place or adapted to provide for your children if anything happens to you, set a schedule to review your estate plan every couple of years. This is a good way to make sure that your plans stay current and reflect any changes in your children’s needs, your guardians’ status and your financial situation.

The takeaway

The sooner you start planning for your children’s well-being if anything happens to you, the sooner you can rest easy about their future. RBFCU Trust Services is ready to help you define your needs and put a plan in place to protect your children’s future.

Last updated May 2024.

Information in this article is general in nature and for your consideration, not as financial advice. Please contact your own financial professionals regarding your specific needs before taking any action based upon this information.

RBFCU Trust Services is a division of RBFCU Investments Group LLC. RBFCU Investments Group LLC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of RBFCU Services LLC. RBFCU Services LLC is affiliated with Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union (RBFCU). Trust services available through Members Trust Company, a federal thrift regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Trust and Investment products are not federally insured, are not obligations of or guaranteed by the credit union or any affiliated entity and involve investment risks, including the possible loss of principal.

This is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal or tax advice regarding your situation. For legal or tax advice, please consult your attorney and/or accountant.


The following sources were last accessed May 2024.

1“5 Things to Know about Preparing a Will.”,

2“What you should know about estate planning: Wills and trusts.”,

3“Special Needs Trusts.” The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel,