6 minute read

Minors Inheriting Assets: Limitations and Considerations

Read this guide to learn how to set up an estate plan workaround to ensure your children can successfully obtain their inheritance if anything were to happen.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

Here at Trust & Will, we highlight the importance for any adult to have an estate plan in place. If you have children, importance transforms into imperativeness. In the event that something unexpected should happen, an estate plan serves as a protection mechanism for your loved ones. There are certain limitations and considerations when it comes to minors inheriting assets. With proper planning, you can ensure that your child would successfully obtain their inheritance. Trust & Will explains. 

Understanding the basics

A Last Will and Testament serves as the foundation of an estate plan. It can be used to provide details about your wishes for how your property and assets should be distributed, and who your beneficiaries will be. You can also appoint a legal guardian for any dependents. 

However, if you pass away without a Will or estate plan, you die “intestate.” This means that the probate court will use state laws to determine who should inherit your estate, and in what order. This is not ideal, because you don’t have any control over how your estate is distributed. 

Further, minors aren’t legally adults. This means that they aren’t allowed to manage personal or legal affairs on their own. In other words, they can’t inherit anything from you if you die intestate. 

This is why it is critical that you put an estate plan in place to use legal workarounds and ensure that your child will have access to their inheritance if anything were to happen to you before they reach adulthood.

Legal guardianship and court appointments

When minors inherit assets from an estate, the role of a court-appointed guardian becomes critical. A legal guardianship ensures the responsible management and protection of these assets until the minor becomes an adult. 

A court-appointed guardian is an individual with the legal authority to make financial and personal decisions on behalf of the minor, with the primary goal of acting in the minor's best interests. This role is particularly crucial given that minors lack the legal capacity to manage substantial assets independently.

The process of establishing guardianship for a minor can be intricate. Typically, it involves petitioning the court to appoint a guardian and providing evidence that demonstrates the necessity for such an appointment. This evidence might include details about the minor's relationship to the deceased, the value and nature of the inherited assets, and the potential risks and challenges the minor might face without proper guidance. The court will assess the petitioner to ensure that they are capable of fulfilling their fiduciary duties.

There are also some challenges that can take place when establishing guardianship to be aware of. Identifying the right guardian can be difficult in itself. The court must find someone who will genuinely care for the minor and their welfare, as well as possess certain characteristics such as financial acumen and ethical integrity. There may also be conflicts of interest within your family that could lead to disputes over who should assume guardianship. This can complicate the process and delay legal proceedings. 

Complexities and limitations of guardianship

Once they’re appointed, the guardian can face challenges of their own. Taking care of a minor while preserving the value of their inheritance requires careful planning. They must be able to effectively manage assets, make financial decisions, and obtain court approval for various transactions. The complexity of their role can be heightened by tax implications, reporting requirements, and court oversight. Last but not least, they’ll also be in charge of helping your child transition from being a minor to adulthood. Ensuring that the child can manage assets on their own as they become an adult is a challenging task of its own.

To say the least, serving as a guardian to a minor is an important job that comes with its challenges. Not everyone will be the right fit for the task. In the absence of an estate plan, the court will appoint a guardian for your child. While the court process exists to determine an appropriate individual, most parents would absolutely prefer to control this outcome. To do so, you can instead nominate a guardian for your child in your Last Will and Testament. Unless the court determines that this individual is unfit to serve, the person of your choice will most likely be appointed. Putting your estate plan in place, which includes a guardianship nomination, can provide great peace of mind.

Alternative approach: utilizing Trusts

Another factor that is left up to the courts in the absence of an estate plan is your assets. If you die intestate, the court system will use intestate succession laws to decide how your assets should be distributed. Again, minors cannot directly inherit assets by law. In the absence of an estate plan, this essentially means that they cannot receive their inheritance.

To ensure that your child or children will be able to receive their inheritances, consider using a Trust instead of leaving it up to the courts. A Trust is a fiduciary arrangement that allows you to appoint a third party to manage assets and property for the benefit of a beneficiary. This third party, the Trustee, is appointed by you instead of the court. This is a workaround that enables you to legally leave assets to a minor, under the care of the Trustee of your choice. 

You can set up a Trust account through your Will. For instance, a popular choice in this specific scenario is setting up a Minor’s Trust. Your nominated Trustee will manage the assets and/or property you set aside for your child until they reach a certain age. Another advantage of the Trust is that you get to control the details of the Trust. For example, the legal age of adulthood in the U.S. is 18 years old. As a parent, this might feel too young for your child to receive their inheritance. Instead, you can include instructions in the Trust that your child should not have access to the assets until they turn the age of your choice, such as 25 or 30. You can also include other stipulations, such as the manner and frequency in which the funds should be used. Estate planning with a Will and a Trust allow you to make sure your goals go as planned instead of leaving these important decisions up to the court system that does not fully understand your personal or family circumstances. 

