Starting a family brings a flurry of responsibilities. As a soon-to-be-new parent or grandparent, making preparations for your estate and advising your children to do so is crucial in protecting yourself and your family.
Estate planning for new families is less about division of assets and more about ensuring that the people you love will be taken care of if something should happen. Rest assured that estate planning choices made as new parents are not set in stone. Circumstances change, and you should always feel free to reach out to an advisor to assist with modifying provisions in your will. Estate planning safeguards ensure your wishes are carried out should tragedy arise and provide you and your family invaluable peace of mind.
Preparing a Will
A Last Will and Testament, or will, is a legal document where you, the testator, designate who will handle your estate after you die and direct that person as to how to handle certain components of your estate. Your estate consists of major assets like your home and smaller items such as jewelry and photographs. A will is not in effect unless the testator passes away, so changes are always an option.
Putting a will in place will ensure that, upon your passing, decisions regarding asset distribution and the care of your children are not left to a judge. If a person dies without a will, each state follows its own intestacy laws which predetermine the distribution of assets. In Indiana, a probate judge will first distribute to your surviving spouse and children, with more complicated formulas in place if you have no surviving close relatives.
Many clients ask us whether they should utilize online do-it-yourself will packages. Unfortunately, using these automated forms will largely fail to account for the individualized, unique needs of each person and family. Further, involving a lawyer or financial advisor in preparing your will invites strategic counsel regarding long-term options, such as living trusts for your heirs. In addition, each state has unique requirements for a will to be valid, which online packages may not account for.
Choosing an Executor
When crafting your will, you must choose an Executor. The Executor is appointed to ensure that the provisions of your will are appropriately carried out after your death. If you do not appoint an executor, the probate court will appoint an administrator in that capacity. An administrator likely would be a stranger to you and your family and may make decisions about your estate that you and your family oppose.
When choosing an executor, remember that this person will be responsible for carrying out your wishes. You may choose co-executors and designate specific responsibilities. You may hire a paid executor based on particular expertise. You may also choose a family member or friend–the best advice is to choose the person you believe to be capable of fulfilling the role. An Executor will need to settle all outstanding debts, coordinate with plan providers and insurance companies, and complete a large amount of paperwork. An Executor will also have to respond to family members who may have questions and concerns about the process and the outcome.
Whomever you choose, consider naming an alternative Executor in the event your first choice is unable or unwilling to act in the role.
Some forms of property typically aren’t covered by wills, such as insurance policies and retirement funds. Reach out to an advisory to ensure you have listed beneficiaries on your various policies. If at any time you need to modify your beneficiary list, a HighTower advisor can easily make that change for you with your provider.
Selecting a Guardian
For new families, one of the most important estate planning choices is the choice of a guardian. A guardian is the person who will care of your children if you are no longer able to. If a guardian is not appointed, the decision of where your children will live and who will care for them will be left to a probate judge. Typically, the judge will choose a family member, but in the event of a dispute, children could temporarily be placed in the custody of Child Protective Services. Undoubtedly, the best person to make this decision is you. Pre-selecting a guardian also allows you to have a conversation with the chosen person about the responsibility you are bestowing upon him or her. Make arrangements for that conversation in order to feel secure that the person is willing and prepared to raise your children in your stead.
Your goals and dreams change. Financial products do not. Clients work with us because we don’t sell products – we create customized plans based on each client’s unique goals, and we continuously reevaluate client plans to ensure they are aligned with changing needs. Our clients rely on us to protect their futures, and we take their trust to heart.
Tim Scannell, CPA, CFP® provides Personal and Business Tax Planning, Estate Planning, Investment Management, and Generational Wealth management to his clients. “Clients work with us because we don’t sell products – we create customized plans based on each client’s unique goals, and we continuously reevaluate client plans to ensure they are aligned with changing needs. Our clients rely on us to protect their futures, and we take their trust to heart.