You can’t imagine life without your child but you need to imagine what life without you could look like for him or her.
In this post you are going to learn:
- The definition of a will
- Basics of estate plans
- Why every family should prepare a will and estate plan – especially those with young children
- The basic information you need to consider for a will and/or estate plan
- Who can assist you with estate planning
Photo Credit: Sharon Mccutcheon via Unsplash
Disclaimer: I’m not offering legal advice or promoting an insurance company. This is not a sponsored post. My aim is to encourage parents to seek the appropriate resource to create a plan for the possibility of difficult circumstances (death or illness) that could impact family members and minors. See my disclaimer policy for more information.
Let’s get started.
WHEN DO PARENTS NEEED TO BEGIN ESTATE PLANNING?
Parents need a will and/or estate plan right now.
Thinking about major injuries, illness, or death can feel uncomfortable; however, we need to get uncomfortable so that we can get prepared (as much as possible) for a future we will never be able to predict.
What do I mean?
In recent history, we have experienced drought, large fires, floods, racial unrest, and a pandemic. While many of these happenstances aren’t novel, no one could have predicted that each issue would be impacting the lives of millions of people at once. As a result, people are coming to understand that it only takes one unfortunate event to create a series of difficult family hardships.
This realization should have all parents asking this question:
What would life be like for my child if something happened to me?
In the event of your death or serious illness, how would your partner, surviving spouse, and children manage without knowing your final wishes? If you have never considered the answer to this question, now is the time.
Imagine the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you did everything you could to take care of your child – no matter the circumstance. That is what estate planning is all about.
What is an estate?
For many, the word ‘estate’ conjures thoughts of a large parcel of land sometimes with a large established home that is owned by a person or family. This is one meaning of the word estate but another understanding of the world estate is simply everything you own or “all the money and property owned by a particular person, especially at death” (source).
What is an estate plan?
Estate planning is the process of making arrangements for everything you own (your assets) and who will take care of your responsibilities if you get seriously ill or die.
How is an estate plan different from a simple will?
Good question. I had this question too.
A will is a legal document that outlines various instructions on how you want the things you own distributed, guardianship of minor children, beneficiaries, and it can include other last wishes (cremation, funeral, etc).
Related: Introduction to Wills
According to lexology.com “Both [wills and estates plans] provide your relatives with instructions about how your property should be handled after your death, but estate planning goes even further to outline your wishes regarding your health, finances, and more, even while you’re living” (source).
Essentially, an estate plan is a comprehensive plan to secure and manage your assets and it can include a will and a trust.
Need a visual? I like to think of simple wills as the burger at the fast-food joint and the estate plan as the full combo that includes a burger, fries, drink, and maybe even a cookie.
Who needs an estate planner?
Me. You. Every parent.
Of course, this is my opinion and you should talk with a specialist in this area to determine how to best support your family.
Who benefits from estate plans?
Grappling with loss is difficult. Adding a component of trying to figure out what your loved one would have wanted and how to manage all the decision-making, well – that’s even more challenging.
We can support our families by removing planning and possibility financial burdens from the equation.
Does anyone truly know what you want when it comes to last wishes? Death and loss are not topics that typically come up during brunch or holiday dinners – if ever.
The ability to contribute to the decision-making details of who will take over the care of your children, how you want assets to be disbursed (even to grown children), and other last wishes is an opportunity. Taking advantage of the opportunity while we can is a must.
Let’s eliminate families struggling with the finances of burying loved ones or arguing over remaining assets.
Estate plans can benefit spouses, partners, future guardians, other relatives, and most importantly our minor children or those with special needs – the people who are most vulnerable in these circumstances.
Steps to begin estate planning
1. Have a conversation with your partner/relevant family members, or answer the question for yourself, “What would happen to our family if…”
- one parent/guardian passed away?
- both parents/guardians passed away?
- one or both parents got seriously ill or incapacitated?
2. Decide your preferred guardian or caregiver for minor children or adult children who will need care.
3. Consider who you would trust to be the executor of your estate, a limited power of attorney, powers of attorney, or healthcare proxy (medical care/medical decisions).
4. Asses your financial situation. Put together a detailed inventory of assets (tangible and intangible) and debts. Think about distribution of your assets (to whom and when). This can be a complicated process, especially when young children (minor) are involved.
5. Evaluate life insurance needs based on up-to-date financial and medical personal information.
6. Review financial accounts and ensure that beneficiaries and contingent beneficiaries are assigned – as appropriate.
Think about it. Have you updated that retirement account with new beneficiary designations at work since the birth of a child? Are there other necessary changes that need to be made?
7. Consider your state of residence and state laws as you plan. Yes, different states have different laws to consider when it comes to estate planning (think – probate proceedings you want to avoid, inheritance taxes, estate taxes, etc.). Look up information about trusts and other state laws that may apply.
8. Take into account digital assets. Ugh, I know but we have online accounts, social media accounts, email, and perhaps more.
Be sure to keep all this personal and sensitive information in a safe place.
The above steps are some things you can do as you begin thinking about your estate plan; however, having someone who understands estate plans and puts them together for a living is a valuable resource. That’s why the last step in this section is…
9. Reach out to a specialist/attorney to determine the best plan of action for the needs of YOUR family. Find someone who is willing to educate and guide you to make the best informed decisions.
Why talking with an experienced will and trust attorney is useful
Putting together an estate plan is a detailed and comprehensive process that requires making medical decisions and financial decisions that will have a direct impact on your family’s lives.
The process can involve getting your life insurance in order, different types of will, trusts, assigning power of attorney, healthcare proxy, collecting retirement account documents, bank account information, real estate deeds, and other important documents.
This is a comprehensive planning process that is best achieved with professional support.
Most parents including my husband and me had no idea where to begin. Thankfully, there are professionals that specialize in helping families with estate plans. You could use online templates, a search on Google and you find tons; however, an estate attorney in your state can offer moral support, keep you task, offer specific advice, and answer follow-up questions about your unique circumstances.
Legacy and Estate Planning Takeaway
At the very least, a will is an important tool to have in place for your family, dying without one is legally termed dying intestate and the laws of your state will determine what happens to your estate (everything you own and perhaps guardianship of minor children).
There are online sources to help you create simple wills, check out Mama Bear Legal Forms ; however, a comprehensive estate plan that is updated as your life changes may be the best gift you can give your family, when they are already dealing with heart-breaking loss.
If you want to create an estate plan, get with a professional in your area. Psst…some legal professionals offer free consultations!
This isn’t an easy topic but I’m passionate about letting moms know about every tool that will serve their families well – in life and in death.
I pray no parent ever has to live a day without their children but I recently had a college friend die unexpectedly with two children under the age of eight. No one could have predicted what happened to her and her youth made it seem unlikely.
Photo Credit: Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash
Don’t wait to do what you can to take care of your family now.
Have you created a legal will or estate plan? If so, how was the process?
If you haven’t created an estate plan yet are you motivated to get it done asap?