What happens to minor children when parents die without a will?

On Behalf of | Mar 10, 2023 | Estate And Probate Law |

An estate plan is a way for someone to protect their closest loved ones when they have no power to take any other actions. The guardian that someone names in their estate plan is one of the most important protections that the parent or guardian of a minor child can put into place proactively.

That individual will take over the parent’s role, will live with them and will provide for a child’s needs until they reach adulthood, in the event that the minor’s parents die before they reach the age of majority. A guardian will also likely have total control over a child’s inheritance until they turn 18 unless a trust or other provisions have been made.

Unfortunately, many people delay estate planning and then don’t have any documents in place when something happens unexpectedly. As a result, it is important for parents in Pennsylvania to understand what will happen to their minor children if they die without first naming a guardian in their estate planning documents.

They may live with the other parent

Quite a few families in Pennsylvania co-parent, meaning that they share custody of their children across two households. When the parent with primary custody dies while the children are still young, the other parent will typically assume responsibility for the children.

They may end up in foster care

When there are children without a parent or previously-approved guardian to care for them, the state of Pennsylvania will assume temporary responsibility over those children. They will likely move into state care in a group home or foster care facility.

Thankfully, Pennsylvania will prioritize family members when looking into foster placement for a child who has lost their parents. Aunts, uncles and grandparents are among the family members who could take on the role of foster parents after a parent dies. If there are no family members who are willing or able to step into that role, then it may ultimately be strangers who take care of the children.

Advance planning is crucial for children’s well-being

Parents don’t want to leave their children at the mercy of strangers compensated by the state. They want their children to be with someone kind and loving if anything should happen to them.

Only by taking the time to create a will and selecting a guardian for children can a parent fully protect their offspring from the risk of foster care after a family tragedy. Completing informed and proper estate planning steps can, therefore, potentially benefit a parent and all the children in a family.

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