My daily goal is to be a better father today than I was yesterday. Some days I feel like I achieve it. Most days I don’t. But after opening my homemade Father’s Day cards and gifts this year, I decided to put pen to paper (actually, fingers to keyboard) as I reflected on the many challenges encompassed in that lofty objective, which I’m sure most other dads share.
At the top of that list would be protecting our children in every possible way, including legally. One of the most difficult things to do is think about the possibility we may die unexpectedly or too early, leaving our children without one of the most important people in their lives. But stepping up and making a legal plan to protect your children if something should happen to you is one of the best Father’s Day gifts you can give yourself and the people you love.
Here are 10 steps to help you get there:
1. List of potential guardians. Identifying the people you would like to raise your children if something should happen to you is the first step. Write down everyone you would consider, and for now, do it separately from your spouse.
2. Prioritize what’s important to you. Write down everything that is important to you when you think about how you want your kids to be raised. Do you want them to be raised with the same values you were raised with? Do you want them to live where they are living now? What about their education? List all your priorities and then rank them in order of importance.
3. Don’t make it about the money. Many people are tempted to turn to the person with the most money to be guardian, but providing for your children financially is your job. You can leave enough money behind to ensure your children are well taken care of by using life insurance, trusts, savings or a combination of all of these.
4. Compare your lists. Take your list of potential guardians and compare it with your prioritized list of what’s important to you, then rank the list of guardian candidates. You should wind up with a list of at least three good candidates that match your prioritized values.
5. List people you don’t want raising your kids. Think about all the people who may be in line for custody in case something should happen to both you and your spouse or co-parent and then create a list of those people you would never want raising your kids.
6. Exclude the people you don’t want as guardian in writing. Write a confidential letter of instruction outlining who you would never want raising your kids and why. This letter will be sealed away unless someone on the list tries to gain custody. Having that letter will make it less likely those people would want to pursue a claim in court.
7. Name temporary guardians. We all hate to think that this could happen to us, but we know it happens to others like us every day — couples leave their children with a babysitter and get into a terrible accident. The babysitter calls and calls, but there is no one to answer. The police are summoned and the children have to be placed with Child Protective Services. It’s terribly frightening. To prevent this possibility, you should name local temporary guardians who can take over in these circumstances until long-term guardians are appointed.
8. Make it all legal. Once your choices are made, you will need to legally document them. If you don’t, a judge will make these decisions for you. We can help you create a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan® as well as other estate planning essentials like a will, powers of attorney, health care directives and even a trust that will ensure your plan is done right and will last for as long as you need it.
9. Make a plan for your assets. Once you’ve taken care of your children, be sure you take care of your assets. We can explain how a trust can be used to bypass the court system and protect your assets.
10. Leave more than money. Your lasting legacy should be much more than just money; it should also be those valuable intangibles that reveal who you are through your insights, values, wisdom and experiences. We make this possible as part of your legacy planning process, helping you digitally capture and pass on your own story and your aspirations for your loved ones.
Call our office to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about a Family Estate Planning Session, where we can identify the best ways for you to ensure your legacy of love and financial security for your family.