Two ways
to safeguard assets
inherited by your minor
or young-adult child

Normally, an 18-year-old heir has the right to inherit (mismanage and lose) his or her parents’ legacy. As an added safeguard for children who, due to untimely death of parents, suddenly possess more assets than they can handle with their level of financial literacy and maturity, you can create a trust within your will (“testamentary trust”). This kind of trust is not a “living trust” because it is completely contingent on an unlikely though devastating event, i.e., it only names a trustee for children’s estates if both parents pass before the children reach a certain age.

You may choose the age when the trust finally distributes any wealth to the children without restriction, based on several factors. Most of my clients, with decent life insurance but lacking dynastic wealth, chose an age between 21 and 26. Two practicalities loom large when considering a testamentary trust: Is there a family member willing to serve as trustee for a young adult, and will there be much wealth left anyway, after raising the kids, say, to age 18?

A second, less cumbersome way to limit access to certain kinds of inherited assets is by leaving instructions in your will to have custodial accounts set up, so a trusted adult can manage money until the young person turns 21. This is flexible and shorter-term, but might not capture significant inherited assets for delayed distribution to a young person.


Some clients ask, “How much should we say about the things on which a child’s trust fund can and cannot be spent?” This is what John Erdevig recommends:

“I recommend a fair amount of flexibility for the trustee. My trust template encourages the trustee to act as a parent would act: That is, to distribute money for various purposes, primarily education and health, but in general to distribute based on the funds available, the child’s temperament and abilities, and other factors. In a ’shared trust’ situation, I acknowledge that parents don’t treat children with mathematical equality due to differing circumstances. Realize that a trust fund may be expended launching or caring for a young one, or might become so small as to be uneconomical to maintain restrictions, before the final distribution date. The point is to meet the child’s needs at a critical period, not to ’rule from the grave.’ ”

Many employment-based legal plans cover these kinds of simple testamentary trusts for dependent children.

Legal plan coverage
for simple estate planning documents

Most common legal plans offered as an employment benefit cover simple wills, individual or couple.

Testamentary trusts (a contingent trust within a will) guarding funds for the support of dependent children through young adulthood, are covered. Probate-avoidance living trusts are covered, but are generally not cost-effective nor practical for John’s client population. Non-trust methods of minimizing probate involvement, cost and delay will be discussed. Tax advice and tax-avoidance drafting are not covered, and tax-sensitive matters will be referred out.

Many employment-based legal plans cover financial Powers of Attorney, to delay or avoid the need to obtain a conservatorship to manage an incompetent’s estate. Powers can become effective immediately (e.g. to allow a spouse to manage one’s affairs while one is absent from the country), or upon certification of two doctors that one cannot manage one’s own financial affairs, due to a medical condition.

Many employment-based legal plans cover a health care power, known in Michigan as a Designation of Patient Advocate. They also frequently cover “Living Will” Guidelines - Advance Health Care Directives, including end-of-life and funeral instructions.

John Erdevig encourages everyone with a legal plan to contact its administrators to learn more about what coverage is available and opportunities to persue these legal services.