Planning one’s long-term affairs usually spurs thoughts about designating who will get what in an
inheritance and explaining end of life wishes. But, there is much more to consider. For example,
planning for residents with young children must include difficult decisions about the long-term care of
their kids in the event of death or disability.
This issue made national headlines in recent weeks following the untimely death of former musician
Adam Yauch. Yauch is best known as one of the founding members of the groundbreaking rap group,
The Beastie Boys. Sadly, Yauch died in early May after a bout with cancer at the age of 47.
The singer created an estate plan well ahead of time, which included both a trust and a will. The terms of
the trust are private, though the singer’s net worth was estimated to be about $6.4 million. However, last
week the singer’s will was made public after being filed in court. Many observers were naturally curious
about the provisions the singer included in the document. One of the issues discussed in the document is
common to all parents--regardless of their net worth and celebrity status--naming a guardian for a child in
the event of death or disability.
Interestingly, the terms of the will suggests that Yauch and his wife disagreed about who would take care
of their daughter if something happened to both of them. Of course, in most situations a couple agrees on
an alternate caregiver, but that is not always the case. It is not necessarily uncommon for disagreements
to spring up in the planning process about who is best-suited to raise the children. Working out the
disagreements is a complex process that often involves novel compromises.
For example, Yauch’s will includes the seemingly bizarre provision that guardians for the children change
depending on whether he died in an even or odd numbered year. If he died in an even-numbered year,
then his own parents would be named guardians, with his wife’s parents as back-up. If he died in an odd
numbered year then the reverse occurred, with his wife’s parents named as guardians.
While these sorts of agreements are somewhat unique, the process of designating guardians for children in
a will is absolutely critical for all families. The need is particularly important for those families involving
step-children or situations where both parents are not biologically related to the child.
If no plans are spelled out in a will, then the decision will be left to the court to name a guardian. While
the court may end up awarding custody to a step-parent or other intended caregiver, the process is always
uncertain unless the appropriate legal steps have been taken ahead of time. Ensuring the best care for
one’s children is one of the most important steps a parent can take, and it is vital not to leave the decision
If you have children, it is essential to have planning documents in place to ensure you name your child’s
guardian in the event of death or disability instead of leaving the choice to the court. In our area, touch
base with a San Diego estate planning attorney to begin the process.