In the midst of sleepless nights, diaper changes and, well, doing what you can to survive each day, probably the last thing you want to contemplate as a new parent is putting together an estate plan. It involves thinking about missing out on your little one’s life and making decisions you may not want to consider. Creating an estate plan is, however, one of the most important steps you can take to care for and protect your child.
When you appoint your child’s guardian in your Will, it avoids any ambiguity as to who should care for your child if something should happen to both parents. Undoubtedly, there is no one who could possibly love and raise your child exactly the way you would. That said, you may have many relatives who love your child and feel certain they would be the best choice.
To avoid family conflict, which would inevitably lead to tenuous relationships or even a courthouse, it is best you make this decision for everyone concerned. Otherwise, someone – hopefully a loved one you would approve of as guardian – will have to go through court proceedings to be named as your child’s guardian.
The estate planning process allows you to evaluate your assets and determine if you need a life insurance policy to help provide for your child’s living expenses. While college is often on the top of your mind as an expense category – and college certainly does not come cheap – you should also consider more mundane expenses, such as clothing, summer camps, music lessons and sports teams.
It is not necessary to have great or even moderate wealth to have an estate plan. If you have a life insurance policy, or if you need one, you can coordinate the beneficiary designations of this policy with your estate plan to ensure the money is there for all of your children’s financial needs.
Through an estate plan, you get to select how you want your child to receive your assets and, almost as important, who gets to manage those assets for the benefit of your child. (This individual may or may not be the selected guardian.)
Through your Will or Revocable Trust, you can specify terms and provide guidelines to the trustee as to how you would like distributions made for the benefit of your child. Without a trust, your assets would likely be held in a custodial account for your child. This account is usually managed by an individual or trust company selected by your personal representative (i.e., executor) upon court approval until your child reaches the age of 18.
These are just a few of the reasons new parents need to get their estate plans in order. Delaying the process because you feel uncomfortable or think your estate is not large enough can have dire consequences. Instead, proactively choose what is best for your child – whether it be a guardian or how he or she receives your assets. By doing so, you can transform your sense of discomfort into peace of mind.
Caroline Ford Bonaviri is an attorney at Stein Sperling De Jong Driscoll PC and a new mom herself. As member of the estates and trusts department, she regularly assists clients with all aspects of estate and trust planning, including wealth preservation, succession planning, charitable gift planning and estate and trust administration.