As the parent of a baby, toddler, preschooler, and/or elementary school child you know full well there is plenty that is out of your control. You pack everyone in the car for school and the baby has a blow-out diaper, the teacher calls you at work saying your daughter just threw up all over daycare, or your son pitches a fit in the dollar section at Target.
It can be overwhelming, but the saying “control the controllables” can help stem the feeling of powerlessness that so many parents feel. You can’t control when and where a tantrum will hit but you can make sure your toddler isn’t hungry or tired before you head to the store. In the same vein, you can’t control whether or not something will happen to you and your spouse, but you do have control over who will care for your children and who will control your assets if something does.
Most parents know they should have a Will, but they don’t know that’s only one small piece of even the most basic estate plan. Every parent has “an estate;” your estate is simply “all your stuff.” Whether all your stuff, is worth $1,000 or $1,000,000, that’s your estate.
It’s up to you to decide what to do with your stuff – to whom, when, and how it goes is the plan you make for your estate. If you don’t make that plan, state law has a generic plan to put in place for you if anything ever happens to you and your children.
Making a very basic estate plan with a Will and all the other legal documents you need is an easy way to control your family’s well being in case of your disability during your lifetime and after your death, but just the concept can feel daunting on several levels.
First, thinking about serious accidents, illnesses, and death is obviously discomforting, especially when you’re so busy with young children who are bursting with life. However, spelling out in legal documents who will make your medical decisions, manage your finances and your children’s, and serve as a guardian for your children is crucial. Otherwise, a judge will make these decisions for you without the benefit of knowing about any special circumstances or wishes you may have as parents.
Second, the fear of finding the right lawyer and wondering what it’s going to cost can stop some people in their tracks, especially if they’ve had a bad previous experience with another attorney.
Through basic estate planning parents can ensure their children are cared for by someone who reflects their values and that everything they’ve worked so hard to earn will be properly used for their children’s care and upbringing, providing a measure of control in the somewhat chaotic (but fun) life of a young family.