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The Four Legal Documents Every Family Needs

Build a legal family plan to protect your children.

The Four Legal Documents Every Family Needs

Do you ever think about what would happen to your kids if something happened to you and you were no longer around to take care of them? There are things you can do to protect them in that devastating circumstance.

No parent likes to think about it, but putting a legal plan in place for your family is incredibly important to protecting your children. While the idea of estate planning can be daunting, learning what you need to put in place – and why – is a good way to get started. Below is a list of four key legal documents that can protect your kids from a world full of trouble if something happened to you.

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1. Will with Guardianship Designation. Most people know that a will directs who would receive your assets upon your death. When you have young children, however, the most important part of your will is often the provision that designates a guardian – the person who would be granted legal custody of your kids if neither parent were alive.

In the absence of guardianship designation in a will, a court would appoint a guardian without any input from you – and it might not be a person you would want to raise your kids. In the worst case scenario, family members could disagree on who would take custody of the child, and the court could send your children into foster care in the meantime. While rare, it does happen.

2. Trust. While many parents view trusts as tools of the ultra-wealthy, a trust can provide many important benefits for families with even modest assets. Children under the age of 18 aren’t legally capable of managing assets, so any inheritance they receive must be overseen by a court. Under this arrangement, detailed information about how much money is being held for your child, how it is invested, and how it is being spent is generally a matter of public record.

Leaving assets directly to your children has several other drawbacks as well. If you have more than one child, assets left to your children are divided equally among them, and assets allocated to one child cannot be used for the benefit of one of your other children. This arrangement can be disastrous if one child is injured or develops a serious illness, requiring additional financial support.

Finally, few parents would entrust an 18-year-old with a substantial amount of money, but that is exactly what can happen if assets are left to children outright. Access to an inheritance at a young age can result in bad spending habits and a poor work ethic, sometimes doing more harm than good. A trust keeps matters of your child’s inheritance private and out of the public record. It allows you to appoint a trustee to administer the assets until your child reaches an age that you specify. If you have more than one child, the trustee can have discretion to allocate assets according to each child’s need, allowing for adjustments for unexpected medical or therapeutic expenses.

3. Temporary Guardianship Designation. A Standby Guardianship Designation, as a temporary guardian is called in New York, allows a designated person to act as guardian for your child in the event you are incapacitated. A temporary guardian can also serve to bridge the gap between the time a parent passes away and the time a guardian is formally appointed by a court.

Without legal authority, even a close relative is not authorized to enroll your child in school or authorize medical treatment. Nor are they technically authorized to care for your child, leaving the child open to being temporarily placed in state custody.

4. Power of Attorney. A Power of Attorney designates a trusted friend or family member to manage your affairs in the event you become incapacitated. The Power of Attorney allows your designated agent to take immediate action to manage your finances, ensuring that money is available to take care of important family expenses, such as your mortgage, utility bills, groceries, and childcare.

Estate planning can seem daunting – and even downright frightening – to parents with young children. No parent likes to think about what would befall their children if the parents weren’t there to take care of them. However, making sure your kids would be safe even in your absence is one of the best things you can do to protect them.

Shannon P. McNulty is an estate planning attorney in New York City. She is also the founder of Savvy-Parents.com, an online resource for parents about legal and financial planning.

Photography by Jonica Moore Studio for Well Rounded.

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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This is my one trick to get baby to sleep (and it always works!)

There's a reason why every mom tells you to buy a sound machine.

So in my defense, I grew up in Florida. As a child of the sunshine state, I knew I had to check for gators before sitting on the toilet, that cockroaches didn't just scurry, they actually flew, and at that point, the most popular and only sound machine I had ever heard of was the Miami Sound Machine.

I was raised on the notion that the rhythm was going to get me, not lull me into a peaceful slumber. Who knew?!

Well evidently science and, probably, Gloria Estefan knew, but I digress.

When my son was born, I just assumed the kid would know how to sleep. When I'm tired that's what I do, so why wouldn't this smaller more easily exhausted version of me not work the same way? Well, the simple and cinematic answer is, he is not in Kansas anymore.

Being in utero is like being in a warm, soothing and squishy spa. It's cozy, it's secure, it comes with its own soundtrack. Then one day the spa is gone. The space is bigger, brighter and the constant stream of music has come to an abrupt end. Your baby just needs a little time to acclimate and a little assist from continuous sound support.

My son, like most babies, was a restless and active sleeper. It didn't take much to jolt him from a sound sleep to crying like a banshee. I once microwaved a piece of pizza, and you would have thought I let 50 Rockettes into his room to perform a kick line.

I was literally walking on eggshells, tiptoeing around the house, watching the television with the closed caption on.

Like adults, babies have an internal clock. Unlike adults, babies haven't harnessed the ability to hit the snooze button on that internal clock. Lucky for babies they have a great Mama to hit the snooze button for them.

Enter the beloved by all—sound machines.

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What you need to know about President Trump's Supreme Court pick

The President has reportedly selected his third SCOTUS nominee.

President Donald Trump has chosen his third pick for the Supreme Court—and he picked a mom.

The New York Times reports President Trump is choosing Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee. An official statement is scheduled for Saturday.

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