Today we have another guest post from Claire LaFrance, one of our fabulous contributors. She walks us through one of the most important things we need to think about when having a baby—writing a will as a parent—and why it is something everyone should look into.
This post is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. All questions or legal concerns should be discussed with an attorney, which we are not. This post may contain affiliate links.
Preparing for the Unthinkable: Writing a Will as a Parent
Contributor Post by Claire LaFrance
So your new baby is finally here and you done everything to prepare for this role. You took all the childcare and breastfeeding classes. You may have even taken CPR. You have child-proofed your home with those off-white outlet plug covers and locked the kitchen cabinets.
You are ready!
But you may not be doing the one thing that secures the emotional, physical and financial safety of your little one. That is, preparing for the unthinkable: A world without you.
I know, I know! For those with a new child, this is a time of miracles, sleep deprivation, and emotional rollercoasters, the last thing you want to think about is your own demise. But you should!
In my son’s first year of life, he attended 3 memorial services. One was just a few days after we returned from the hospital! Not all of them were out-of-the-blue surprises but my sadness motivated me to organize my affairs so that my son’s life- should I, unfortunately, meet my demise- would be as easy as possible.
Here are a few simple steps every parent should take to make sure their child is taken care of in a world without them in it.
Major Documents to Discuss with a Lawyer when Writing a Will/Preparing for the Unexpected
The first thing I learned on this journey was how important it was to find the right lawyer to assist you in this endeavor.
Lawyers in your area are paid to be experts in the ever-changing state laws. (While I wholeheartedly support empowering websites that allow you to write basic legal documents, in this matter, it is best to go with an expert.)
These lawyers practice what is called Estate Law and can be found by basic yellow page search. The right lawyer should walk you through the process and explain every step (lord knows it gets a little complicated!)
There are four major documents I would suggest discussing with this lawyer. These are:
- Healthcare Proxy,
- A Durable Power of Attorney,
- Simple Will, and
- Guardianship Documents.
In the most simple terms, a healthcare proxy names someone (an agent) that can make decisions for you should you be in a position where you are unable to do so.
This also dictates who can make decisions should the first person, say your partner, is also incapable of making these decisions.
A Durable Power of Attorney names another person, although this could be the same as your proxy, to decide financial decisions in the event that you are incapacitated.
What does this mean for your child? The agent given Power of Attorney may be working closely with your designated Guardian in financial matters relating to your child.
Guardianship documents identify who exactly would care for your child. This could potentially be right after any incidents where you can no longer care for them.
The scary thing is, when guardianship documents are missing, custody of your child could go to and be decided by probate court. To me that sounds dark and cold and bureaucratic and I would rather limit the amount of strife (when clearly something tragic just occured).
Thinking about Guardianship
On another note, deciding guardianship isn’t just to clear things up quickly. This legal document could potentially prevent future family feuds.
My son, for example, has seven grandparents: SEVEN! God forbid if something happened to me and husband, I would roll around in my grave thinking of all those well-intentioned, loving yet very different individuals attempting to decide what is best for my son. I would rather make that decision now!
Some things to think about when naming guardians of your child:
- Think of a stable, consistent, healthy home.
- Do they know this family?
- Is it far or in the same city?
- Does this person or couple have kids already or would your child fit into their lifestyle?
- Do you have the same parenting style?
- Would they abide by your parenting wishes?
Guardianship can always change and adapt as you do. You may move and meet new friends or live too far from family.
Remember also that just because you have a will, doesn’t mean that your family may automatically know what your wishes are. It is OK to talk about these things!
Make sure that your Power of Attorney or another relative has in writing your requests for after-life care (burial, cremation, ceremony, etc).
By taking decisions away from the grieving, you continue to care for the ones you love.
Setting up a Trust as a Parent
The last item you may want to discuss with your estate lawyer is setting up a trust.
While this sounds fancy (and only something rich people do) it is practical if you have young children.
n my mind, this is a place where my money would go (think savings accounts, retirement funds, etc), where my Power of Attorney would have decisions over and your Guardian could draw from (to cover expenses for your child). There are many ways to set this up and many conditions you can place on it.
For example, say you have $20,000 and your will states this money goes to your child. If your child is 19, you may not want a teenager handling that amount of money. You MAY wish for that money to be allotted slowly or by the discretion of a trusted relative or friend (aka your power of attorney).
A trust may or may not be for you but definitely worth the discussion.
Now cost may be prohibitive here. Obviously hiring a lawyer is not cheap.
For my husband and I, we set aside money from our tax return to cover this cost. I feel as if was an investment not only in my child’s hypothetical future (should I be gone) but the cost of my peace of mind (that I can enjoy while I am still alive!).
I am sure these prices may change depending on where you live and what, if all, of the above suggestions you go with, but everything, including setting up a trust, came to $1700.
Again, you may be reading this through bloodshot eyes while nursing a newborn and thinking how crazy I am.
But, I do believe that by establishing these documents, you are truly offering one of the most selfless things you could do as a parent.
The best part is, you can do this at any time. While I highly suggest sooner than later, the offer does not run out.
My advice? Prepare for all outcomes, even the ones where you won’t be able to see the happy endings.
Claire LaFrance is a mom to her first (human) child, 6-month-old son Cassidy, along with her dog, Ruffy, and cat, Roo. She is a non-profit professional working as communications director for an international animal welfare organization that rescues and rehabilitates animals all over the world. Claire is based out of Boston, Massachusetts and is a part-time writer, wanderlust traveler, amateur photographer, weekend gardener, avid volunteer and fitness hobbyist.