A young parent packing a suitcase and learning about the importance of legal planning for minor children

Going on Vacation this Spring Break? Have These Legal Documents in Place First

Ensure the protection of your minor children with legal planning. Don't overlook this crucial aspect when preparing for your next family vacation.
By: Shannon McNulty, Attorney, The Village Law Firm

By: Shannon McNulty, Attorney, The Village Law Firm

Shannon's work is sophisticated and reflects her deep knowledge of the laws governing estates, taxation and child guardianship issues. Shannon approaches each client with sensitivity and compassion, understanding that many of the decisions that they will have to make can be difficult.

Learn More About Shannon

As you pack your bags and plan your itinerary for a much-needed spring break vacation, there’s one aspect of planning that might not have crossed your mind: legal planning for your minor children. The tragic story of a young couple from Farmington Hills, Michigan, underscores the critical importance of having the right legal documents in place to protect your children should the unthinkable happen.

What If The Unthinkable Happens to You and Your Spouse?

In early January 2024, Ryan and Jen Ambrosio, parents of six, were killed in a horrific, head-on collision involving a driver fleeing from police. Their sudden passing left their children, aged between 2 and 9, without their parents, highlighting an unimaginable scenario that no family should ever have to face. The incident, reported by the New York Post, serves as a stark reminder of how quickly life can change.

The loss of the Ambrosios brings to light the significant gap that exists in many families’ legal planning: the protection and care of minor children if both parents pass away. It’s a difficult subject to consider, but it’s an essential aspect of responsible parenting.

What Documents Do You Need in Place Before Vacation?

1. Will and Guardianship Designation

Your last will is the cornerstone of legal planning, serving to communicate your wishes regarding your assets and, most importantly, who you want to care for your children. Including a guardianship designation in your will ensures that your choice for your children’s caretaker is clear, potentially avoiding family disputes or, worse, state intervention.

2. Standby Guardianship Designation

A standby guardianship document complements your will by appointing a guardian for your children in the event you’re incapacitated. This legal tool allows your designated guardian to step in immediately, ensuring your children are never left without care.

3. Durable and Medical Power of Attorney (POA)

A power of attorney (POA) appoints someone you trust to manage your financial and medical affairs if you’re unable to do so. Having both a financial or durable power of attorney and a healthcare power of attorney in place means your chosen representatives can handle your finances and medical decisions without delay. Without a POA, your loved ones may have to go to court to gain the authority to act on your behalf, a process that can be time-consuming and stressful.

4. Living Will

A living will is used while you are still alive and serves a very narrow set of circumstances. A living will states your medical wishes in the event of terminal illness or incapacitation. It’s a crucial document that ensures your healthcare preferences are respected when you can’t voice them yourself.

5. Revocable Living Trust

This is an agreement with three parties: the Trust-makers, the Trustees (or Trust Managers), and the Trust Beneficiaries. For example, a husband and wife may name themselves all three parties to create their trust, manage all the assets transferred to the trust, and have full use and enjoyment of all the trust assets as beneficiaries. Further “back-up” managers can step in under the terms of the trust to manage the assets should the couple become incapacitated or die. Special provisions in the trust also control the management and distribution of assets to heirs in the event of the trustmaker’s death. With proper planning, the couple also can avoid or eliminate death taxes on their estate. The Revocable Living Trust may allow them to accomplish all this outside of any court proceeding.

How Can These Documents Protect Your Minor Children?

The Guardian’s Role

A named guardian in your will and standby guardianship takes on the responsibility of caring for your children, making decisions in their best interests, and ensuring they have a stable, loving environment to grow up in if both you and your spouse are gone.

Financial and Medical Decisions

Durable powers of attorney for both financial and healthcare matters ensure that someone you trust can make important decisions on your behalf, avoiding the need for court intervention.

Preventing New York State Custody

Without clear legal directives, your children could potentially end up in state custody should a guardianship battle arise. Proper legal planning eliminates this risk, keeping your children with trusted family members or friends.

What Happens If You Don’t Plan?

Without these essential legal planning documents for your minor children, their futures could be left to public courts, exposing them to unnecessary stress and public scrutiny. Assets intended for their care might be poorly managed or unfairly distributed, impacting their quality of life and future opportunities.

Key Takeaways

The story of the Ambrosios is a heartbreaking reminder of the unpredictable nature of life. Before you head off on your spring break adventure, schedule a call and meet with the New York estate planning team of The Village Law Firm to ensure you have the following legal planning for minor children in place:

  • A will and guardianship designation for your children
  • A standby guardianship document for immediate care
  • Durable powers of attorney for both financial and healthcare decisions
  • A living will for clear medical directives

By taking these steps, you’re not only protecting your assets but, more importantly, ensuring the well-being and future of your children. Don’t wait for a tragedy to realize the importance of legal planning. Make sure your family is protected today.

Please Share: