My Three Sons – Planning for Children of All Ages

planning-for-childrenBy Alan S. Gassman J.D., LL.M. (Taxation), Florida State Bar Certified Specialist in Wills, Trusts & Estates, AEP (Distinguished)

In the 1960’s sitcom, My Three Sons, Fred MacMurray played the thoughtful and patient parent of three adolescent and teenage boys, who learned many interesting lessons living a wholesome life in suburban American.

Parents with children of all ages need guidance in a number of areas that are typically not mentioned during an estate or financial planning meeting.

The planner who brings up the discussion points set forth below will certainly be providing his or her clients with better tailored planning solutions:

1. Liability for Driving Cars

A parent’s wealth is threatened by any child who drives the parent’s car.

By law, the parent may be strictly liable for any negligence that the child incurs on the roadway when the child has not reached age 18. In Florida, a parent must sign for a minor to receive a license, and is absolutely liable for the child’s negligence as the result of signing.

Typically, children have to be on the parents’ liability and umbrella insurance policies while living at home. But once they go to school or live independently, it is often best to give them their own car, and sometimes best to allow them to be on a separate, less expensive, insurance policy.

Children may also operate boats, wave runners, four-wheelers, and motorcycles.  Similar concerns apply.

2. Saving for Education

Prepaid tuition and dorm programs, as well as 529 College Savings Plan programs, should be considered by all parents and grandparents who can afford them.  In many situations, clients who do not have children will purchase 529 Plans to defer tax on earnings and have creditor protection if they reside in a state that protects 529 Plan assets. 529 Plans normally belong to the parent or grandparent, and can be changed each year to a different intended beneficiary.

3. Health Care and Financial Proxies

Young adults can give their parents and/or significant other the power to make health care decisions and also to sign documents for if and when they are unavailable, or for the sake of convenience.  Every 18-year-old should sign these documents.  Effective planners can set their calendar for the 18th birthday to help make sure that this happens.

4. Child Health Care Authorizations

In most states, parents can sign documents to enable others to make medical decisions and authorize treatment for a minor child.  It is risky to leave town and not be available if a babysitter or non-parent family member needs to take a child for non-emergency treatment.  Emergency rooms will only do what is absolutely necessary without consent of a parent for elective and non-emergency treatments in most states.  Florida’s 2015 Health Care Surrogate Act changes specifically requires two witnesses for a parent to enable a non-parent to make health care or medical decisions.

5. How Much Responsibility to Give to a Young Adult

Sometimes parents have well-placed confidence in their young adult children before the child has the type of experience and has molded with a good significant other.

Oftentimes, a child in college or just out of college  is not equipped for the emotional and practical challenges that may be faced if a parent dies or becomes incapacitated.

Young adults will often be distracted or will not be assertive with medical, legal, and other advisors in the same way that a responsible and more experienced person may act.  We normally recommend that older family members or close friends be named as additional Agents on Health Care and Financial Powers of Attorney.

Having to face the death of your own parent is difficult enough, but being a young adult who may suffer guilt or indecision later will not be optimum for many families.

In addition, young adults may change dramatically or be “controlled” by the bad influence of a significant other.

All of the above is worthy of discussion when a client is inclined to appoint a young adult to a position of responsibility, notwithstanding that we have seen many college students and young adults do a great job under trying circumstances.

6. A Last Will and Testament

Having a young adult consider and sign a Last Will and Testament helps educate him or her about the importance of addressing the contingency of death, and being responsible with assets.  Almost every year we have to counsel clients who have lost a young adult child. Having a Will in place, or even a Revocable Trust where there may be significant assets, avoids the need to have a plan administered based upon state law, which may give priority as to the selection of a Personal Representative to someone who the family finds to be undesirable or irresponsible. This will especially be the case where the child’s parents are divorced because one of them might not be stable or may be malicious.

7. Knowing Your Lawyer and Other Advisors

Many clients make it a point to have their children meet their lawyer, accountant, and other advisors.  It helps the advisors develop a grasp and dedication to the family. In addition, advisors can serve as good role models, sounding boards for both positive and stressful situations, and networking friends when it comes time to get into college or graduate school, find a job, or have someone to talk to about important decisions.

An outstanding example of this would be a meeting that a young adult would have with a financial planner to decide how to invest the first $5,000 that their parents have given them to open an IRA.  The financial planner can help the child become motivated to save and to watch the savings grow, while also providing knowledge and suggested further study that the young adult might not accept or receive from a parent or their own otherwise applicable life experience.  Too often, young adults (and everyone else for that matter) get the wrong advice based upon faulty perceptions, unqualified advisors, or confusing “something on the Internet” with what would otherwise be in their best interests.

8. Showing a General Interest in a Family Well Being

While some clients may “brush off” the suggestion that a planner should be involved with some or all of the above considerations, more often we find that clients are extremely pleased that we are able to provide advice and conversation that enhances their family life and helps their children.

Sometimes the conversation moves to the possibility of seeing a mental health counselor to discuss a child’s situation, whether to refer the child to the planner or another professional for a legal or other problem, challenge or opportunity the child might have, or just to allow the parents to “let off steam” about a particular situation.

Our office particularly has experience in representing addiction treatment centers, and many parents do not have a good understanding of how addiction should be approached. A planner with particular background, experience and sincere interest in some aspect of children and young adult lives can make this known to clients who would not otherwise think to make mention of a particular circumstance that can be addressed. Life is much more complicated now than it was in 1962, which was the third season of “My Three Sons.”


Alan S. GassmanAlan S. Gassman J.D., LL.M. (Taxation), Florida State Bar Certified Specialist in Wills, Trusts & Estates, AEP (Distinguished) is a partner of Gassman Law Associates in Clearwater, Florida.  Mr. Gassman is a Florida State Bar Certified Legal Specialist in Wills, Trusts and Estates Law and a member of the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils.

Mr. Gassman graduated from Rollins College with a B.A., with distinction, in Business Administration and Accounting.  He went on to earn both his J.D., with honors, and LL.M. in Taxation from the University of Florida.  He is currently licensed to practice law in the state of Florida.  Mr. Gassman is currently a Fellow of the American Bar Association, a member of the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils, and a member of the Florida State Bar Association.  He is a former member of the Board of Advisors of the Journal of Asset Protection, a former Law and Leading Attorney, and the past President of Pinellas County Estate Planning Council.

Mr. Gassman has received numerous awards and honors, including an AV® Preeminent Peer Review RatingSM by Martindale-Hubbell® a Who’s Who in Science and Industry and Law and Leading Lawyers, and a Who’s Who in American Law.  He is also rated as a Florida Super Lawyer, a Tampa Bay Top Lawyer, and a Florida’s Trend Top 1.8% of the Best Lawyers in Florida.

Mr. Gassman has authored more than 200 articles in national publications, symposia and law school text books on physician planning, estate tax planning and income tax issues, problems and solutions.  He is a contributing author for Leimberg Information Services and the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils.  He was also a contributing author for the American Law Institute-American Bar Association Practice Checklist Manual on Advising Business Clients.

Mr. Gassman is also a frequent lecturer and was the co-chairman and presenter for the Florida Bar’s annual Physician Representation seminar and the vice-chairman and presenter for the Florida Bar’s annual Wealth Conversation seminar.

This article is the copyrighted material of Alan Gassman of Gassman & Associates, P.C. and is being reposted with the express written consent of Alan Gassman.

Leave a Comment