When the custodial parent of a child dies, in the state of Texas, not only is the child and family union devastated, but now is presented the difficult issue of who will become the child’s guardian. Who are the possible candidates that may be legal guardians?
- Non- Custodial parent, if paternity is acknowledged
- Other relatives
- Godparents, Family friends, Neighbors
- State Foster System
Usually, the surviving non-custodial parent will have an automatic right to custody of the child. Texas law favors a child having a solid relationship with both parents and in the event of death, the living parent will take over permanent exclusive custody of the child. What factors should be considered in the child’s best interest that could determine custody by the surviving parent if he/she is not appropriate for the child?
- Did the court, after the divorce, terminate your parental rights in a legal proceeding? If the non- custodial parent had legally been terminated of his/her parental rights this is binding and the terminated parent WOULD NOT be granted permanent custody of the child.
- What if the custodial parent remarried and the new stepparent legally adopted the child? If the child was legally adopted by the stepparent and the non-custodial parent had waived their parental rights, the stepparent would be granted permanent custody of the child.
- What if the non-custodial parent has acknowledged parentage, but paternity has not been established? To be entitled to custody of the child, the father would first claim parental rights through paternity testing to determine if he is the biological father of the child or if he has signed the child’s birth certificate. After Paternity is established, a separate legal proceeding may need to be initiated to override the terms of the mother’s will.
- What if the Custodial Parent created a will that stated the grandparents/godparents would take over as the legal Guardians of the child in the event of death? Many parents will request a particular person or group, such as grandparents, relatives, or godparents to become guardians for their minor children in the case of their demise, but a child is not a piece of property to give away to others when the other biological parent is living. The judge will view what is in the best interest of the child and will always first look at the surviving parent. If this parent meets basic standards the child will live with this parent. If the surviving parent cannot serve the child’s best interest, then the judge will consider the guardian designated in the deceased parent will.
Nacol Law Firm P.C.
My family has just witnessed a tragic experience where a young childhood friend had a massive heart attack and died leaving a grieving wife and two small children. No will, but thankfully some life insurance was in place. This young man was an athletic in perfect condition until his fatal heart attack and no warning or planning for what his wife and mother of the two children would be required to do to care for her young family.
It is very important to set up a survival plan for any young family should either Mom or Dad die at an age where the children are still home and in need of support until they finish school or reach maturity.
You and your spouse/partner should discuss a financial plan that would protect your family in case of early death or total disability by either yourself or your spouse. Pregnancy is a good time to put the plan into place.
Here are some basic ideas to consider in a Family Financial Protection Plan:
- THE WILL: The will is the most important item in your Family Financial Protection Plan. By creating a WILL, you MAY ENSURE THAT YOUR ASSETS ARE INHERITED BY THE PEOPLE OF YOUR CHOOSING (YOUR FAMILY) RATHER THAN THE STATE’S IDEA OF WHAT IS PROPER. TO DIE WITHOUT A WILL IS TO DIE “INTESTATE”. This means that the State (Texas) will determine the percentage of property that each family member will inherit after an individual die. The process of administering an estate through probate court can take months or longer once a judge appoints an executor to take over the deceased’s financial affairs. During this time the family may not have access to money left to them to pay the family bills from this estate. BIG PROBLEM!
After having a will for both spouses/partners of the family executed make sure that an original copy is left with your attorney for safekeeping. Very Important! Have another original copy in a secure place where the executor or a family member will be able to retrieve it at the time of your death.
- POWER OF ATTORNEY AND PROXIES: At the time of making out your will, make sure both parents have a Health Care Advance Directive and a Living Will prepared and executed. You need to designate a first and second choice of a person over 18 years of age to be your proxy. Your Living Will is your intentions for end of life care, such as when to have your doctors withhold treatment and let you pass or if you would like to be an organ donor. It is very important that these documents are with your Will and accessible to your proxies, since many times, if there is a serious accident or medical emergency, you or your spouse will not be able to make serious medical decisions regarding your life or death.
- BENEFICIARIES: When you meet someone, marry, or join in a domestic union, it is important that as to any financial accounts you have (bank account, retirement fund, 401K, trust fund, stocks bonds), you should change the beneficiary to your spouse/partner. It is also a good idea to have a second beneficiary, either a child or family trust, in case you and your spouse/partner were both in an accident and die. If your children are young do not make your beneficiary a guardian who promises to take care of your children. Set up a family trust which will support your children and a trusted trustee for the trust.
- Guardianship: Another very important item in your will for parents of minor children under 18 years old is APPOINTING A GUARDIAN IN YOUR WILL FOR RAISING YOUR CHILDREN. There should be a mutual joint decision on who will take care of the children if both you and your spouse/partner are deceased. By setting up this preference in your will, the proceeding judge will usually honor your request when setting up a guardian for your children.
- INSURANCE: Life Insurance may be costly, but it ensures that if you or your spouse/partner dies young, the surviving spouse/partner will be able to have the physical means to allow a slowdown working a job to take care of your young family without financial worries. It is always suggested that you start an insurance policy on both parents when they are young and healthy to keep costs at a manageable amount.
Many companies also offer disability insurance to replace a percentage of salary if an employee becomes incapacitated. Long-Term- Care Insurance is also an option.
Finally make sure that all important financial and personal documents are always kept up to date and located in a secure place where they can be found in case of emergency or death! Some of the most important documents: bank and financial institution accounts, insurance information, credit cards, retirement account with beneficiary information, bills and list of bills on autopay monthly, deed of house, title to cars, boats or etc., and safety deposit key.
*Always have an updated list of online accounts, passwords, and credentials to any cryptocurrency wallets.
Nacol Law Firm PC