What Legal Documents Do I Need as a Single Parent?

HomeBlogEstate PlanningWhat Legal Documents Do I Need as a Single Parent?

As a single parent in North Carolina, you may encounter unique legal considerations. From ensuring your child’s well-being to safeguarding your rights, understanding the essential legal documents you need can provide invaluable peace of mind. So what legal documents do you need as a single parent in North Carolina? Whether you’re just starting your estate planning journey or seeking to bolster your existing legal framework, read on to confidently walk forward as a single parent.

Why Create an Estate Plan?

You have a minor child who depends on you for their survival. You need to ensure that they will be cared for if there comes a time you cannot care for them.

By creating an estate plan, you can address your minor child’s care and custody and provide instructions about how your money and property should be used for their care should something happen to you.

However, estate planning is about more than caring for your child. You also need to care for yourself. So you’ll need a few simple documents to help others make decisions for you if you fall ill or permanently unconscious.

It can also make sense to plan for ways to maximize your assets for the future. So let’s go over ways to enhance your life and that of your child’s through estate planning!

Creating a Legal Document Care and Custody of Your Child

Creating an estate plan allows you to name someone to care for your minor child if you are unable. A child under 18 can’t legally care for themselves (unless they have been emancipated).

When writing your last will and testament, you can name a guardian to care for your minor child (in the case neither parent can act.) It is important to note that if the other legal parent is still alive, that parent may receive custody of your child.

However, it is best to have a plan in case no legal parent can care for the child. If you do not choose a guardian, the judge will look to state law to determine the appropriate guardian. That person may not be the person that you would have chosen.

What the Last Will and Testament Does for You In North Carolina

In your will, you can name someone to be your child’s guardian after your death, a person to wind up your affairs (executor or personal representative), and people to receive your money and property, along with any instructions.

Similarly, you may use a pour-over will to name a guardian for your child upon your death. A pour-over will also enables your estate to skip the probate process. Probate courts inventory your belongings, pay your taxes and creditors, and eventually give inheritance to your beneficiaries

With a pour-over will and a trust, your estate skips probate. Instead, the trustee you name manages your estate. The court no longer has jurisdiction over your belongings because you’ve placed them in a trust.

A trust is a bit like a personal business that owns your assets for you. When you draw up trust documents with your attorney, you decide how the trust will use the assets. In your pour-over will, you name your trust as the beneficiary of any money or property that would go through the probate process. And, instead of probate, your trustee manages it all after your death.

Financial Power of Attorney (POA)

How do you name someone to step in when emergencies arise?

While much of an estate plan focuses on planning for your death, preparing for an emergency where you are alive but can’t make decisions is crucial. If this happens, doctors consider you medically “incapacitated.”

A durable power of attorney can allow an “agent” you choose to act on your behalf and handle your financial decisions and other issues while you’re unable. They can handle financial documents from brokerage accounts to making a transfer ownership choice and even handle your personal affairs.

Health Care Proxy or Medical POA (Power of Attorney)

In North Carolina, a Health Care Proxy, also known as a Medical Power of Attorney (POA), is a vital legal document that grants an individual, often referred to as an “agent” or “proxy,” the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf. We all have ideas of what kinds of healthcare wishes we would want others to know if we couldn’t communicate.

if you become unable to communicate or make decisions for yourself, your agent (proxy) can make decisions about your:

  • Treatment options
  • Surgical procedures
  • Medication administration
  • Decisions about life-sustaining treatments

It’s crucial to select a trusted individual as your healthcare proxy and clearly outline your wishes in the POA document to ensure the respect of your medical preferences during times when you can’t advocate for yourself.

However, you can also make decisions ahead of time about what you would want if you need life-sustaining healthcare. Your “Living Will” can help with that. Let’s look at this vital document next.

What is a Living Will in NC?

In North Carolina, a Living Will is a profound expression of your healthcare wishes and preferences regarding end-of-life medical treatments. Also known as an “Advance Directive for a Natural Death,” a Living Will outlines the medical interventions you desire or wish to decline if you cannot communicate your choices due to incapacitation.

This legal document provides advance directives to guide medical professionals and loved ones. Your Advanced healthcare directive decisions ensure the respect of your wishes regarding life-prolonging measures.

Artificial life support or resuscitation measures may include:

CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation):

Specify whether you wish to receive CPR if your heart stops beating or you stop breathing.

Mechanical Ventilation:

Indicate whether you would like to be placed on a ventilator to assist with breathing if you cannot breathe independently.

Artificial Nutrition and Hydration:

Decide whether you want to receive food and fluids through feeding tubes or intravenous lines if you cannot eat or drink orally.


Express your preference about receiving kidney dialysis to filter waste from your blood in cases of kidney failure.

Mechanical Circulatory Support:

Determine your stance on using devices like artificial hearts or circulatory assist devices to support your heart’s function.

Antibiotics and Medications:

Specify if you want to receive antibiotics or other medications to treat infections or alleviate pain.

