Have you been on top of your estate planning, ladies? Once you have kids it certainly feels like a pressing issue — and yet my husband and I still haven’t sat down with a lawyer to get our wills or other details buttoned up. Whoopsies.
We’ve talked about getting your accounts in order for labor, but estate planning is a bit bigger than that — and it can change with each birth depending on how things are worded and what other situations are (family members living, dying, etc.).
How did you find your lawyer for a will or trust? What other estate planning did you do — and did you find any service that simplified it? (Wouldn’t it be great if there were something like MissNowMrs for estate planning for parents?)
What Mr. G and I have done:
Term insurance (20 year), which we bought almost right after J was born. Our rates are probably higher than they might be otherwise because we both had a ton of extra baby weight on us. We originally were insured for some huge amount; after our second yearly premium came due we dialed it down so that the mortgage is covered if either of us die, which at least means the remaining family won’t be forced to move quickly.
(Yes, yes, we can always retake the health test portion to lower our rates — and I will go to that trouble riiiiight after I finish that marathon.)
Changed beneficiaries on accounts: Some banks make it very easy to do this — if memory serves, Vanguard and Fidelity both had a “per stirpes” option, meaning anything in the account would be distributed equally among my surviving kids. With Charles Schwab it was a bit more complicated, but that may just be my situation.
(One of my investment accounts was opened by my father for me as a college graduation gift; when I last looked into it he was still listed as a joint tenant and putting either my husband or the boys on the account would require lots, and lots, of paperwork… that I have yet to sit down and do.)
Guardianship discussion: We’ve mentioned briefly to our family members who we’d want to care for the kids in case of our deaths. That’s a fun conversation, let me tell you.
This doesn’t really count as estate planning, I don’t think, but long before I was married or pregnant I set up a living will through Legal Zoom, inspired by my grandfather’s death — his living will really did come into play.
If you’re pregnant it might be worth looking into — I had strong opinions on that tragic circumstance where you have to choose between the mother’s life and baby’s.
It was all hypothetical at the time I set it up — I wasn’t even dating anyone, let alone pregnant! — but it made me feel a little bit better in case the situation arose and I wasn’t able to communicate my desires. (You get a little printout to carry in your wallet. Fun!)
All right ladies, over to you — what kind of estate planning have you done? Do you feel well prepared or are you still kind of scrambling, like we are?
Further Reading on Estate Planning:
- Young Family Estate Planning [The Virtual Attorney]
- Wills and Estate Planning: DIY or Not? [Parents]
- Estate planning: Why young families need to do it [Denver Post]
- Estate Planning When You Have Young Children [NOLO]
- 6 Estate Planning Tips for Families [PEPS]
Pictured: Shutterstock / Peter Mayer Fotos.
i put off getting life insurance for maternity leave, and also learned that they didn’t give special considerations to baby weight. i definitely advise my friends now to get life insurance before they get pregnant. however, the financial incentive to lose weight worked amazingly well.
my husband’s job offers “legal insurance.” through that we got a will and trust set up for free, and it also included guardianship and living will paperwork. i think it would run about $1600 otherwise (moderately HCOL area). that was also a lot of effort. we went through that process in my first trimester of pregnancy.
Ugh! I came here to ask this exact question (except I was going to get it while 9 months pregnant). I already have enough on myself to pay off our house. I may just get more on my husband and wait to increase my life insurance.
This is what we did b/c I couldn’t get my act together to buy insurance when we were trying to get pregnant as our advisor told us to do. Of course, now I need to lose the baby weight! For now, I have a decent amount through my employer, but not all I want.
Yes! I had gestational diabetes, which significantly increased my life insurance costs. Agree with the recommendation to get life insurance before pregnancy or early on.
I tried at around the 5 month mark, but the process dragged out due to a doctor’s practice being terrible about getting appropriate documentation of some prior surgeries and test results to the insurance company. Not sure if this is standard or just the company that we were working with, but past 8 months, they had to stop everything til after the baby was born, AND I had to redo the physical when we started over.
