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Rapper’s Death Highlights Difficult Planning Decisions — Naming Child Guardians

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 to another.

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.

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