If you are raising your grandchildren, your estate planning should be handled similar to an estate plan when you have a minor child(ren). However, your estate planning is complicated by the presence or absence of parents who may have a legal obligation and right to parent and support your grandchildren.
Regardless of this legal obligation owed by their parents, your estate plan, as a grandparent caregiver, should address the following issues:
1. Determine who will be the caregiver for your grandchildren if you are no longer able to do so. Depending on the legal arrangements allowing you to raise your grandchildren, you may be able designate a guardian for them in your Will or obtain a court order appointing a caregiver in waiting who can take over when you are unable to continue as a caregiver.
2. If you financially support your grandchildren, determine what financial support you will provide for them at your death. Depending on the circumstances that have made you their caregiver and who will be their caregiver upon your death, your support may be limited to certain items or circumstances.
3. If you will be providing financial support for your grandchildren, determine how you will distribute that support after your death. Will you distribute it directly to your grandchildren or their caregiver, or will you have it held in a trust and distributed in accordance with certain parameters?
4. If you decide the inheritance will be held in trust , you must determine if you want it distributed over a period of time, for a particular reason, or when your grandchildren reach a certain age. You will also have to choose a trustworthy trustee to manage and distribute the inheritance in accordance with your wishes.
5. If your grandchildren are receiving certain public benefits, you should consider what impact an inheritance might have on those benefits. For benefits received by individuals who have little or no income or assets, you may have to create a special needs trust to hold the inheritance in order to ensure your grandchildren continue to receive necessary benefits.
Because of the unique relationship you have raising your grandchildren, seek advice from a lawyer in developing your estate plan. An elder law or family law attorney in your area will be familiar with the state laws impacting your custodial obligations and rights, as well as the laws governing distribution of your estate to your grandchildren. They can also advise you on ways to protect children and money from impaired parents or ensure your wishes are followed with regard to your support of your grandchildren even after your death.