Baby on board? It's time to check the lifeboats
"A baby will make love stronger, days shorter, nights longer, bankroll smaller, home happier, clothes shabbier, the past forgotten, and the future worth living for." -- Author unknown
Congratulations! You're having a baby. It's so exciting, and nerve-racking and fun, and OMG how are we going to do this?
You're picking out a crib, wondering which diapers to use and choosing a color to paint the room. But there is something more important than all of that. You need to make sure your baby will be cared for even if you are not here.
Bringing a child into the world means you care for that child, and caring means making sure he or she will be cared for no matter what happens to you.
Did you know that, according to the Orphan Society of America, almost 3 million children are living without parents in the United States? Did you know that 4.1 percent of the children in the United States are parentless?
Suppose a young couple has a 3-year-old. Tragically, both parents are killed in a car accident. Their families try to figure out what is best for the child.
Imagine the grandparents and aunts and uncles who could be pushing for guardianship of the child. The potential for disagreement is obvious.
Without a will, where the parents choose a guardian, any family member could create litigation that is costly and detrimental to the child and puts a strain on family relationships.
The first order of business is to make a will. Maybe you don't have many assets, but you do have something very valuable -- your baby.
The most important thing you must do in a will is to name guardians. These named individuals are your choice of who will care for and raise your child if you can't. You can even specifically exclude someone from caring for the children.
This is not something you want to leave up to the county judge. You and you alone are in the best position to determine who should take over as parent and who will provide the best care for your child. There are many considerations, including the guardian's financial habits, place of residence, health and lifestyle and religious beliefs, to name a few.
Remember to ask your proposed guardians if they are willing to serve. While a person may seem like a perfect fit, he or she might not be ready or willing to be a parent. It's important to make sure that the person would be OK with the potential relationship.
Also consider whether or not your preferred guardian has children of his or her own. How many children is it good to have in the household?
Any assets you can leave for your child should be held in trust. If you die without a will and your child inherits, there will have to be a court-appointed guardian to handle the child's inheritance. This is expensive, burdensome and not what most parents want.
When you make your will, choose a trustee to manage the child's inheritance. It may be the same person or persons you name as guardian, but it does not have to be. Sometimes you know someone who will be a great substitute parent, but not such a great financial manager, or vice versa. It's fine to have different people in each role.
Don't worry. You won't have to change your will every time you have a new addition to the family. Wills are drafted to include future contingencies such as the birth of additional children.
You also need to make a Power of Attorney for financial matters and a Health Care Power of Attorney and Medical Directive (or Living Will).
If you get hit by a truck, what will happen to your family? Life insurance is an important consideration for young families.
Thinking about life insurance isn't easy. It forces you to imagine your own death and leaving loved ones behind. Difficult as it is, it's crucial to consider, especially once you become a parent.
By planning for the unthinkable, you can ensure that if you die or become disabled, your family will be able to pay for food, housing and health care; handle debts and major expenses (including college tuition); and, generally, maintain the lifestyle to which they're accustomed.
Finally, it's never too early to start saving for college. Section 529 College Savings Plans provide for tax-free growth for funds used for qualified higher education expenses.
Anyone can open a 529 account. If parents are unable to create one when their baby is born, they can include instructions to fund contributions from life insurance.