So tl/dr: +100 to getting life insurance early or before pregnancy
Has anyone done this without involving their DH? My DH is from outside the states and I think if I broach the subject of my parents as guardians for the children and trustees of the estate that it will not go over well. He talks about wanting to move us all back to his country at some point. I’m not opposed to the idea of a move (temporary would be my preference) but I can’t see it being good for the kids to be sent to live with his parents if something were to happen to both of us. Any ideas? Suggestions?
That sounds fraught with peril. I’d want to minimize any sort of legal wranglings over my orphaned child, including international custody fights. Part of being parents/spouses is having these hard conversations. A lawyer should also be able to advise on how some of this works from a practical standpoint.
Anon in NYC says
+1. I do think this is a difficult conversation that you have to have. I can’t imagine that an attorney would advise you to do this, and if you were able to do this, I can see it being challenged in court (although I am not a trusts and estate attorney).
Agree that you need to have the conversation, but as part of that, you can point out to him that all of this can be changed in the future. Right now you live in Country A, so if you die, it will be least disruptive to your kids if they stay in Country A. If you move to Country B, you can change your wills so that they stay in Country B.
We had this “hard” discussion – my argument was that we don’t know where we would end up living, so it makes sense to align his home country’s law with US law. We also got married in the US so “if ever” I have the legal basis for following US law.
M in LA says
We got term life insurance, updated beneficiaries, and drafted wills. Our assets are pretty simple (and modest), so we decided a trust or other complicated vehicle wasn’t worth it at this time. California offers a “fill in the blank” will form that is incredibly easy and covers the basics – guardianship, executors, and basic asset distribution: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Public/SimpleWill.aspx. (Note, it’s not a living will – it doesn’t cover power of attorney/medical wishes or anything.) If we are lucky enough to have more complex needs in the future, we’ll revisit, but this is sufficient for now!
We went through all the estate stuff (life insurance, wills, trusts, guardians) within a year after our first kid was born. Our documents used language that encompassed any potential future children so we didn’t have to make edits, though obviously we should be reviewing these items periodically.
We did struggle with where to place our kids should something happen to both of us. Each of us has one sibling. Mine doesn’t live in town and isn’t responsible enough — nor are we close enough — for her to be in charge of my children. DH’s brother lives in town and our kids are close with his family, but my in-laws’ values/child-raising strategies are not similar to my own. We settled for a very close cousin of my husband’s (and his wife/family) — they live nearby and most closely mirror our own parenting values and style. But that was a tough series of conversations.
Philanthropy Girl says
Thanks for sharing what you are doing for guardianship – you’ll see downthread this is a difficult puzzle for us. Your insights are helpful.
Philanthropy Girl says
We haven’t done anything yet – and it crosses my mind frequently. I do have term insurance through my employer, as well as a small life insurance policy. DH also has a policy. They are minimal, but would probably help the survivor keep the house and find childcare (DH is a SAHD, so childcare would be a new expense).
We are struggling with how to decide who to name as guardian. We currently only have a one year old, but hope for a couple more. We each have one sister, both married, both with two kids. DH’s sister has two teenagers and her husband has a very comfortable income.. My sister has a toddler and an infant and between her and her husband they make enough – they cover expenses and put a little in savings but they are frugal and don’t splurge. Financially, my SIL is better situated to care for any of our children (who would have very little, as I both our savings and insurance policies are pretty bare bones). But neither my husband or I agree with her parenting choices – we’re deeply concerned with the behaviors and attitudes she permits in her own children, and know that isn’t something we’d want for our children. We are much more inline with my sister’s parenting philosophy and would feel more comfortable with her raising our children. But we worry about the financial burden when we know we won’t be able to leave much to help care for them.
What advice do you all have on how to select the right guardian for your children? Should it all be about the numbers, or do the “intangibles” of things like parenting philosophy matter too?
I’m probably being a total idiot by asking this, but what about someone’s parenting philosophy could be so bad you wouldn’t want them to raise your children in the highly unlikely event that both you and your husband died? Are her kids felons?
I’m not trying to be flippant, but while my SIL lets her kids act like little monsters and I totally disagree with her tactics on discipline, I know she is an incredibly loving and wonderful mother who would do anything for our kids, as if they were her own. That’s how I look at it.
Again, I’m not trying to minimize, just curious as to what is so concerning about someone’s parenting philosophy.
