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TRAGEDIES AND THE IMPORTANCE OF DESIGNATING GUARDIANS IN WILLS

It’s 2012 and somewhere in Kansas City, a man and a woman are fighting over the paternity of their 9-month-old daughter. The mother claims the child is not his. The man becomes enraged, killing the mother then later turning the gun on himself. With both parents gone, estate attorneys turn to the couple’s wills to determine which family member will get custody of the daughter. But because nothing was stipulated in the documents, family members on both sides begin fighting for custody of the girl.

Many of our readers may recognize this as the story of young Zoey Perkins, daughter of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher. Hers is a cautionary tale that teaches us that while we may not think that the worst will ever happen to us, having the a safety net in a will is always a good idea.

In Zoey’s case, two family members wanted custody of the girl: her paternal grandmother and an aunt on her mother’s side. But because no guardianship had been established prior to the parent’s untimely deaths, child custody would be in limbo until a family law judge could determine who was better suited. While both women said that they would be comfortable sharing custody of the girl–in an effort to keep her connected with both sides of her family–but the nearly 1,400 mile difference between each woman’s residence presented a problem for a judge.

Ultimately, it was decided that the girl’s aunt, who lives here in Texas, would be a better guardian for the girl after attorneys pointed out that the grandmother had a smoking habit and had had a number of police calls to her home over the years.

An important part of any estate plan for new parents would be to designate custody of your children in the event that they suddenly die or become incapacitated. Because as this story demonstrated, the ensuing custody battle can often times take a considerable amount of time to work out in the end.

Source: The Daily Mail Online, “Judge grants custody of Jovan Belcher’s $3million baby to a cousin six months after NFL player shot dead his daughter’s mother and then himself,” Rachel Quigley et al, June 20, 2013