Yes, you probably need a will. Having a baby may make you think about how you can protect your child if you’re not around. A will lets you name a guardian to take care of your child if you die while they’re still a minor. But a will is just the first step toward protecting your child.
Parents can nominate a guardian to care for their child if they die while their child is under 18. This nomination doesn’t automatically grant custody of your child to the guardian you named. But, it lets the court know your wishes, which it will strongly consider when making the decision about who should care for your child.
If you are married to your child’s other parent, that parent will generally be able to continue raising your child. Likewise, if you share custody of your child with the other parent, the other parent will likely be the one appointed to raise your child. However, if the other parent only has visitation rights or doesn’t have a meaningful relationship in your child’s life, he or she might not automatically be awarded full custody. If you don’t think the other parent is safe to raise your child or you and the other parent die in the same accident, you can nominate the person you want to raise your child. Some parents write a letter or sign an affidavit that explains why they don’t want the other parent to raise their child and attach it to the will.
Additionally, a will explains where your property will go after you pass, including bank accounts, vehicles, jewelry, money, collections, photos and other property. You can leave everything to one person like your spouse or divide it between multiple people or charities. Children can’t directly inherit property. If you leave anything to your child, it will have to be through a property custodian, someone who legally holds the property on behalf of the child, or trustee, someone who holds property according to the terms of a trust. The guardian taking care of your child does not have to be the same person who takes care of the property.
If you die without a will, your property might not go to the people you want, and your child might not be cared for by the person you believed would do the best job. Expensive court proceedings may be necessary to appoint a special administrator to control the child’s property until they become a legal adult. Your child might not even have access to this money until they are 18. The court might appoint someone to raise your children, based on what the judge believes is best for your children.
Quicken’s WillMaker Plus walks you through the basics and lets you build a customized estate plan based on your particular needs.
Naming a guardian for your children is one of the most decisions you can make. You may know automatically who you would want to raise your child in the worst-case scenario. However, if you are unsure, consider the following characteristics of potential guardians to narrow in on who you should name:
When you make a decision, talk to the potential guardian and make sure they are up for the job. You should also name an alternate guardian in case the person you name dies before you or circumstances change that prevent your first choice from being able to take on this role.
Now that you’ve got the most important thing out of the way, some other arrangements to take care of as soon as possible include:
Life insurance is often the best way to protect your child’s financial future. A good rule of thumb is to multiply your annual salary by ten to get the amount of life insurance you need. However, consider your family’s actual needs, debt and the desire to pay for large expenses like a home or college tuition when selecting the appropriate amount of insurance.
You can set up a custodial account for your children. These accounts are governed by the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act, which most states recognize. They are special accounts that control a child’s money until they turn 18. You can name the person you want to manage the account if you pass away. Once your child turns 18, the account will be transferred to your child.
Another option is to set up a trust. A trust is a document that explains how you want your property held in trust managed for your beneficiaries. You can set up the trust to provide for your health and welfare during your lifetime. It can also include instructions about how to use the trust funds after your death. You can state when you want your child to receive distributions, such as with lump sums when they reach a certain age like 18 or 30, or through periodic payments for their health, welfare and education as they arise. Trusts allow you to think about how you would want your child to benefit from your money while a baby, a teenager and as an adult. You can use the Nolo Online Living Trust to draft a customized trust.
Some property doesn’t pass through a will. For example, your life insurance and retirement accounts go to the person you name on a beneficiary designation form. You can name your trust as the beneficiary of these funds so that they can be used to help provide for your children.
A power of attorney is a document which gives a person you name (the agent) the right to manage your property and act on your behalf. Having a power of attorney can allow someone to step in and make sure your children are supported and your bills are paid if you can’t do this for yourself.
As you have more children or go through other life events, you will need to update your plan. You can use Nolo’s codicil to make small changes to your will, or you can make a completely new will. You can also discuss your changing estate planning needs with a local estate planning attorney in your area.