In my case, we ruled out my husband’s sister in large part because of different parenting styles. This is morbid, but we thought very seriously about the fact that any guardian is going to be parenting our kids in the wake of some serious trauma. We wanted someone who would actively help them to work through that, get them therapy as appropriate, talk through emotions in a healthy way, etc. My sister-in-law is a fine parent in general, but I have witnessed her deal with family conflict, and her reactions suggest that she would not do any of that. I would have no qualms letting her watch my kid in general, but I do not want her stepping in as the guiding force during the most traumatic event in my child’s life.
This is a really great point.
We chose my mom as a guardian because we think she will parent most similarly to how we would have done, and my kids are very close to her (moreso than any other relatives), so it would be least traumatic of all possible options. She’s the most “sane,” responsible, and level-headed member of either of our families, and is an elementary school teacher, so we trust that she remembers how to deal with kids’ emotional needs in a way that my husband’s parents – who have both remarried a younger model and are living it up as retirees – do not. For a variety of reasons, our siblings are not good options, although if my siblings ever settle down and get married, we would consider changing to them, especially as my mom gets older.
Not the OP at all, but I would balk at having my child raised by one of the overtly religious aunts/uncles/cousins of mine. They are warm, loving people, but also homophobic and fairly xenophobic in their small town, all of which is echoed by their church. Not something I want for my kid.
Meg Murry says
Same here regarding religion. We haven’t officially named guardians yet, and this is one of our sticking points. Our siblings aren’t good choices – one is too immature and has straight up said “If you have no one else I’d do it but I really think it would not be a good idea for any of us” although maybe he would be a good choice in the next 5-10 years depending on how his life is going, and the other is married to someone that we aren’t fond of at all that has made some questionable life choices. Up until last year my parents would have been a good choice, but now my mom has her hands full dealing with my father’s health issues as well as her own mother’s health issues – I can’t imagine adding my kids to her plate. And my in-laws are in the same place – MIL is taking care of FIL with declining health.
Our best choice probably is between 2 cousins – but one lives kind of far away so it would mean uprooting my kids and would make it hard for them to see my parents and in-laws, and the other is a concern due to her husband’s religion. The two of them are on the fairly moderate end of their religion, but every year they get a little more involved and a little more strict with the church “rules” so I fear that in 5-10 years they might be in a religious place that would make my husband and I very unhappy. And who knows how their life will change once they have kids of their own.
Ugh, these decisions are so hard.
Not the OP, but for me, it’s more of a life philosophy thing. It’s not that I think the parents are “bad,” just that I would want my kids to be taken care of and brought up in a way similar to what I would have done. Irrational or not, that’s how I feel. My SIL and her husband are rabid anti-vaxxers, government conspiracy theorists, make very irresponsible financial decisions, and BIL hasn’t held a steady job in the 10 years I’ve known my husband. They seem overwhelmed by their own lives and children, and they live in a very hippy-dippy part of the country and subscribe to the prevailing parenting styles there. I try not to judge them for it (although obviously I do); they are nice people, and my niece and nephew are nice kids, but my husband and I are just very, very different. It would be a huge culture shock for our kids to join that family, and it’s not really what we want for them.
Philanthropy Girl says
It’s really a values thing for us. Neither SIL or BIL have taught or encouraged things like self-discipline, personal responsibility, hard work, good manners, or the importance of family time. My niece and nephew are rude to adult family members and are extraordinarily self-centered. They stick with nothing, have no goals or plans for the future, and no sense of service to others. I think she’s a loving mom, and that BIL is a loving dad, but they have two children with a ton of potential who will struggle to make anything of themselves. I can handle a difference on discipline or education, but DH and I are very uncomfortable with the idea of our children not learning values we believe are vital to success as an adult.
Also – in our view, this is a large part of what life insurance is for. We selected my best friend and her spouse as guardians. They are both nonprofit lawyers in a very HCOL area, and we knew that taking in our kid would be a huge financial burden. They’d have to move to a much larger apartment, pay for childcare in a very expensive city, etc. So we each have a million dollar life insurance policy.
Which is to say, get more life insurance and pick the guardians you really want.
