Most individuals assume that the other parent will be around long after the children have grown up and are able to financially support themselves. However, this is not always the case. When a parent dies unexpectedly, both the surviving spouse and their children are not only likely to suffer emotionally, but financially as well.
Child support may be a complex and confusing matter for most divorcing couples, but questions get even more difficult when a parent dies. Should child support payments continue after the death of a parent? If so, who will be responsible for these payments?
Though laws on child custody vary according to state, the short answer is that child support payments should continue after a parent passes away. Fortunately, there are numerous ways a parent may ensure that the children are provided for—even after a parent’s passing.
To determine what steps to take next, it must first be established whether or not the deceased is the custodial parent or the non-custodial parent.
After the Death of the Non-Custodial Parent
If the non-custodial parent passes away, the surviving parent must check if the deceased parent had a life insurance policy that named either the surviving parent or their children as a beneficiary. If the answer is yes, then the surviving parent must call the insurance company to begin the process of collection on the children’s behalf. Life insurance payments are especially critical if the deceased parent had no source of income or left no assets behind.
If the deceased parent did not have a substantial life insurance policy, then the proceeds from his or her estate may be used to pay for any child support payments that are owed. These include assets such as real estate, cars, bank accounts, 401ks, and other investments. Remember, that to go after an individual’s estate, the filing of a creditor’s claim against the estate must be done in a timely manner.
If the deceased parent was gainfully employed for a significant period of time, the surviving parent may be able to approach the Social Security Administration and obtain benefits on behalf of their underage children. While claiming these benefits may require filing proper documents in court, it is likely that the Social Security will be able to provide the child support payments needed.
After the Death of the Custodial Parent
In the event of the custodial parent’s death, it must first be determined who will care for the children. Some of the more obvious choices are the non-custodial parent, the children’s grandparents, other family members or relatives, or close friends of the family.
If custody is awarded to the non-custodial parent, it may be possible to seek a child support modification. This modification may indicate that child support is to come from the sale of the custodial parent’s assets.
Though custody is automatically awarded to the other parent in most cases, there are times that the court deems the surviving parent unfit to care for the children. In such a situation, the children’s custodian or guardian will collect child support payments from the non-custodial parent, and may also opt to seek additional financial support from the deceased custodial parent’s estate.
Consult with an Attorney
The death of a parent is always a tragic occurrence. However, it is important to note that though a parent dies, the obligation to support his or her children does not die along with them. The surviving parent must continue to receive support, as it is in the best interests of the children.
Every case is unique. If you have questions regarding the death of one parent, consult with an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible.