When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I had a number of well-meaning friends, family members, and even strangers providing me with advice on all the preparations I needed to make before the baby was born. Even now, less than three months before my second baby is due, I find myself going over mental to-dos at least once a day… Install car seat? Check. Find a pediatrician? Check. Stock our home with enough onesies, diapers, and wipes to last a lifetime? Check.
However, the one piece of advice that I never read in any parenting book, heard from any doctor, or picked up in any mommy group is, to me, some of the most important advice for parents with children: put together an estate plan. Many people, especially young adults, may hear the term “estate plan” and immediately think it doesn’t apply to them, either because in their mind they haven’t accumulated enough assets yet or because everything they own is held jointly. Young parents, in particular, often don’t think their financial situation warrants meeting with an attorney to discuss what would happen if they were to die suddenly or unexpectedly.
But, consider this for a minute: if you have children under the age of 18 and both you and your spouse die, a judge will determine who will raise your children. By executing a basic will ahead of time, you can decide who will be the guardian of your children in your absence. No one can ever fill your shoes, but you should be the one to decide whose beliefs on raising kids, religion, and even education are most in line with your own personal beliefs. No judge can ever fully know your intentions without proper preparation.
Further, in Illinois, if a child inherits assets before he or she turns 18, a guardian is responsible for those assets. This entails regular reports to the court and court approval before many expenses can be handled. So, even if the court were to appoint someone you approved of to care for your children, would you really want to burden that guardian with the additional administrative costs and headaches of our court system?
With a properly-executed estate plan, you can choose a person you trust or a qualified company (i.e. a trustee) to take care of your children’s assets without the interference of the court. You can also set age limits on when your children can access those assets instead of setting the stage for your children to receive everything at the default age of 18.
There are a multitude of other reasons you should consult with a qualified estate planning attorney if you have young children. And while you may be thinking to yourself that it will be too costly and expensive to do so, I can almost guarantee the cost is comparable to that double-stroller you’re eyeing and almost assuredly less than that Pottery Barn nursery set you’re in the process of putting together. At the end of the day, there really is no price you can put on ensuring your children are provided for in case the unthinkable occurs.