Starting a family is an exciting, chaotic, adventurous time. Sometimes it’s planned. Sometimes it’s a pleasant (or terrifying) surprise. In all cases, it results in the creation of a life for whom you are physically, emotionally, financially, and legally responsible. Super exciting to take that on, right? There are enough challenges to being a new parent, so follow these steps to tackle the basic legal considerations that arise when you start a family.
1. Have a Plan. “Nothing Bad Will Ever Happen” is not a plan. Do you hear me? I really hope you’re right. I hope nothing bad ever happens. I hope you live to be 110 and meet your great, great grandchildren. But think for one second about the unimaginable. Don’t leave it up to the courts or your grieving family to make the tough decisions. Getting a simple estate plan put together doesn’t take much time or effort these days. Similarly, if you and your partner are not married, if you’re in a same-sex relationship and only one (or neither) of you is the biological parent, or if you plan to adopt or use a surrogate, it is wise to seek legal counsel regarding your respective rights and obligations. It’s easy to assume everything will go smoothly, but having a written plan ahead of time can minimize conflict—and legal costs—down the road.
‘Nothing Bad Will Ever Happen’ is not a plan.
2. Talk About it. No one ever wants to talk about such a morbid subject, but this can’t be stressed enough. Who do you want to take care of your children if something happens? Consider distance to their current lives (can they stay at the same school, on the same soccer teams, with the same friends?), financial capability (will your financially-strapped sibling really be able to feed two more kids?), and living situation (your cousin and his three kids in a 2-bedroom apartment probably can’t accommodate more). But perhaps most importantly, talk to those people you want to leave in charge. Ultimately, if it came to it, they could decline in the moment, but don’t assume your parents, sibling, or friend would do it without asking. It’s an incredible responsibility, and you owe it to the prospective guardians to talk about it.
3. Update, Update, Update. Did you have a second (or third, fourth, fifth) child? Add them to the estate plan. Did your chosen guardians move out of state, get divorced, get too old or change financial positions in a way that makes you want a different guardian for your children? Make the change. Sometimes when the oldest child turns 18, parents opt to name that child guardian of any remaining minors, but this should not be taken lightly, and a separate financial guardian should remain in place at least until the oldest is capable of making long-term financial decisions for all the children.
With any luck, your documents will collect dust in a drawer in your house (though you should probably tell someone where to find them if needed) and you’ll kiss some money goodbye on the preparation fees, but the peace of mind knowing your children will be properly cared for in a worst case scenario is worth every penny.
Obligatory Disclaimer: Did you like what you just read? I’m glad! But please know this post is for information purposes only and is not considered legal advice, nor does this create an attorney-client relationship. Head over to my legal blog to check out other relevant information and contact me through there if you want to discuss your legal needs.