A fundamental principle in life is that things change; as our society becomes more interconnected and technologically advanced, the speed of change seems only to hasten. In response to this change, most of us regularly conduct annual reviews of important areas in our lives. For instance, most large employers review employees annually; many people schedule the traditional annual physical; and most financial advisors recommend annual portfolio reviews. But one area most people neglect a regular review is arguably the one most important: a review of guardianship nominations for their minor children.
The recent loss of musician Michael Jackson has focused attention on this most important issue. Upon his death, there were a number of individuals who could have had standing or a desire to serve as guardian to Mr. Jackson’s children, including Debbie Rowe, his ex-wife and mother to two of the children, his parents and his numerous siblings. Without instructions to the probate court, all of these parties could have petitioned to serve as the guardians. If more than one had petitioned the probate court for the appointment, the matter could have been highly contentious and resulted in an extended legal battle.
Fortunately, Mr. Jackson’s advanced planning prevented the stress and trauma associated with such court proceedings. In his Will, Mr. Jackson designated his mother as guardian for his children and named Diana Ross as a back-up guardian. Mr. Jackson’s decision to nominate these individuals appeared to facilitate the settlement, which was approved by the probate court on August 3, 2009. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, “Neither side made any demands that were rejected, the source said, and the arrangement was agreed to without contentious negotiation.” In short, Mr. Jackson’s plan appeared to have worked as it should have and his children will be raised by Katherine Jackson, the guardian he designated in his Last Will and Testament.
In selecting guardians, most people designate those individuals they believe will best be capable of raising their children in their absence. But as time passes, circumstances change: couples divorce; parents age; and people relocate. When was the last time you reviewed the guardians for your minor children? Are you still close to the guardians? Do you still believe that they share your values? Are your nominees still healthy and capable of raising your minor children? If you cannot remember the last time you reviewed your guardian nominations, or who you nominated, it is time to review your estate plan.