Being a family often means having people depend on you for most, if not all, of their daily needs. If you are a parent, your children rely on you to provide them with food, shelter and guidance. If you are a spouse, your partner might rely on your income because they stay home to raise the children that you share.

If you have adult children with special needs or serve as the caretaker or guardian for a sibling or other family member who has special needs and cannot provide their own care, you may be responsible for everything from managing that person’s finances to making medical decisions on their behalf.

When you create an estate plan, you don’t just decide who gets what from your possessions. You also put critical protections in place to help the people who depend on you.

How an estate plan protects minor children

You might intend to leave everything to your spouse or your kids when you die, although a combination of the two is most common. In addition to outlining which of your assets you want your children to receive or what portion of your estate they should inherit, you should also name a guardian for them in the event that you and their other parent are both unable to provide care for them.

A guardian will step up and fulfill your parental role until your children are old enough to take care of themselves. Your estate plan could also potentially include a trust, which can help ensure that a guardian or former spouse can’t waste or diminish the value of the inheritance you leave for your children, thus giving them financial protection as they become adults and helping them avoid financial abuse.

How an estate plan helps a loved one with a disability

If you are the guardian or caretaker of a loved one with a disability, you may also want to consider creating a trust and naming someone to assume your responsibilities if you die or otherwise become unable to continue performing them.

A special needs trust can help ensure that your loved one can still qualify for critical federal benefits, like Medicaid, while also having the enhanced financial security of a secondary safety net.

An estate plan could help your spouse or partner

When you choose to spend your life with someone, you don’t want to leave them with nothing if you suddenly die. A careful estate plan can facilitate the fast and efficient passage of assets from one individual to another.

Although spouses will typically assume control over various assets after estate administration, partners who are not bound to you legally are at a disadvantage and may not inherit anything unless you plan for their security and inheritance ahead of time.