Disclaimer: This post is part of a paid partnership with Weisinger Law Firm, written by Olivia Weisinger.
August 11, 2013: The day everything changed. Even today it’s hard to describe the absolute joy that Charlie and I felt as we welcomed our first baby into this world…and the absolute terror that set in once we got back home. How on earth were we going to pull this off? Looking back, I guess we did OK: Jack is a healthy, rambunctious five-year-old and the chief of our merry band of little Weisingers.
Recently we sat down to update our estate plan, and it reminded me how overwhelming the process felt that first time we did it after having Jack. As daunting as it first seemed, the relief we felt in knowing that we had created the best possible solution gave us such peace. Have you been putting off an estate plan because you’re not sure what you need? This post will help you get started!
1. Develop a will.
The will is the portion of the estate plan that people most often think about: Where do I leave my stuff and who will take care of my kids? Because we don’t like to think about death, it is easy to put this preparation off until we have our first baby. I mean, who really cares who gets the couch and the car? But my baby?! That’s important!
The birth of a child is a big motivator to face these daunting documents. After completing the process, most of us realize this process was much easier than first expected and actually pretty important even before that baby came along. For example, the couple who bought a house together before they were married may find out after losing a spouse that his parents own part of their home if they pass without a will. (Full disclosure: I’m not the attorney, so don’t ask me all the details… I just live with one and hear his stories.)
2. Don’t forget about the “Other Documents”:
Durable Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, HIPAA Release, Directive to Physicians, Declaration of Guardian (for you), and Appointment of Guardian (for your children). A complete estate plan is more than a will. These other documents are so important that Weisinger Law Firm considers it a disservice to draft a will without addressing these other documents. Why? These documents provide structure in the event you become incapacitated.
A will, on the other hand, only takes effect upon death. After hearing plenty of stories about how unexpected accidents can create chaos, I’m a big believer that every adult needs these documents.
After all, what would happen if I had a car accident and was in the hospital for a month? Who would pay my rent so that I had a house to return to when I got out of the hospital? Who would make medical decisions on my behalf if I were unconscious or too drugged to respond? It may be sobering to consider whom you would put in charge in a worst-case scenario, but it’s an hour of time and you’re done!
3. If you don’t name a guardian, the court will.
Aye yai yai! If this doesn’t scare you, I’m pretty sure you don’t have a fear gene. It’s true: if you don’t have a plan in place, the court decides where your kids go—and they don’t spend time getting to know your family before making that decision. If your family has any little secrets or you have any reasons you don’t want Uncle Bob or Aunt Susan to take your kids, you better make a plan for an alternative.
I’ll be honest, this section is the hardest for me to write about. I have a workable solution with people I love and respect. But, they. aren’t. me. Call me selfish, but I want to raise my kids my way. That said, I’ve learned to create the best possible solution and then, prepare to live. Having a second-best plan is better than leaving it all up to a court that knows nothing about you, your kids, or your family dynamics.
4. Review your insurance.
In our home, the conversation surrounding guardianship always leads to a life insurance review. Why? I can’t imagine anything more stressful than one of my family members having to take our four kids and not having resources to accommodate the overnight growth of their family. My family most likely would have to build a larger home or move, pay for my burial, deal with minimizing and selling my home, on top of all the daily needs my kids might need, like food and clothes.
Plus, I would imagine my family would need to take some time off work to accommodate these four rambunctious boys. They might need to seek grief counseling or take a vacation to begin to bond and relax after the whirlwind they have experienced. At this point, I would not be able to be physically present, but I am able now to ease my family’s suffering by making sure they have resources to deal with the circumstances life has handed to them. After all, I would want them to do more than just survive after my passing—I would want them to thrive.
Most life insurance is not that expensive, and it is such a gift to those left behind. Armed with the proper coverage, I can rest knowing that if something horrible happens, my family can focus on loving and caring for my babies.
5. Make a plan and then relax!
Estate planning conversations are never easy, but once we get through them I can breathe a huge sigh of relief. We did it! We will take care of our babies no matter what life throws at us! Then, I place the plan on my shelf and go back to enjoying all the little things my babies are doing now.