Estate Planning

Don’t Forget About the Children

What do Michael Jackson, Prince and Jimi Hendrix have in common? They all had children and they all died without a will.

When it comes to estate planning what you don’t know can hurt you.  Most people assume that making a will is something only older people need to do.  At first glance it seems logical: 90% of people over 75 years of age have a will but only 24% of those between 18 and 34.

But sometimes the crowd is simply wrong.  A will is not just a legal document to pass along your assets.  It is a powerful tool, a tool that can create legal structures that can help protect your loved ones for years, even decades – more like a Swiss Army knife than a hammer.

What most people miss when writing a will is standing right in front of them: their children. The problem is that life (and death) doesn’t always play out as planned and bad things can happen to good people.  Over the past five years in the UK around 25,000 people under the age of 50 died of cancer, and 8,700 people were killed in road accidents. The risks may be relatively low but they are certainly real. That’s why parents are more likely to buy life insurance than the general public.

Yet most parents don’t make any plans to protect their minor children, who cannot inherit until they reach the age of 18 or marry, whichever occurs first.   According to the charity Will Aid only 46% of parents have wills and of those 23% do not name guardians (who become legally responsible for minor children) or trustees (who manage any inherited assets).  Some people make a will when they marry and don’t update them when babies come along and life gets busy.

So what happens if you forget about the children?  It depends on the circumstances. If both parents die (or the only parent in a single parent family) and there is no will the court will appoint guardians and trustees to take over responsibility for the children.  This would happen whether or not the parents were married.

There is a further complication for couples who cohabit and don’t have a will: if one parent dies the assets are put in trust for the minor children or inherited immediately by any children over 18, bypassing the surviving partner.

Is there a better way? The answer for couples with minor children is to set up a Children’s Trust in their wills and name guardians to take care of their children and trustees to manage the inherited money.

The same people can be guardians and trustees but it is often divided between different family members or trusted friends, people the children are likely to know and understand how the parents would want the children to be raised. Parents also determine the age at which the children inherit, rather than the automatic age of 18 when many might not be mature enough to handle the money.  It can be age 21 or 25 – it’s the parent’s choice.

A Children’s Trust only costs a little more than a standard will but it can guarantee that your children will be looked after by people you trust until they are able to manage their own affairs.  We can help you make that happen.
Just having a will is not enough – it’s what you put in the will that counts.

This article has been sponsored by the good people at eWill.io (The world’s most sophisticated digital will)

  • Cancer Research UK, Cancer mortality by age 2011-16 (2017); UK Department for Transport, Reported Road Casualties, Annual Reports, 2012-17.
  • Will Aid 2014-15 conducted by Lightspeed Research; Unbiased.com and Prudential Insurance, 2016.
  • According to research by TopCashBack in 2017, around 50% of parents in the UK have life insurance.
  • Will Aid research published 10 October 2017.