Guardianship Provisions Essential To a Comprehensive Estate Plan

  • Feb 28 2013

Football fans (and others) were shocked on December 1st of last year to learn about the murder of Kasandra Perkins. Perkins had been killed by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher. Jovan subsequently committed suicide at Arrowhead Stadium in front of his coach and the team general manager. The deaths of Kasandra and Jovan left their four month old child, Zoey, the subject of a guardianship dispute between Cheryl Shepherd, Zoey’s paternal grandmother, and her maternal grandparents, Rebecca Anne Gonzalez and Darryl Perkins.

Shortly after the murder/suicide, Ms. Shepherd signed a temporary custody agreement with Gonzalez and Perkins, so that the maternal grandparents could take Zoey to Texas for her mother’s funeral. Since then, Gonzalez and Perkins have refused to return Zoey to Missouri and she continues to be cared for by relatives in Texas. Ms. Shepherd filed a guardianship petition in Missouri and Gonzalez and Perkins filed a similar petition in Texas. In January, the judges for both cases held a telephone conference and it was agreed that the proper venue for the guardianship battle was Missouri. Many legal pundits believe that the temporary custody agreement significantly hurts Ms. Shepherd’s guardianship case going forward. Other experts believe the agreement will have little effect on the outcome of the lawsuit, given the time period and purpose for which it was executed.

Significant money is at stake in this case. Zoey will eventually inherit her parents’ assets, including a $600,000 life insurance death benefit, over $800,000 in payments from the NFL, a $100,000 retirement fund, as well as money from a trust funded by the Hunt family (owners of the Kansas City Chiefs), coaches and players of the Kansas City Chiefs, and contributions from the public.

This guardianship battle over custody of Zoey and control of her inheritance (until she reaches age eighteen) is due, at least in part, to the fact that neither Jovan nor Kasandra left a will designating a guardian for Zoey. Without such guidance, the court will have to designate Zoey’s guardian without parental input, based solely on what the judge determines to be in her best interest. The court might determine that it is in Zoey’s best interest for neither her maternal or paternal grandparents to serve as her guardian(s).

Another interesting guardianship case involves the child of singer Adam Yauch. Adam, also known as MCA, died in 2012 at the age of forty-seven, after a three-year battle with cancer. He was the co-founder of the hip-hop band the Beastie Boys.

It appears from Adam’s 2001 Will, filed in the New York City Surrogate’s Court, that he and his wife, Dechen Wangdu, could not agree on who should serve as guardian of their fourteen year old daughter, Tenzin Losel. The Will contains an interesting provision that should Dechen be unavailable to care for their daughter upon Adam’s death, the guardian of Tenzin would depend on the year of Adam’s death. If Adam died in a year ending in an even number (he died in 2012), Adam’s parents, Noel and Frances Yauch, would serve as co-guardians for his daughter. If they were both unavailable to serve as guardian, Adam named Dechen’s parents, Sonam and Chuki Gangdum, as the back-up co-guardians. However, if Adam died in an odd year, Sonam and Chuki were designated as the primary co-guardians, with Noel and Frances to serve as back-up co-guardians.

The designation of a guardian for minor children in each parent’s Will is an important part of a comprehensive estate plan. There should also be provisions in the parents’ Wills or trust(s) to provide for the management of the child’s inheritance. It is possible, perhaps likely, that Zoey and Tenzin will not have the maturity to manage a large inheritance upon reaching age eighteen. A properly drafted Will or trust could provide for continuing supervision over the child’s inheritance until he or she reaches a designated age or has demonstrated sufficient maturity to be able to handle the funds. Besides Wills (which include guardian nominations) and perhaps a revocable living trust, a comprehensive estate plan would include a power of attorney for property for each parent, an advance health care directives or similar health care documents for each parent, and a HIPAA Pre-Authorization Form for each parent. In some cases, a trust certification or affidavit, a general assignment, and a property agreement would also be part of a comprehensive estate plan.

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