We just did all of this and signed all of the papers last week. My daughter is about to be 8 months. We found a local attorney through a parents listserv in my neighborhood and he was great. He’s part of a 2-person firm that’s been in my area for ages and it was easy and straightforward. We have a basic estate – life insurance and retirement accounts – so we picked an executor, a trustee, and a guardian. The paperwork itself was easy.
We struggled with the guardianship issue a bit, because all of our siblings/parents have something a little objectionable about them. That sounds awful, but our parents (all in their mid-60’s) are starting to decline in health and energy levels, both me and my husband find the attitude of his brother/SIL to be offensive (hard to explain, but he’s very rude to his parents and I couldn’t even begin to stomach the idea of him taking care of our daughter and being rude to my family members if me and DH were both dead), my brother is really immature, and my sister has a bit of a temper and wants to live this very nomadic life abroad.
We also considered asking close friends to be guardians (and our daughter wouldn’t be a financial burden), we also evaluated whether we could really ask that of our friends and also whose values we’d want to be passed on to our daughter. In the end, we chose my sister as guardian. We couldn’t really see asking a friend to take our child in when we had capable family members, and I think that of our family members her values and ability to take care of our daughter most closely align with ours.
We’ve done about half of what should be done. My DH is pretty much unable to get term life insurance, so he takes out the max through his work that he can without need for a physical exam. To compensate as best we can, I have term insurance such that if we both were to parish, the kids would be fine. As for guardianship, its tough. We are close with my family but not with his. We have my mom as guardian for as long as she is able, then to my sister. We decided best just not to raise it with his family. We have a simple will but would benefit from actually going to an attorney.
As an estate planning attorney AND the mom of two littles, I really encourage families to go visit an estate planning attorney. NOT an attorney who “does wills” and not someone who “does trusts” with a hard-sell, but rather someone who actually talks to families about what to expect and what works best for them. At a minimum, it’s worth knowing who you should put in your line-up of people to help out after you die – executor, trustees, guardians, etc, and an attorney can help you work through those decisions. And yes, PLEASE get some life insurance for income replacement, or for any non-working spouse, to cover the on-going costs of child care for the working spouse. I’ve worked with young families after the death of a spouse and in every case life insurance makes a huge difference!
CrimLaw Mom says
My husband is an estate planning attorney, too. Using online resources or forms–or even a general practice attorney who dabbles in wills and trusts–often lends itself to someone in your family needing to hire someone like my husband later on.
Amy H. says
+2. This is me too (estate planning attorney who ends up doing lots of work to correct/unwind flaws in wills and trusts (or forms) drafted by people who have no idea what they’re doing.
Amy H. says
Correction: “what they’re doing).”
estate junky says
Yes Get a little extra life insurance.
I specialize in estates as well. We have our Wills, Enduring Powers of Attorneys and Advanced Health Care Directives. Please chat with your spouse as to what you would like. As for the AHCD, I am not the decision maker for my husband. I know that I wouldn’t be able to honour his wishes and we picked someone who would be able to.
Guardians… We chose my parents, they are close to our kids and have the same parenting style, if that doesnt work, then we have my brother ( he is single and we don’t want to burden him with 2 kids if we don’t have to)
Life insurance, DH and I both have enough so that our mortgage is paid off if one of us dies.
Philanthropy Girl says
Are you concerned about the age of your parents? Mine are 63, and I have a one year old. While their health is good now, I can’t image them at 70 taking on a grade school aged child (or younger ones if we have more kids). My parents are a good option, but the age issue worries me.
Meg Murry says
This is my concern. My parents are in their early-mid 60s now and 5 years ago I would have said they were my best case scenario – but now my father is not aging well and my mother is getting worn out taking care of him, and my kids are only 8 and 4.
With regards to Guardianship, two scenarios:
My husband and I are in line to be guardians to very close friends’ kiddo. Our friends really struggled with what to do as far as guardianship – they each have one sibling and decided to go with friends over family. In their situation, grandparents were out for ‘political’ and health reasons, other available family was either too young/immature to make good guardians and the one close family member who has a child was not someone they felt comfortable leaving their kiddo in the care of.
