For the past month, the unfortunate tragedy of the Berry family from Houston, TX has been on my mind. Celebrities and communities across the country have come together to help three children, who lost their parents in a car accident that no one could have foreseen or prepared for. Not only did they lose their parents, but the Berry boys, Peter, 9 and Aaron, 8, suffered major spinal injuries in the crash. Their sister, Willa, 6, has broken bones. The children's aunt and uncle have since been named their legal guardians.
I had clients call me in a panic because even though they didn't know this family personally, the catastrophe affected them. I am not writing this article to scare or alarm. In fact, I debated sending it at all because my idea is not to prosper from someone else's misfortune. This is for those of you who want to know how to protect your family in case the unexpected happens.
First, have a Will drafted so that those who are left behind know how you want your assets distributed and your children cared for. In it, name a Guardian to take care of your minors, so that decision is not left to the Court. Appoint a Trustee; someone you have confidence in when handling money. The Trustee and the Guardian do not have to be the same person. Go the extra distance and make a list of "go to" names and numbers to help your Executor.
Second, make sure both parents are adequately insured and the beneficiaries of life insurance are not directly minor children. If the beneficiary is a minor, the Probate Court will have control on how the money is spent. A simple trust for the minors can avoid future costs and loss of control.
Lastly, understand that you cannot prevent the rare tragedy from occurring, and it may not be wise to insure or over document yourself for such misfortune. You should, however, take a few simple steps to provide to the best of your personal ability for your family. Hopefully, they will never have to deal with such heartache.
Lisa Glauber Shippel