This month, we celebrate not only National Grandparents Day on Sept. 10 but also Kinship Care Month, recognizing relatives, members of tribes and clans and non-related extended family members who provide protection and nurturing for younger family members.
As a community, we have historically cared for others who are not biologically our children. Sometimes they are our children’s children or cousins or simply a person we know who needs protection and nurturing. There does not necessarily have to be a legal or biological connection. That is noble and kind.
As estate planning attorneys, it is a joy to see that love is not restricted or denied based upon the rules of parentage, but it is given, many times, liberally to whoever may present the need.
It is also devastating to witness when there has not been strategic planning to care for those who are loved but do not fall within the natural structure that the court recognizes.
When there is no strategic plan that complies with the structure of the law, there is very little opportunity to support those whom you have supported during your lifetime after your death. I have worked with families where the grandparents have taken responsibility for their grandchildren because the parents were unfit. When the grandparents passed away, because there was no legal action taken, the children received the inheritance, irrespective of the fact that they were not capable of managing the resources effectively, and the receipt was to their detriment. In addition, the grandchildren who were cared for by the grandparents and also cared for the grandparents as they aged, were not legally in a position to receive any inheritance.
The opportunity to provide for the ones we love is a blessing. Yet it is complicated. So many things we do because of love and we want to keep it simple. However, the support that we provide those we love comes with a great level of responsibility. The legal questions need to be taken into consideration. The authorization to support the minor must be provided by the parent or through the court. The court system is always the least preferred, but authorization must be granted. The authorization must delineate the level of support that is granted and for what span of time is the authorization granted.
In estate planning, we often prepare standby guardianship designations that provide an opportunity for the parent or legal guardian to identify someone who can serve as the guardian of the minor child in the interim before the court process can take effect. The responsibility that we take on to care for others is a lot! It is a choice that we make often for the balance of our lives or the lives of the loved ones. It should not be entered into lightly.
Whether we are biological or adoptive guardians, legally or lovingly, we should be mindful of the impact and the opportunity. We should be thoughtful not just for the decisions of the day but the opportunity to build the legacy for tomorrow.
The Life and Legacy Counselors would be honored to support you in building the legacy for your biological or adoptive family.