Guardianship: Lessons to Be Learned from the Jackson Case

Now that the untimely death of Michael Jackson is turning into a custody battle brewing between the Jackson Family, the biological Mother of his children and possibly the Nanny, I believe it is important opportunity to mention how essential it is that parents name guardians for their children in the event of incapacity or death.

Many people are under the impression that estate planning is “just for the wealthy” or for the elderly.  This could not be farther from the truth.  Whether you have many assets or not, it is essential for families with children to clearly define who should care for your children if you are not able to so.  A court will normally honor the wishes of the parent to determine who should take care of the children.

No one can predict how or when we will die, however, we can dictate how our children and our assets will be handled after your death with basic estate planning.  This includes appointing someone to make medical and financial decisions for you, if you are unable, as well as naming guardians for your children, for both the long and short term.  Again, if these decisions are not put in writing, you have left it up to a judge to make decisions for you, sometimes after a messy and costly court fight.

This past winter, one of my clients, a single Mother with two teenage children suddenly died.  Because  thorough and complete estate planning had been done, a close family friend, who agreed to move into my client’s house, was named as the guardian and was able to immediately begin caring for the teenage children.

So use this sad and tragic passing of one of entertainment’s icons as a call to families to take control of your future and that of your children.  Do not wait to have basic estate planning, i.e., wills, advanced medical directives, correct beneficiary designations, power of attorneys and guardianship, documented so if something tragic happens, you have directed who should make decisions, who should care for your children and how your assets shall be used after your death.  And, at the same time, use the opportunity to document the values you want passed along and how you would like for them to be raised.  Don’t let the courts do this for you!

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