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  • Writer's pictureAlan Jacobs

Child Support After Death

You can’t help it. It’s not that you are wishing evil upon your spouse while you are going through a divorce (okay, so maybe you are!).  But you can’t help wondering every now and then: what would happen if my spouse just died? While that would certainly make your divorce go away, it would also make your ex’s child support payments go away. Because of that, it’s worth paying attention to the ways you can secure child support after death.

While most people assume that their ex will be around to support the kids until they are grown and gone, life doesn’t always work that way.

If something happens, and your ex dies, your kids are going to suffer. Not only will they suffer emotionally, but they also might take a huge financial hit, too.

Your ex will no longer be able to pay child support. S/he will no longer be able to contribute towards the kids’ extracurricular activities or private school tuition. S/he will no longer be around to pay part of the kids’ medical bills. What’s more, if your ex was carrying the kids on his/her medical insurance, that will be gone too.

So who will support your kids after your ex dies?

Answer: You. Just you.

So, what can you do?

How can you make sure that your kids are not left destitute and that your ex somehow provides child support after death?

Plan ahead!

The best time to provide for child support after death is WHILE your divorce is going on. You can secure child support in several ways:

  1. You can require your ex to maintain life insurance naming the children as beneficiaries for as long as s/he has an obligation to pay child support or pay for any of their expenses (including college); or

  2. You can require your ex to maintain enough money in an irrevocable trust that names the children as beneficiaries for as long as s/he has an obligation to pay child support or pay for any of their expenses (including college); or

  3. You can require your ex to maintain the children as beneficiaries of his/her retirement accounts or any other bank account that has enough money to pay child support and of the kids’ expenses (including college);

Of these 3 options, the most practical is usually life insurance.

Most people don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars that they can put in an irrevocable trust for their kids. If they have money in any other kind of account, nothing will stop them from using that money while they’re alive. Obviously, if they use their retirement account up before they die, there will be nothing left for the kids to get.

Write your divorce documents properly

If you want to use life insurance to secure child support, your divorce decree has to say that. It has to specifically require that your ex maintain life insurance in a certain dollar amount for a certain period of time.

If your divorce judgment doesn’t specifically require your ex to maintain life insurance, then your ex doesn’t have to do so.

It’s also important that you make sure that your ex is required to keep enough child support to cover his/her obligations to your kids. For example, if your ex is required to pay child support, and maintain medical insurance, and pay half of the kids’ medical and educational expenses until they’re 18, then s/he has to have a life insurance policy that’s big enough to pay all of that!

The same thing is true of college expenses. If your divorce judgment requires your ex to contribute to your kids’ college expenses, then his/her life insurance policy should be big enough to make sure that happens.

Make sure your ex actually maintains his/her life insurance policy after your divorce.

It doesn’t matter what your divorce decree says. If your ex never buys a life insurance policy, or if s/he doesn’t pay the premiums on the policy, there will be no death benefit for your kids to get.

Because of that, you would be wise to put a proof requirement in your divorce judgment. You want your judgment to say that your ex has to provide you with proof that his/her life insurance is in effect at least once a year. Or, if you know your ex will never give you that proof, you want to have the right to get proof directly from the life insurance company.

Then (and this is the hard part!) you have to actually look at the proof every year! Remember, no life insurance policy means no support for your kids if your ex dies.

What’s good for the goose … 

If you really want to secure your kids’ financial future, remember that you count too!

Even if you’re not making a lot of money (and especially if you are!) you are providing support for your children. What happens if you die?

Term life insurance is typically not that expensive. As soon as you can afford it, think about getting a policy on your own life as well.

Consider Funding College Accounts Now. 

Not every state requires divorced parents to contribute to their kids’ college education. But anyone can have a provision in his/her divorce judgment imposing that requirement on one or both parents. (That’s not to say that every parent will agree to do that. But, it’s worth a try!)

If your divorce judgment requires you or your ex to contribute to your kids’ college expenses, smart financial planning dictates that you start saving for college sooner rather than later.

Sure, you can have a life insurance policy that secures your kids’ college expenses too. But, with college education costs spiraling ever upwards, it might not be feasible for you or your ex to get a life insurance policy that’s big enough to cover child support, medical insurance, medical bills, extracurricular activities, educational expenses, AND college expenses too!

Plus, your life insurance policy only kicks in if you die. If you’re still around when your kids go to college, what will happen then?

Don’t forget about Social Security. 

In most cases, children are entitled to receive social security benefits if one of their parents dies while they are underage.

Regardless of what your ex did or did not leave to your kids, make sure that you don’t leave money on the table. Collect the benefits that your children are entitled to receive.

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