Comfort Care and Pain Management:

State your desire for palliative care focused on pain relief and comfort rather than aggressive medical interventions.

Organ Donation:

If you wish to donate your organs or tissues upon your death, you can indicate your intentions in your Living Will.

Experimental Treatments:

Mention whether you’re open to participating in experimental or investigational medical treatments.

Brain-Related Treatments:

Address whether you want interventions like brain surgeries, if applicable.

It’s important to remember that the options you include in your Living Will should align with your personal beliefs, values, and medical considerations. Consulting with an estate planning legal professional and discussing your wishes with your loved ones can help ensure that your Living Will accurately reflects your preferences.

Crafting a Living Will empowers you to maintain control over your medical decisions, offering peace of mind and clear instructions for their families during challenging times.

Consent for Medical Care for Your Child

You’ll also need to plan for someone to temporarily care for your child by delegating your parental authority when or if you cannot act. NC Law outlines this “Consent to Medical Care” document:

“A custodial parent of a minor child, pursuant to an authorization to consent to health care for minor, may grant an agent full power and authority to consent to and authorize health care for the minor child to the same extent that a custodial parent could give such consent and authorization. (b) An authorization to consent to health care for minor may contain, and the authority of the agent designated shall be subject to, any specific limitations or restrictions as the custodial parent deems appropriate.”

Rules for Your Child’s Inheritance

Who will be in charge?

A minor child cannot handle their own financial affairs (unless they are emancipated). If you pass away without an estate plan, the other legal parent may manage the money and property you have left to your child.

If the other legal parent cannot manage your child’s inheritance, the court must appoint someone.

However, with an estate attorney and a plan, you can name the person you want to control the money and property. Without an estate plan, the judge can only use state law and the people who appear in court to determine who will manage the inheritance.

Working with your estate planning attorney can help ensure your child’s future well-being.

When and how will your child receive their inheritance?

If you do not have an estate plan, a court will appoint someone to manage your child’s inheritance for their benefit until they reach 18. At that point, the court will give them the inheritance outright.

Although they will be a legal adult, they may not be prepared for a large influx of money and property. Also, you may have certain things you want the money to be used for.

With a trust, you can draft instructions for exactly how you want the trustee to manage an inheritance for your child. You can create a revocable trust or include these instructions in your pour-over will.

Without a trust, your will goes to the probate court, where proceedings are public and overseen by a judge.

However, with a properly drafted and funded trust, your trustee can manage your child’s inheritance without court interference or public involvement.

Crafting Instructions for a Child’s Trust Fund

There are many options available to you when crafting instructions for how a trustee will manage and distribute your child’s inheritance.

  • Your minor child can receive a percentage upon reaching a specific age (e.g., 50 percent at thirty years old and the remainder at fifty).
  • You can also structure your child’s trust as an incentive trust to allow the trustee to give your child money only after they meet certain goals (e.g., successfully completing postsecondary education, being sober for one year).
  • You can leave the decision of how and when to give out the funds exclusively up to the trustee’s discretion. This is sometimes referred to as a discretionary trust.

A trust fun protects your child’s inheritance from creditors and other risks.

Because your child will not be guaranteed a specific amount of money or piece of property, the trust will better protect the assets from:

  • Future creditors
  • Divorcing spouses
  • Bankruptcy
  • You can also structure monthly payments depending on how you draw up the trust documents. This can help when a child gambles or has a shopping or other addiction.

However, when deciding to use a discretionary trust, it is important to choose your trustee wisely and provide clear guidelines for the trustee

Choosing the Best Trustee

When considering who to select as the trustee of your minor child’s trust, you can choose a family member who knows your child and understands your wishes. If you do not have family that you would like to fill this role, you can look to your close friends. These people may already be a large part of your child’s life and may understand your wishes.

If you do not have someone who you would want to serve as a trustee, you can hire a professional trustee. However, a professional trustee charges for their services. While all trustees are entitled to compensation, a professional trustee may be more expensive and have set fees.

Although state law will provide your child with a guardian, someone to manage their inheritance, and a lump sum distribution plan at 18, this is the least desirable result.

You have the power to design an estate plan that is unique to your child’s circumstances and allows you to choose the most trusted individuals to guide them if you are no longer able to.

An Experienced Estate Planning Attorney Can Help

The intricate landscape of legal documents such as Health Care Proxies, Durable Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, and Trusts requires careful consideration and precise drafting. An experienced estate planning attorney can be an invaluable guide on this journey.

At Vail Gardner Law, we offer caring advice tailored to the specific regulations and nuances of your situation and North Carolina law. Our knowledge can ensure that your wishes accurately translate into legally binding documents, providing you and your loved ones with clarity and understanding for future decisions.

By collaborating with us at Vail Gardner Law, you can confidently establish an estate plan that not only safeguards you and your child but also brings reassurance and peace, no matter what the future may bring.