Every Parent’s Guide to Estate Planning: Peace of Mind Made Easy
Strapping your screaming kid into a car seat, cajoling your frightened toddler into holding still for vaccines, listening to your sweet baby wail as you leave her for the first time in the care of someone else … These are the not so fun parts of parenthood. Yet, we do them, even though it’s hard, because we want our children to be safe, secure, and well cared for, no matter what. And that’s why you need to invest your resources in ensuring your children will be cared for in the event you cannot be there for them.
Many parents’ initial reaction to estate planning is… “I don’t want to talk about dying or getting sick!” Of course, none of us do. But the harsh reality is that some of us will not be here to raise our kids all the way through to adulthood and we need to prepare for that possibility.
It’s our responsibility to provide for our children, under all circumstances. A comprehensive estate plan – which takes into consideration all of the unique issues parents face – will help you do just that. It will also bring you the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your kids will be taken care of by the people you want, in the way you want, no matter what happens.
The truth is that a whopping 69% of parents do not have legal guardians in place for their kids. That was the case for Mr. and Mrs. Barbera, a young couple with three children from San Diego. They were on a road-trip through Arizona when a car accident left their boys parentless. Because this couple hadn’t legally documented their wishes, it was left up to a Court to decide who would care for their kids.
Seven lawyers representing several different family members, 18 months, tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars and one big family fight later, the boys are being raised by an Aunt. All of the family fighting, unnecessary costs and time in Court could have been avoided if Mr. and Mrs. Barbera had simply documented their wishes.
Those Six Common Mistakes Are:
- Naming a couple to act as guardians when you don’t really want both partners and/or failing to account for what happens in the event the couple separates, or one dies.
- Only naming one possible guardian…what if something happens to your first choice?
- Focusing only on financial resources when deciding who should raise your children. The guardians do not have to (and often should not) be the financial decision makers for your kids.
- Having only a will in place rather than a comprehensive estate plan that includes naming legal guardians. In these instances, the Court will distribute your money. It’s totally public and doesn’t protect your estate from lawsuits.
- Failing to exclude people who might challenge your guardian decisions or who you know you’d never want taking care of your kids.
- Only naming guardians for the long term and failing to arrange for the short term. If something happens to you and the permanent guardians are unable to immediately take custody of your kids, they will be turned over to child protective services. You don’t want your children in the arms of strangers, especially following a traumatic event.
Too often, parents ignore or postpone estate planning. Maybe this sounds familiar? “I’m too busy to think about it…” or “I’m young and healthy…I have nothing to worry about…” Or maybe they assume that they can’t afford an attorney. Others delay naming guardians because they can’t decide on the best candidates.
As a mother myself, I understand how emotional and challenging the process can be. But proper estate planning is the best way to minimize the uncertainty and fears that are associated with these topics. An effective plan will legally protect your children (and your property) in the event of your disability, incapacity or death. Most people find that it gives them peace of mind to go through the planning process, knowing that their wishes will be carried out in the event of an emergency. An estate plan is about protecting your hard-earned assets and your loved ones’ well-being. Spending some time and resources now will go a long way towards protecting your family. Parents need to view a proper estate plan as an investment in their family’s future, rather than a necessary evil.