Single parents should have an estate plan

Everyone should protect their family by having a plan addressing their death or an emergency. Single parents may need to engage in estate planning more than anyone else.


Single parents should consider what happens if they die or become incapacitated and who will care for their minor children.

The child’s other parent will gain custody if they are still alive and did not lose their parental rights. But a court must grant guardianship if the other, noncustodial parent died or lost their parental rights. If you want to nominate a guardian, you should have two legal documents.

Your will can contain your choice of legal guardian. Name several people in order of your preference. Courts may give preference to these choices.

A nomination of guardian is another important document because a will has no effect if you are incapacitated. The nomination form should identify the same guardians in the will to help prevent complications later on.

Health care directive

Every adult should have a health care directive. This document identifies a person who is authorized to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are unable to. It also contains general directions on the care you want to receive.

A nomination of health care agent is another important document, which authorizes another person to make health care decisions for your children if you are unable to. This occurs, for example, when you and your children are injured in a car crash and you are unable to authorize medical treatment or hospitalization for your children.

Wills and trusts

A will contains your guardianship nomination for your children. Trusts can hold assets such as life insurance proceeds and retirement plan benefits for your children’s benefit until they reach a specified age and set forth when they will be distributed. A successor trustee manages the trust.

Your assets may be kept separate in a trust and distributed by the trustee in accordance with your instructions, even if the child is living with their surviving parent. This prevents your former spouse from having access to trust assets and prevent their distribution until your children are sufficiently mature.

If you have a will but a trust is not established, distribution of assets is costly and inefficient under California law. Assets will undergo probate and will be effectively placed in trust for your children. They will obtain these assets when they reach 18.

Attorneys can present options that meet your estate planning needs. They can also draft documents that implement your instructions.