Few life stages are as simultaneously joyful and stressful as becoming a parent. Along with the emotional highs of this new stage, comes the practical reality that your new family requires you to ensure their health and safety. And while no one likes or wants to think about how your family would be able to cope if you were to pass away, these details are part of that necessary, practical planning process.
Estate planning is often considered a topic for “older” adults, but the fact is, new parents are equally – or maybe even more – in need of ensuring their wishes are known and documented.
For new parents and young families, the most important pieces of an estate plan are:
A Last Will and Testament is the primary tool you have for deciding how your family would be cared for if you die. For parents, the primary purpose of your will is to name guardians for your children. Most people who avoid this topic will tell you that no one will raise their children as good as they would. And while that may be true, your will is your only chance to have a say in this decision, that will otherwise be left up to the courts if you were to die. So while it’s not a fun topic to think about, it is extremely important to document your wishes.
Your will also allows you to name secondary and tertiary guardians, and of course to communicate to whom or where your money and other property would go to. A common strategy is to create provisions for a testamentary trust inside of your will. By doing this, money you leave behind would go into a trust for your children and you would appoint someone to be in charge of it for them. This makes sure that there is both money available for your children and someone you trust there to manage it.
Health Care Proxy
A health care proxy is a document that specifies who you choose as the person allowed to make medical decisions for you while you are living, in case you are in a situation where you are not able to communicate your wishes, for example, a coma or prolonged unconscious state. Though hard to think about, this too is an important document that can provide clear cut direction about your wishes in the case that you are unable to express them, and can eliminate the need for courts to step in to make decisions that you may not have chosen to make.
Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney is similar to a health care proxy, though not for medical wishes but for financial ones. This document allows you to name the person you would trust to pay bills and take over other financial responsibilities if you are unable to do so. You have the choice to put conditions on the handling of your finances, so that the person may manage your finances while traveling, or ill, or at all times if you wish.
Different from your will which specifies what to do with what you leave behind, a living will specifies the decisions you would make regarding medical life support if you are unable to communicate them. A living will not only documents what you want in an end of life situation, but also provides your family emotional relief from having to make difficult decisions for you without knowing what your choices would be.
These four items make up your basic estate plan. A Massachusetts estate planning attorney can help create these for you, providing peace of mind for new parents, allowing you to focus more on the excitement of your new adventure.
If you have previously had these documents drawn up for you, it is highly worth revisiting them to ensure that the addition of children to your family has not dramatically altered your choices, which is often the case in many new families.
For more information on these topics or to discuss your estate planning needs, please contact Matthew Karr at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617.299.6976.