We have decided on my sister and her husband. It was an easier decision than most people have it because they share our values and are very close with both our families.
And seriously- if you are TTC, GET LIFE INSURANCE NOW. I didn’t heed that warning and now am a ‘less desirable’ candidate because of hospitalizations related to pregnancy and childbirth. Oh, it was also AWESOME to get that insurance physical 4 weeks after having a baby and 12 pounds above my normal weight…
We each have term life insurance policies that we just updated (20 years me, 15 years him – he’s older and pricier). Amount is $1 million each. This is about 8-9x our individual salaries.
We worked with an estate lawyer who was wonderful at explaining all of the details and implications of each decision. I think we paid $1700 for the full suite of products and that includes keeping the originals in the firm vault, paying the annual premiums on life insurance (because it’s owned by a life insurance trust that she advised us to set up and so we can’t pay the premiums ourselves so we send her a check and she sends a check from the trust) and minor updates forever (e.g., change of guardians), and it was worth every penny. The documents include:
– Medical power of attorney
– Power of attorney
– Medical trust
– Family trust
– Irrevocable life insurance trust
– Possibly others! It’s been about 4 years now so I can’t remember why all the trusts or what they all do but it made sense at the time. The language includes future children so we don’t have to update.
The hardest decision was guardians for the kids. My mom is getting older and wouldn’t be able to keep up with the kids and frankly although she is an awesome grandmother, wasn’t the best at parenting. His parents are too old and not interested. My sister isn’t responsible enough. His sister hates me and has 3 kids of her own and isn’t in a financial situation to take on our 3 kids…I’m sure she would get over her hate if something horrible happened but why have my kids raised by someone who didn’t love me? Plus, seriously, adding 3 kids to her 3 kids? And, we have really different financial conditions: DH and I have consciously lived simpler lives so that we could save and and have financial security – we are very comfortable now, and each have $1 million life insurance policies. So, our kids are hopefully going to be taken care of financially, and her kids…who knows. There are other values differences as well.
We don’t have a lot of very close friends who we would trust with our kids but we did pick one couple who has two kids of their own. They are our closest family friends but the situation is not ideal – they live on opposite coast, are very close to their own extended families, and are a bi-ethnic family but from two different cultures than us, so raising our kids would be extra challenging. The solution is that we just can’t die. And that is how I work myself up into anxiety.
But seriously, having the documents gives me so much peace of mind so I don’t even think about this very much. Just do it.
Katherine K says
That is absolutely estate planning!
I’m an estate planning attorney, and I set up wills, health care and financial powers of attorney for both of us before we had our first kid. We’ve doubledchecked that each other are listed on our retirement accounts, and dealt with contingent beneficiaries appropriately.
For insurance, we each have term and small whole life policies. We got whole life policies for the kids, too, with a rider that allows them to increase their coverage at various times (e.g. age 20, age 25, etc.) without a health test. (My husband has a chronic health condition that has a genetic component, so that was a concern for us.)
One note: Beware Legal Zoom, and other “pro forma, create your own online” documents. I can’t tell you the amount of work I get from folks who don’t realize that those online documents don’t comport to the specific requirements of our state, rendering them invalid. (This goes for estate planning, contracts, leases, etc.) You get what you pay for, and finding a reputable estate planning attorney is worth every penny!
Meg Murry says
Random fun fact – in Ohio they ask you at the BMV if you have a living will and power of attorney for healthcare and if you they will add a symbol to your drivers license (along with the organ donor symbol). They also ask if you want to add 2 contacts as next of kin to your license information.
We don’t currently have a living will, although we probably should because we have specific views that my in-laws probably wouldn’t share. But other than the symbol on your license, how do you communicate the living will to your family? I guess what Kat is saying about a card in your wallet probably makes a lot of sense.
ETA- just did some googling and it looks like I can add my living will to my e-chart at the major medical centers nearest us (I have e-charts in both systems since I’ve seen doctors there), and Ohio has a form that simply needs to be filled out and notorized. I may do this and encourage my husband to do the same.
Question – hospitals are required to follow the advanced directive by law, yes? My concern is that the nearest hospital to me is a Catholic hospital and I’m not sure that they would follow my wishes – or, at best, would try to talk my next of kin out of it.
