Estate planning is a matter of practical necessity: a comprehensive, well-considered plan can help families weather uncertainty, providing the resources needed to overcome life’s most unexpected obstacles.

However, single parents face unique challenges when taking their first steps toward establishing an estate plan. After a hard-fought divorce or the untimely death of a spouse, parents should be proactive to ensure their children remain protected should the unthinkable happen. Estate planning for single parents | California Estate Planning Lawyer

Estate Planning Strategies for Single Parents in California

Single parents across California usually do everything in their power to keep their children safe from adversity. For many families, financial concerns are paramount. After the potential loss of a partner, raising a child in today’s economy can be extraordinarily difficult.

Even with a steady job and a stable income, putting aside the time and money to write a will or establish a trust could seem like a priority best left for later. However, estate planning has implications that go far beyond the eventual distribution of estate assets.

You Should Consider Difficult Estate Planning Questions

  • Who would take care of your child if you were seriously injured or you passed away in a tragic accident?  
  • In a worst-case scenario, would you be comfortable returning a child to the custody of their other biological parent?
  • How would your child afford an education, extracurricular activities, and basic maintenance if you could no longer care for them?

Creating an Estate Plan as a Single Parent

When it comes to your child’s future, nothing should be left to chance. There are many ways you can protect their best interests, starting with a will. A last will and testament is among the most critical elements of any estate plan. It allows you to nominate a guardian for an underage child, make informed inheritance decisions, and plan for your child’s living conditions and means of support in the event that you pass away. Additionally, writing a will is the only way to avoid intestacy, a form of court-administered probate wherein estate asset and custody decisions are made by a court rather than the deceased parent.

Nominating a Guardian

Few parents want to imagine a scenario where they cannot care for their child. However, accidents and debilitating illness can strike quickly and unexpectedly. Without an estate plan, issues of custody may be determined by a California court.

While California’s courts and child protective services typically try to ensure that a child is placed in a safe and stable home, they are bound by certain legal procedures that cannot always be challenged. If their other biological parent is still alive, the child may be placed with the surviving parent without further consideration.

However, you do not have to accept the uncertainty of a court ruling. When you write a last will and testament, you could nominate a guardian for your minor child. A guardian could be the child’s other parent, your own mother or father, or a trusted family friend.

Creating an Advance Health Care Directive

An advance health care directive is a legal document that empowers an agent to make critical health care decisions on your behalf should you ever be seriously injured or otherwise incapacitated.

If you have minor children, you should also nominate a health care agent to guide their care. In California, this process can be accomplished through the drafting and execution of a “Nomination of Health Care Agent” directive.

By nominating a health care agent, you could ensure that a trusted friend or relative has the legal capacity to direct your child’s health care if you are unable to consent to medical procedures that need parental approval.

Delegating Powers of Attorney

California state law allows single parents to delegate certain powers of attorney. A power of attorney is a document authorizing a third party to make legal, financial, and medical decisions on your behalf.

Powers of attorney are sometimes overlooked in rudimentary estate plans. However, delegating the power of legal, financial, or medical attorney could allow your attorney-in-fact to pay your family’s bills and resolve disputes if you lose the capacity to conduct your own affairs.

Establishing a Revocable Living Trust

A revocable living trust is a type of legal entity that can receive, own, and manage assets. These assets could include the following:

  • A real property, such as a family home
  • Motor vehicles
  • Collections
  • Cash accounts
  • Life insurance policies and retirement funds

Since a trust is a discrete legal entity, any trust-owned assets are not customarily subjected to probate. Furthermore, trusts can be conditioned, allowing inheritances to be disbursed over time. A revocable living trust could retain funds for a child until they reach a certain age or only allow payments for authorized expenses, such as college tuition or life maintenance.

Do You Need To Speak With An Estate Planning Attorney?

If you need to speak with an experienced estate planning lawyer please contact us online or call us directly at 800.756.5596 to first register for one of our free, informative seminars. Your attendance will qualify you for a special discount for our estate planning services should you decide to make a free appointment at the conclusion of the seminar and choose to proceed with us. We proudly serve clients throughout California with offices in Torrance, Newport Beach, Orange, Woodland Hills and Pasadena.

Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.