Whether you’re expecting your first or your third child, or your kids are in high school, parents are busy. With everything parents have to do, one of the most important things you should have on your to-do list — estate planning — often gets pushed off and delayed, and sometimes never done.
No one wants to do estate planning. It takes time and it costs money. It is not pleasant to think about. And you may feel overwhelmed or intimidated about contacting a lawyer, or you may not know the right lawyer to call. Besides, you might believe estate planning is for the elderly or the very wealthy. But this is a misconception that is simply not true. Estate planning is of the utmost importance once a little one is dependent on you.
It seems that for these reasons, and maybe others too, many parents are not taking care of this important business for their children. When you consider the fervor with which expectant parents go through the checklists of everything they need to get done in those nine months leading up to a new child’s arrival, it is amazing how much this particular item is neglected.
The typical documents all parents should have in place are a will, a revocable trust, health care proxy, and a durable power of appointment. These documents together are generally sufficient to make sure children are provided for if a parent or both parents are incapacitated or pass away.
The will is the primary document people think about when talking about estate planning. It is through your will that you decide how your family would be cared for if you passed away.
For parents, the will is most important as it is the manner in which you name guardians for your children. A will is the only way to do that, and if not done in advance through a will, the court would choose a guardian at the time of your death.
While this is not a fun thing to think about, you have control over the decision now. It is much better to make the decision ahead of time instead of leaving the decision to the courts, which could cause unnecessary stress and anguish. You can even name secondary and tertiary guardians if you want, to cover various possibilities.
The other purpose of a will is, of course, to tell everyone where your money and property should pass, and who should be in charge of making sure that happens.
There are many reasons to set up a trust, but for parents of young children, setting up a trust allows continued management of the child’s inheritance. Any money that a minor inherits needs to be managed for them at least until they reach the age of 18. Most of the time, an 18-year-old is not quite ready to manage a substantial inheritance. That is why I suggest to parents that their wills should leave any inheritance not to the children directly, but to a trust for the benefit of the children.
By setting this up, any money you leave behind would go into a trust for your children. You would appoint someone, called a trustee, to be in charge of the trust for the kids. Keeping the funds in a trust allows a responsible person who you trust to manage the money for your children, ensure the children are taken care of financially, and ultimately receive their inheritance at a time that is appropriate and makes sense (and when the children are mature enough to handle it).
Health care proxy
A health care proxy appoints an agent to make health-related decisions for you in the event you are not able. Although it is a morbid thought, it is important to have proper documentation as to whom you would want to be making these decisions. A related piece to appointing a health care agent is the living will. This lets your agent know how you want to be treated and what medical care you want or do not want in a given situation. It not only ensures you are treated the way you want, but gives important direction to the agent you have appointed.
Durable power of attorney
A durable power of attorney grants the authority for another person to take control of your financial matters for you. This is the person you entrust to pay bills and handle your other financial affairs. This person can be given immediate power or your durable power of attorney can be drafted so this person only has the authority to act in the event you are not able to handle your own finances or you are incapacitated.
An often-overlooked piece of estate planning is beneficiary designations. Retirement accounts, life insurance, and other financial assets may have a beneficiary designation attached to it that indicates where those funds should go in the event the owner passes away. Even if you have a will or trust indicating where your assets should pass, a beneficiary designation that is not updated could essentially undo your carefully crafted estate plan. Although beneficiary designations are a wonderful estate planning tool and are often essential in efficient planning, it is important that they are updated and revisited to ensure they line up with your wishes.
It’s easy to put off estate planning, but taking care of the planning and knowing your children will be well looked after if the unthinkable comes to pass certainly offers peace of mind to parents. I offer free initial consultations to discuss the various aspects of estate planning. Though most people rank speaking with an attorney near or below getting a root canal in the excitement factor, you’ll feel so much better once it’s done. Feel free to call or e-mail to set up your consultation today!
Kimberly Butler Rainen is an attorney and a mom who lives with her husband, 18-month-old son, and two dogs in Andover, Massachusetts. Kim loves meeting with her clients and helping them find peace of mind. She focuses her law practice on estate planning, the administration of trusts, and estates and elder law. When she isn’t practicing law, she enjoys attending music class with her son, spending family time walking the dogs, and yoga practice, when she can find the time.
Please feel free to contact Kimberly about your legal needs at (978) 409-1928 or at [email protected], or visit her website: www.ButlerRainen.com.