On August 31, 2012

After his recent untimely death from cancer at the age of 47, Beastie Boys co-founder Adam Yauch left a personal fortune estimated at $6.4 million. Those assets will be distributed under the provisions of a trust, the details of which have not been made public. His will, however, indicates that he struggled with the issue of whom to name as the guardian for his daughter.

Yauch and his wife apparently didn’t agree on who should raise their child if they should both die. The will specifies that if both he and his wife were to die in an even-numbered year, his parents would be named guardian of the couple’s daughter. His wife’s parents would take on that role only if his parents were unavailable to serve as guardians. The will reverses that order in the event that Yauch and his wife died in an odd-numbered year.

This issue is not one just faced by celebrities, but by every parent of minor children. In the absence of a will that names a guardian for your child, a court could appoint someone you don’t want to play that role. Naming a guardian for a child’s person can only be accomplished in a will, while guardianship over property for a child or disabled person can be accomplished either through a will or a trust.

As you decide who should care for your children in case you die, it’s important to consider the lifestyle, values and location of your candidates. Do these prospective guardians have children of their own? If not, are they equipped to take on the responsibilities of raising a child? If they live a long distance away, bear in mind that after your death, moving your children across the country — away from their friends, school and everything that’s familiar to them — may not be in their best interest.

It’s also important to talk to the people you choose, and not just to avoid the element of surprise. Talk to your children’s potential guardian about your wishes of how they should be raised, and consider including those wishes in a written document to be included with the will. While your specifications shouldn’t be too rigid — situations can change rapidly and may not fit the preferences you set out today — it will give the person you choose some direction should they need to step into that guardian role.

Source: Forbes, “Adam Yauch’s Will Reveals His Private Dilemma,” Deborah L. Jacobs, Aug. 10, 2012

· Our firm handles situations similar to the one described in this post. To learn more about our practice, please visit our Colorado estate planning page.

Categories: Estate Administration

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