Protect your children with a will

Joe stopped by the other day to talk about the need to update his and his wife’s wills. Joe’s father recently died, and it made him think about what would happen to his young children if he and his wife should die prematurely.

The need for estate planning

If a person dies in Minnesota without a will, state law decides how his property will be distributed. The state will also allow a judge to decide who will be appointed guardians for minor children if both husband and wife are deceased.

However, if the parents have wills, the wills can establish to whom their assets will be passed and who will take care of their minor children.

Key Points

• If parents with minor children die without a will, a judge will select a guardian.

• Guardians for minor children should be appointed in the parents’ wills.

• Wills can create a trust to hold parents’ assets until children are old enough.

The will can also establish a trust, called a testamentary trust, which will go into effect when both parents are deceased. This trust will hold their assets until their children reach an age at which the parents feel they are old enough to receive their inheritance. The trust will be managed by a trustee who will invest and distribute those funds.

Parents with minor children should have provisions in their wills to appoint a guardian for those children.

The guardian will be responsible to provide a loving home for their children. In addition, the guardian will be responsible for the education and religious training of the children.

Ideally, guardians should be young enough so that they are likely to live until the children are grown. Alternates should also be selected if the guardians appointed in the will are unable to complete their service.

Joe and his wife, Mary, choose Mary’s brother and sister-in-law as guardians. Even though the children are close to both sets of grandparents, Joe and Mary felt that since Mary’s brother and sister-in-law are close to their age, that they will most likely be able care for the children until they are 18.

It is important as well that the guardians are asked to serve prior to being named. This assures that the guardians are willing to take on this responsibility.

Testamentary trusts

If parents do not want their children to receive their inheritance at age 18, they can provide for a testamentary trust in their wills. The trust will go into effect if both parents die before the youngest child reaches an age that they wish to have him or her receive the proceeds from the estate.

A trustee will be appointed by the will to manage the assets of the trust and will be instructed by the will when and how the funds will be distributed.

For example, Joe’s will specifies that the trustee will distribute the funds in the trust when the youngest child attains the age of 25. It also specifies that the trustee can advance funds to pay for college or to purchase a principle residence prior to age 25.

It is not necessary for the trustee to be a family member, and it is not necessary that the same person be both the guardian of the children and the trustee.

For example, Joe has designated Mary’s brother as guardian, but his uncle as trustee.

Since Joe’s uncle will be fairly old before the youngest child attains the age of 25, Joe has also provided in his will for a method to appoint a successor trustee.

As always, be sure to consult with a knowledgeable attorney before proceeding.

Anderson is a farm financial management consultant in Redwood Falls. E-mail him at

This article published in the June, 2010 edition of THE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.