When my son was born, I was really excited to think about the wonderful life he had ahead of him. But in addition to all of the other new-parent tasks on my list, I also had to take care of a depressing task: making an estate plan.
My husband and I had put off this process before he was born, mainly because we would've just left all our assets to each other and it didn't seem worth the effort. But as soon as a child came into the picture, it was important to take the responsible step of making a plan.
If you have kids or are expecting one, you may also want to take the three big estate planning steps that we did.
1. Buying life insurance
We want to make sure my son is provided for, even if something happens to us. To ensure money will be available for his care and to fund a college education, my husband and I both purchased life insurance policies. It was important we are both covered, since we both earn income. However, even if one spouse doesn't work, he or she should still get insurance. The services provided by a stay-at-home parent are valuable, and child care would need to be paid for if something happened to a child's primary caregiver.
We opted for a term life insurance policy because the coverage is less expensive than a whole-life policy and we'll only need the coverage until he grows up. We also don't need our insurance to serve as an investment vehicle, which whole-life policies do. You'll want to shop around for a policy that's right for you, making sure to get sufficient coverage so your partner can pay the bills and provide for your children if you pass away.
2. Making a will
A will actually does more than just allow us to specify who should inherit if we pass on. It gives us control over what happens to the money we're leaving our son. If he were to inherit before turning 18, someone would need to manage the money we've left for him. If we had no will, the court might be forced to name a guardian for the funds. And he'd inherit with no strings attached at 18.
We could have created a trust to name a trustee to manage his inheritance and put conditions on when he receives his money. Instead, we took the simpler approach available under the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act. This allowed us to name a custodian for the money and extend the time when he receives it until his 21st birthday.
You can make a will yourself using online services, but we chose to talk to a lawyer to get help making sure that our will was valid and that we were taking a smart approach to protecting our son's inheritance. You may also want to get legal help, especially if you have substantial assets you're leaving to your children.
3. Naming a guardian
No parent likes to think about passing away and being unable to raise their children -- but it can happen.
If you don't name someone to serve as your child's guardian, a custody battle could potentially ensue and the court could be left to choose who will raise your children. We wanted to make sure our son is cared for by people we selected, not someone a judge assigns to him. So we made provisions in our will to name a guardian in case something should happen.
If you do nothing else to make an estate plan as a new parent, this is a step you should definitely take. Just be sure to talk to whomever you're choosing as your child's guardian and make sure he or she is on board with raising your kids if you can't.
Estate planning isn't fun, but it's essential for parents
As a parent, you have to do a lot of stuff to provide for and protect your children -- even if not all of these tasks are fun. Making an estate plan is just one more item you should add to your to-do list, but it's an important one. By taking these responsible steps, you can make sure your children are provided for and protected even if something happens to you.