How to Pass Down an Inheritance to Young Children

In most cases, parents will not leave property or assets directly to their minor children, but will instead name the other parent as the beneficiary. In this way that parent will have all the resources to look after the kids. The children would normally be named only as alternate beneficiaries. For single parents though, you may want your children to directly inherit. Anyone who wants to leave anything to their children needs to understand how a will and/or a trust can do this for them.

If you do not name someone as a "property guardian", then probate court will decide who this person will be. This is the person who will watch over the property given to children who are less than 18 years old. A court might choose the other parent, but this is not guaranteed. A property guardian chosen by the courts will usually have very restricted powers over the property.

Here is what you can do to choose a property guardian yourself, so as to provide for your children. One way is to choose a property guardian in your will. The court will then make your choice the property guardian, and he or she will manage the property. The only modification to this process would be if you have a trust for the property, outlining certain protocols.

Then there is the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA). Nearly every state has this law in place to some degree; this is only untrue if you live in South Carolina or Vermont. Under this law you can choose a custodian who will manage the property for children who are minors, which in most states will mean younger than 21. If you set this up but your children are older than 21 when you pass away, they will still receive the property directly. To choose a custodian, you name which person will manage a specific property under UTMA, and you can name this person in a will, living trust, or a life insurance policy.

You also have the option to create a trust for every child. You can decide who will be the trustee of these assets, and he or she will oversee the finances and/or property until the child is of a certain age (you determine at what age too). You can leave the trustee instructions in writing, and the trustee must follow these and always use the trust in your child's best interests. What usually happens is that the trustee can use this fund to pay for the child's medical treatments, schooling, and other needs. The funds that remain will be given to your child when he or she has reached the specified age. Your state's law will also specify and restrict what the trustee can do and how. There will be annual income tax returns to file, and the trustee will probably have to always show at least part of the will every time that he or she works with a bank and other institutions on your child's behalf.

Another way you can set up a trust is to create one trust for them all, instead of leaving property to them in separate trusts. This shared trust may be termed a pot trust, or a family trust. You would name one trustee over everyone's inheritance, and then the trustee can care for the children from the trust as he or she sees fit, as each child will have different needs. When the youngest child turns old enough (probably 18), then every child will get his or her share of the trust.

If want to leave things in order for your children, just in case you pass away prematurely, contact a probate attorney at your earliest convenience so you can look at your options.