Now that baby is on the way, I want to write a will. How do I go about doing that?
You’re so smart for thinking about writing a will -- becoming a parent is the perfect time to do that. Although it’s kind of scary to think about the possibility of death, it’s so wise to plan ahead and make sure your baby is covered in any circumstance. By organizing and managing your assets through a will, you’ll ensure that, even if you aren’t around, the things you want to happen will happen. Take these important steps to create your will:
Know the Basics
There are three things to think about when drafting a will: the will itself, a healthcare proxy (aka living will) and a power of attorney.
The will is your plan for what will happen to your property -- and your child -- in the event of your death and puts an executor in charge of it. The executor, who you’ll name in your will, is the person who’ll manage your property and carry out the terms of the will. If you establish trusts under your will, the will would name a trustee. A properly drawn will also names a guardian for your minor child if you and your spouse were to die.
A healthcare proxy gives someone the ability to make medical decisions and act on your behalf if you are unable to because of medical reasons, such as if you’re in an accident and are unconscious.
A power of attorney gives someone the right to manage your property and act on your behalf for other legal or business affairs while you’re alive. Some moms-to-be want one of these in case they need to undergo surgery or are incapacitated for some reason.
It’s a good idea to start thinking about drafting a will in the early stages of pregnancy. That’s because you’ll need about a month or so to finalize the will and have time to go through it thoroughly. If you can, aim to have it done by the beginning of the third trimester, while you’re still feeling good and not stressed out with all your last minute to-dos.
Find an attorney to help guide you through the process. Sure, there are DIY will kits, but to cover all your bases, using a lawyer who knows the ins and outs of wills can be a huge help in the long run. It’s tempting to want to save money and use a kit, but the potential for something to go wrong with a self-drawn will is pretty great. Not sure where to find a lawyer? Ask friends and family for recommendations.
Think Long Range
Sure, you want to consider what would happen if you and your partner weren’t around to care for your baby as an infant -- but also think about what will happen as she grows older. You’ll want your plan to make sure that she’s cared for until she’s 21 -- or even older.
Be Smart About Guardianship
Think long and hard about who’s going to take care of your child. There are a lot of factors to consider, including a potential guardian’s age, place of residence, family ties, religious beliefs and child-rearing philosophy.
Get Your Finances In Order
Consider how exactly you’ll provide financially for baby in the event of your death -- it can be through assets you own, employee benefits or your 401(k). Is it enough to support her and pay for the things you want her to have, like a college education? If not, consider getting life insurance, and be sure you specify that your child or the guardian should receive its benefits in a document called a beneficiary designation. Some parents decide to establish a trust for a minor child instead of passing property or money to them directly. The trust can protect the money by specifying that baby gets it when she’s mature enough to handle it herself: Many parents choose age 21, but a trust can extend past that if you want. At the age you pick, the trust will end and the assets will be paid out to your child. If the child is given the money outright, it would typically be held in a custodial account, which generally must terminate by age 21.
Account for Your Spouse Too
For property and assets, is everything jointly held between you and your spouse? If not, a will is important to specify that your spouse will get everything that’s held in your name only, if that’s what you want. Otherwise, depending on your state’s laws, he may not.
Update It Regularly
Find a way to remind yourself to update your will as time goes on. Every five years is a good time frame, or whenever a major event occurs, such as a job change, the death of a loved one or the birth of another baby. Of course, if you properly draft your will, it will take into account future babies, but it’s still a good idea to revisit the document at this time, since your preferences could change.
Ask for a CliffsNotes Version
After you create a will, your attorney may keep it in a protected vault or other secure place. Make sure you ask your attorney to provide you with a summary of the document in layman’s terms so you can file it at home and refer to it quickly in the future.
--Susan Peckett Witkin, a NYC lawyer who practices estate and trust law
Plus, more from The Bump:
Checklist: Money Matters
51 Ways to Save Up for a Baby
Do I Need Life Insurance?