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Actor's death raises legal guardianship issues


Many Washington residents don't think about estate planning until they become parents. This is partly due to the fact that beginning a new generation makes one think about leaving a legacy behind, but it is largely due to a very practical concern: Parents must decide who will become legal guardians of their children if they should unexpectedly die while their children are still minors.

Recently, the mother of the late actor Paul Walker filed paperwork to become legal guardian of his 15-year-old daughter. Walker, known for his roles in the "Fast & Furious" movies, died in a fiery car accident last fall.

Walker's will appointed his father to manage his estate, which is estimated to be worth between $16 million and $25 million. It also called for his mother to be appointed legal guardian of his daughter. This raises interesting legal issues because the girl's mother is still alive. Ordinarily, surviving parents are automatically considered legal guardians to their minor children, but Walker's mother argued to a family court that the girl's mother is not a fit parent. Walker's mother said that both the 15-year-old and her mother have been living with her.

Legal guardianship is important even for older children because minors are considered to have legal incapacity due to infancy. Although the term makes it sound like it applies only to babies, the concept means that, typically, teenagers don't have the right to make legal decisions for themselves until they reach the age of majority.

Guardianships can also be important for adults who lack legal capacity due to disability. A Washington attorney with experience in this sensitive but important part of the law can help people to understand how to plan for guardianship in their wills and when the need arises.

Source: USA Today, "Paul Walker's mom seeks guardianship of his daughter," March 20, 2014

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