Reviewing Your Estate Planning Documents

As a mother-to-be, I’ve been busy attending childbirth classes, touring daycare centers, preparing the nursery and selecting a pediatrician. There are still quite a few things to be done as the birth of my first child approaches – and not all of them have to do with painting, getting enough rest and preparing physically and mentally for the reality of caring for a new life.

One of the most important tasks I still need to accomplish before the big day is review and revise my estate planning documents.

It’s a good habit to set now: reviewing estate documents should be done in anticipation of (or just after) major life events – and the birth of my first child is a major life event!

Estate planning documents typically include Power of Attorney, Living Will / Advanced Healthcare Directive, and Last Will and Testament. They exist to ensure my best interests are considered and obeyed in the event I am unable to make those decisions on my own.

Since this is my first child, I need to revise my Last Will and Testament to include my child. This accomplishes two things: lists my child as a beneficiary in the Will portion of the document and designates who will serve as guardian in the event that my husband and I should both pass away.

Guardians come in two flavors: Guardian of Person and Guardian of Estate. A Guardian of Person is tasked with making decisions regarding the upbringing and welfare of the child, including all educational, medical and spiritual decisions. A Guardian of Estate makes financial decisions for the child until he or she reaches the age of 18. In most cases, the same individual is designated as Guardian of Person and Guardian of Estate, although you may decide, in consultation with your attorney, that designating two separate persons will serve the best interests of your children.

Selecting a guardian is a major decision, and it shouldn’t be treated lightly. After all, we’re talking about the welfare of your children should something happen to you and your spouse. Don’t rush into a decision and carefully consider who would provide the care for your children in accordance with your wishes.

When selecting a potential guardian, consider the following questions.

  • Who is most able to take on the responsibility of caring for a child? This includes emotionally, financially and physically.
  • Does the person already have children of their own?
  • Would the child have to move far away from home?
  • Does the child feel comfortable with this person?
  • Does this person have similar parenting style, values, and religious beliefs as you?

One final thought: be sure to talk with the person you are designating as guardian, and make certain they are comfortable with your decision. Some people may be unwilling to accept the enormous responsibility that comes with being named a Guardian of Person and Guardian of Estate.

When reviewing your estate planning documents, one should also review their beneficiary designations for assets, such as: life insurance, individual retirement accounts, and 401(K) plans. These assets typically do not pass through the Last Will and Testament and will instead have beneficiary designations, which indicate who will receive the asset upon your death.

If you have any questions or concerns with your estate planning documents, consult with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

This article was written by Associate Attorney Jennifer M. Merx.

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