Types of Trusts for minors

  • Explanation of various trust options such as revocable living trusts and irrevocable trusts.

  • How these trusts can protect and manage assets for the minor's benefit.

  • Pull from /trust-funding article and link to it in this section (or whatever Trust section makes the most sense as you’re writing)

There are several different types of Trusts, and choosing the right one is influenced by your individual needs and goals. Each type of trust offers specific features and benefits that cater to different objectives and circumstances. Here are a few types of trusts and how they can be used to safeguard assets for minor beneficiaries:

1. Revocable Living Trust: A Revocable Living Trust is established during the grantor's lifetime and can be altered or revoked. While the grantor is alive, they retain control over the Trust and its assets. Upon their passing, the assets are smoothly transferred to the beneficiaries, including minors, without the need for probate. The appointed successor Trustee manages the assets for the minor's benefit until they reach a specified age or milestone.

2. Irrevocable Trust: Irrevocable Trusts can be used to hold life insurance policies or other assets outside of the grantor's taxable estate. This helps minimize potential estate tax liability while ensuring that the insurance proceeds or other assets are protected for the minor beneficiary. These Trusts can be structured to provide periodic distributions for the minor's needs or delayed distributions to promote responsible financial management.

3. Testamentary Trust:  A Testamentary Trust is established through the Grantor's Will and takes effect upon their passing. This Trust allows the Grantor to specify how the assets should be managed and distributed for the minor's benefit. Testamentary Trusts can include conditions, such as releasing funds for education expenses, reaching a certain age, or achieving specific life milestones.

4. Spendthrift Trust: A Spendthrift Trust restricts the beneficiary's access to the Trust's principal, protecting the assets from the beneficiary's creditors or reckless spending habits. This type of Trust can be beneficial for minor beneficiaries who may not yet possess the financial discipline to manage substantial assets responsibly.

5. Educational Trust: An Educational Trust is designed specifically to cover the educational expenses of the minor beneficiary. The Trustee has the authority to disburse funds directly to educational institutions for tuition, books, and related costs. This ensures that the assets are used for the intended purpose of the beneficiary's education.

6. Special Needs Trust: If the minor beneficiary has special needs or disabilities, a special needs Trust can be established to provide for their care and well-being without jeopardizing their eligibility for government assistance programs. The Trust can supplement government benefits and cover expenses that enhance the beneficiary's quality of life.

Each of these trust types serves a distinct purpose and can be customized to suit the needs of minor beneficiaries. Determining the most appropriate Trust should take into account the family's goals, financial situation, and the minor beneficiary's specific circumstances. Learn more about different types of Trusts here.

Benefits of using Trusts

There are many benefits associated with using Trusts, including being able to control how your assets are distributed to any minor dependents you may have. Here are some highlights of the advantages of using a Trust:

  • Assets held in a Trust do not go through probate 

  • May reduce certain estate-related taxes

  • Allow you to control assets

  • Assist minor children and children with special needs

  • Use to separate complex assets

  • Ensure that loved ones are protected and taken care of

Learn more about the top reasons to have a Trust here

While a Trust requires additional effort to set up, they are a powerful tool to consider, especially if you have young children. Instead of allowing the court system to make the all-too-important decisions of appointing a guardian, you can take the reins and make these decisions yourself. For starters, you can nominate a Guardian in your Will. Second, you can control your childrens’ inheritances by placing assets in a Trust with a trustworthy Trustee who will safeguard these assets for them. If you wish, you can make your Guardian and Trustee the same individual. 

Creating a comprehensive estate plan

Integrating Trusts and Guardianship considerations into your broader estate plan is a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to ensure the protection, management, and seamless transfer of your assets to minor beneficiaries. 

By combining these elements, you can create a well-rounded plan that addresses the specific needs of your family and reflects your values and priorities. By setting up an estate plan, you will have peace of mind knowing that you have control over the outcomes for your loved ones, instead of leaving them up to the court system. 

The more thorough and detailed your estate plan, the more objectives you can address.

At Trust & Will, we’re here to help keep things simple. You can create a fully customizable, state-specific estate plan from the comfort of your own home in just 20 minutes. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning and settlement  options today!

Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Browse more topics in our learn center or chat with a live member support representative! 

Trust & Will is an online service providing legal forms and information. We are not a law firm and we do not provide legal advice.