Beyond the Birth Plan: Tough decisions for new parents (part 3)
In the final part of this series, I’ll now cover the last will and testament and why it’s so important for your child. Let’s do it.
Who Gets Your Kid
Since I’ve kept this series of posts so light and cheerful so far, I’ll turn now to the tough one. The question no expectant parent truly wants to answer: who will you designate to serve as your child(ren)’s guardian and caretaker in the event of your death? The designation of a legal guardian is something every parent should carefully consider and formalize in a last will and testament. Unless a parent’s choice of legal guardian is spelled out in a legal will, a court may substitute its own (relatively speaking) uninformed judgment in making that decision. It’s a decision that might become even more difficult for parents to make when spouses or partners disagree on the choice.
The following are questions every parent should consider when making this incredibly tough decision. With whom do you share similar values and political and religious beliefs? Does the person have the emotional, financial, and physical capabilities of raising a child? Does the person live geographically near to you, or would your child have to move far away? If the person already has other children, would your child adapt to them? Does the person have a lifestyle that would allow them the time to care for your child? Have you asked the person if they want to serve as a potential guardian to your child?
This is a big decision. The bottom line: take the time to ask the above questions and appoint a guardian in a will. It’s important to revisit that decision periodically, particularly if you have additional children, and update your will if necessary. The legal fees associated with minor subsequent changes to a will are generally quite reasonable, so there’s no reason to sit on an outdated will that doesn’t adequately express your wishes.
Who Gets Your Stuff
Some people already have wills prior to getting married and/or becoming a parent. New parents, already overwhelmed with preparing for a baby, often forget to update their wills to consider the tiny new member of the family. It’s so important to review and revise previously executed wills, beneficiary designations on retirement accounts and insurance policies, and real estate titles to ensure that your estate plan accurately reflects your current position in life.
You should also discuss with an attorney whether you need to name a trustee in your will who will be legally responsible for your assets in the event that your child is a minor at the time of your death.The right person for this job may or may not be the same person you designate as your child’s legal guardian. Your sister might be the perfect choice for guardian, but your close family friend might be a professional financial adviser who you want to have an active role in your child’s life. If you are an unmarried parent you also need to consider whether you want your assets to pass to your co-parent, or someone else, and then to your children.
How We Can Help
This three part series (see Part 1 and Part 2 here) has covered a lot of emotionally heavy material. But when it comes to family and estate planning, the stakes are high. It’s one of many reasons we’ve devoted our careers to this area of the law. The family, in whatever form it takes, is sacrosanct and deserves to be protected in the manner you see fit. Our attorneys are sensitive and experienced in helping navigate these issues; and we can help you chip away at your new parent to-do list.