The extent to which a hospital is required to follow an advanced directive vary from state to state. In some states, a hospital can disagree and decide to transfer you, but may take life-sustaining measures in the meantime (which can create its own problems). From a risk perspective, they’d rather err on the side of life than face a claim of wrong-death. However, there is also statutory immunity in some states for following the wishes of an advanced directive which should alleviate that fear, but doesn’t always.
TL: DR- Check your state laws. Here’s some Ohio info to start https://www.ohiobar.org/ForPublic/Resources/LawFactsPamphlets/Pages/LawFactsPamphlet-24.aspx
Amy W. says
Re: beneficiaries and joint tenants on accounts and all of that
When my dad helped me and my sisters set up bank accounts and investment accounts and even a safety deposit box, we also put him on those things to make it easier for my parents to have access if I ever needed it, which was great and all, up until he passed away a few weeks ago.
We all kept putting off taking my dad off our accounts before he got sick because we never thought it was going to be an issue. I eventually had him taken off when I got married and put my husband on at the same time but not without some stubbornness from my dad of not wanting to actually fill out the paperwork and get to the bank in person.
The issue arose for my sisters when my dad passed because there was an apparent misunderstanding at the bank when they signed up over who should be owners on the accounts and who should be signers. Long after my dad should have been taken off their accounts, he wasn’t, because they were all just lazy when it came to the paperwork. My sisters got locked out of their bank accounts because my dad was the owner (which made sense at the time they opened it because they were still young) and the bank had to wait until letters testamentary were produced and all that. Yea, it would have been somewhat of a pain to get my dad off of the accounts when he was still alive, but it became an even bigger deal later.
Tl;dr – Please please please no matter how much paperwork is involved, it’ll make the process easier if it’s taken care of the way you want it to be before you don’t have the choice.
I’ve been meaning to do all this forever, but fail at follow through… Does anyone have an estate planning attorney they recommend in the DC area? We have discussed a lot of these topics and do have substantial term life insurance, but need to get everything on paper.
Jennifer Concino at Tobin O’Connor & Ewing in Friendship Heights. Was terrific to work with and has a set fee for everything you need, even when you don’t know what you need yet (she helps you figure that out).
… And anyone in nova?
Honestly I’m not sure it matters where they are located if they are licensed for your state. We did everything by phone/email and only met in person to sign the documents.
White coat investor has a great blog on what to look for in insurance policies, etc.
Rule of thumb is that you want the life insurance to ensure expenses are taken care of until your kid(s) can self-support. Income multiplier is not a great benchmark because savings rates vary widely.
For us that meant:
Paying off mortgage (7 figures, median in HCOL area)
College/other tuition (estimated mid-6 to 7 figures in 18 years)
Living expenses, child care ie nannies, or whatever is needed so the surviving spouse can work (annual estimate x 15-20 years)
So our policies ended up being far above the 8-9x annual income rule of thumb that I see frequently.
We just finalized our estate paperwork a few weeks ago – will, power of attorney and healthcare directive. Need to get on the life insurance. Our oldest daughter is almost 4, so we delayed this for far too long.
Molly W says
As a probate and estate planning attorney I highly recommend setting up a will with a children’s trust if you have minors. Your will can be drafted to encompass future children, so there really is no need to put off estate planning because you aren’t done having kids. Another thing to consider when making beneficiary designations and guardianship considerations is how your kids will be financially cared for before they turn 18. If you leave money (either through beneficiary designations, in your will, or if you die without a will) outright to your child it’s likely going to be put in a court directed trust that your child’s care taker may not be able to access to help pay for the expenses of raising your child. Even if you have a guardian who is able to financially care for your child without relying on money from you, you may want to make some additional money available for education, extra-curricular activities, vacations, or other above and beyond expenses. Any money you spend doing estate planning now will end up saving that much and more for your children after your death.
This has been such a helpful thread. I need to start looking for an estate planning attorney. I take it I should look for someone locally… but we’re planning to move to another state in the fall. How much of estate planning is dependent upon local laws? Will we need to get things updated when we move to another state?
Does anyone happen to know of an estate planning attorney in Sarasota or the greater Tampa Bay area?