You’ve done it. You’ve taken the leap into parenthood. You didn’t quite understand the amount of responsibility that came with becoming a parent until you saw that little squishy face. Then—wham. So much to think about, so much to plan for: how to feed the baby, when to sleep train, and how to wrap a baby carrier. (It’s complicated.)
Just as important as newborn care 101 is making sure that you and your partner have covered important legal considerations for your growing family.
These are tough—but essential—conversations to have that help protect your child no matter what happens.
As a lawyer and mom, I understand what it takes to protect your family legally—and how gut-wrenching these conversations can be.
I want to make these conversations easier for new parents to have.
Here are the 5 essential legal questions you should ask yourselves when you’re pregnant or a parent—
1. Have we named a long-term guardian?
No parent ever wants to plan for what happens to their kids if they were to die or become unable to care for their children. But having the courage to have these conversations is one of the most important things you can do for your kids. 69% of people have not named legal guardians for their children—meaning if something were to happen to them, their children are at risk of going into state or local care without a clear guardian plan in place. To avoid this, you must sit down and have the difficult discussion about who you want to raise your child in the event you can’t. I know this is hard to talk about. It will be difficult. No one will raise your children the exact way you would. There is no replacement for you. But this difficult conversation is a wonderfully brave way you can prepare your family for your worst-case scenario.
2. Have we named a temporary guardian?
So many of the people that do think of naming a guardian only consider long-term care, but what about the short term? In the case that you were unable to make it home from work to pick up the kids or relieve the babysitter, who would care for your children? In the event that you and your husband finally get that date night you’ve been longing for, and God forbid end up in an accident and are unable to get to the kids, what happens? It is so important, and in fact necessary, that you plan for such unlikely events so that your children don’t end up being dragged into the system. Aim for someone trustworthy and easily accessible to make sure your children can be cared for in the event that you and/or your partner become incapacitated.
3. Does our caregiver know what to do in an emergency?
Your caregiver needs proper instructions in the event of an emergency. Does your babysitter know who your named guardians are? How to find their contact info? Do they know where your guardianship papers are so that they can provide them to the authorities if necessary? Your children will only end up with the guardians you select if the caregiver is aware of the named guardians and has access to the paperwork. You can download and use my Caregiver Emergency Sheet.
4. Have we thought about more than financial resources when naming guardians?
Most people I talk to about naming guardians are most concerned with how their children will be brought up, with common concerns being religious, political and spiritual beliefs. Yet, their initial instinct is to choose someone with the financial resources to raise their children. While being able to financially support your child is definitely an issue, your goal should be to name someone that alleviates your fears about not being able to raise your children yourself. This often leads to a choice—usually the right choice—of someone who will raise your child the closest to how you would if you were able. If you can, choose a person who shares your values.
5. Have we put a complete Estate Plan in place?
A will is not enough. That little squishy face that changed your entire life will not be completely protected by a will alone. It’s best to have a complete estate plan in place, including a trust that will pass assets privately to named trustees that you choose in advance.
It may seem like something you don’t need to worry about because odds are, nothing will happen. Or it may seem like a daunting task to think of how you want to address these topics. However, the truth is that if you think about it for just a short time and take a small amount of time out of your day, you can ensure your children are protected for a lifetime. I wouldn’t want anything less for my children and think it’s safe to say you feel the same.
To help you start thinking about your choices, you can download the 6 Common Mistakes Parents Make when Choosing a Guardian.