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MSU Extension releases MontGuide with estate planning suggestions for parents


Last updated 10/26/2020 at 10:42am

MSU News Service

BOZEMAN — According to Montana State University Extension educators, parents of children – whether they’re minors, young adults or children with special needs – should think about estate planning with their children’s futures in mind during the coronavirus pandemic. Extension recently released a MontGuide that gives parents estate planning tools to provide for their children in the event of a parent’s death.

“If something happens and one or both parents die, who will care for the children? Will there be enough money for their current and future needs?” said Marsha Goetting, MSU Extension family economics specialist. “Parents need to consider how inherited assets will be managed until the children reach financial maturity and can manage assets themselves.”

Parents should have a written will to answer these questions, Goetting said. A written will is the legal document used to name a guardian for the care and raising of minor children and a conservator of assets if both parents die.

A guardian has the power and responsibility of a parent and cares for children until they reach 18 years old. The guardian makes decisions for the children, including education, religious training and medical treatment. Goetting said parents should discuss guardian choices with older children because Montana law allows youth ages 14 and over to request the court to appoint someone other than the person named in the parents’ will.

A conservator manages and distributes the money and property left to children until they reach 18. According to Wendy Wedum, MSU Extension Pondera County agent, one person can perform both the guardianship and conservatorship functions, or parents can nominate one person as guardian and another as conservator.

“While parents may name their choice for a guardian and conservator in a will, the district judge will consider a decision based on what is in the best interests of the child,” Wedum added.

Parents with children from a prior marriage may wish to guarantee they inherit specific properties. Goetting and Wedum said one way to accomplish that is for the parent to keep some property in sole ownership. Each parent then can write a separate will or provide for a testamentary trust in a will to name the children who receive specific assets and under certain circumstances.

If a family member relies heavily on public benefits, estate planning will become more complex and important, Goetting and Wedum added.

“A child with special needs could outlive both parents,” Goetting said. “Therefore, parents need to plan for a guardianship and a conservatorship or a trust to manage assets for the child should they die.”

In most cases, a special needs trust is the preferred option for parents. Carefully worded legal language safeguards that trust income and assets will not make a child with special needs ineligible for government programs and benefits.

“The special needs trust can exist during the lives of the parents if they would like to make gifts to it before death,” Wedum said. “Or the parents can structure the special needs trust to come into existence upon their deaths as a testamentary trust within their wills.”

Copies of the MontGuide can be downloaded at http://store.msuextension.org/publications/FamilyFinancialManagement/MT199117HR.pdf . Printed copies are available from county or reservation Extension offices.


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