By Megan Gebhardt
A new child can mean new experiences, memories, fun – and increased responsibilities. Fortunately, we have organizations like PEPS in our area that help new parents grow our families, our communities, and connect us with the helpful resources essential to parenting through localized meetup groups and access to resources and educational information. For the past several years, PEPS has been hosting two annual community events focusing on estate planning essentials for parents. With honor, I have been the guest speaker since 2011, sharing my experience and expertise with families.
For parents, the idea of making a will can be overwhelming. We are busy and it doesn’t seem fun to plan for the unthinkable when there are bottles to be washed, lunches to be made, and schedules to orchestrate. Creating an estate plan, however, is one of the most important things you can do to make certain your child is cared for, if anything were to happen to you. A will can provide certainty and security to your family by naming a guardian for your child and securing the benefits you wish for those you love. A durable power of attorney can ensure that somebody can step in to manage your medical and financial decision-making, if you were to become temporarily or permanently incapacitated.
Oftentimes, the biggest hurdle can be in simply deciding who should take on these important roles in your estate planning documents. With that in mind, I would like to share with you my 6 tips to help you begin the process:
- Consider a Guardian for Your Child. You can legally nominate a guardian for your minor children in your will, meaning that guardian will attain custody of your child. It can be helpful to consider the age and health of the guardian, the physical location of the guardian, stability of the guardian. In addition, reflect on your personal parenting philosophy and how that might pair up with any prospective guardian, when thinking about your potential guardian nominees.
- Consider Your Child’s Financial Needs after Your Death. Using a children’s trust in your will prevents a child’s inheritance from being placed in a locked account controlled by the court. You have the opportunity to name a trustee of the trust who will be responsible for managing the funds that will be used to raise your child. You can even designate ages you would like your adult child to inherit the assets in the trust outright. For example, some parents find that 30 or 35 is a more appropriate age to inherit a lump sum of money than 21.
- Update Beneficiary Designations. Make sure that your beneficiary designations are up-to-date on life insurance policies, retirement accounts, or other beneficiary-designated assets, and that these designations match the plans of your will or trust.
- Create a Durable Power of Attorney for Medical and Financial Decisions. If you become disabled or incapacitated, a Durable Power of Attorney gives the person you designate, called your Agent, the power to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf as your Agent. You can nominate separate people to serve as Medical and Financial agent, and you can also name alternates to serve if your first choice is unable to do so. Absent of this document, the only alternative to naming someone to take on financial decisions for you is through a court-appointed guardian.
- Maintain an Inventory of Your Assets and Key Documents. Make it easy to determine what you have and where it is at, and don’t forget about digital assets: work product, intellectual property, and those digital photos. Keep a master list of accounts and assets owned, insurance policies held, and important legal documents. Let your partner/spouse and alternate Personal Representative and Agent named in your Durable Power of Attorney know where this list can be found. It has become increasingly difficult to determine what assets a person owned, when they pass away, as the majority of statements and tax forms are delivered electronically nowadays instead of by paper. So, keep an inventory as a guide!
- Complete your documents and keep your plan up to date: Each state has different, specific rules for how a will and other legal documents can be validly executed. Make sure that your documents comply. As for keeping your plan up-to-date, I recommend reviewing documents once a year. Some helpful questions that can determine the need to revise documents are:
- Do I have any new family members?
- Is anyone that is currently named in my documents no longer the appropriate choice for the role I have given them?
- Have my net worth and/or current state and federal estate tax thresholds changed significantly?
In life, there are many elements that are outside of our control. And in some areas, such as planning out our will, we can determine who will care for our children, how they can be taken care of financially, and what should become of our assets, eliminating uncertainties in the administration of one’s probate and end-of-life decisions. Completing the process of creating a will may seem daunting, but it can offer you peace of mind that you and your loved ones will receive proper care and assistance in the event of your death or incapacity. Take the steps today to take care of your little ones in the future.
About the Author
Megan is a former PEPS group participant, currently living in Seattle with her husband and two sons. She is the founder and owner of the Gebhardt Law Office and focuses her practice exclusively on estate planning. In her spare time, she generously volunteers as a Guest Speaker at PEPS Groups around the city and also sits on the Board of Directors for Junior Achievement of Washington and The Valley School. Megan is a passionate and enthusiastic supporter of PEPS, always recommending it as the first thing to sign up for when she finds out someone is expecting.