If you’re anything like us, you’ve often wondered, very late at night, or maybe right before a plane takes off, what happens if something happens to me? No, it’s not cute, it’s not fun, it’s not super joyful, but the idea of getting a will is the reality of being a parent. “Anyone over 18 should have their affairs in order, even more so once someone finds out they’re expecting or just had a baby,” says Cori A. Robinson, a New York and New Jersey-based trust and estate lawyer. “When you get your affairs in order, it means, at a minimum, what you need to have is a last will and testament, a power of attorney and a healthcare proxy. That’s your general basic package.”
But if the idea of “gathering one’s affairs” feels very Six Feet Under, and you’re not even sure what that means, all you know is that junior should go to YOUR sister and not HIS – then read on. Robinson helps us navigate through the legal jargon so that you’re covered, no matter what.
“It’s important to have a last will,” says Robinson. “That’s the document that governs who your child goes to when you die. While you’re living, you’re the natural guardian of your kids. When you pass away, unless you specify in the will and testament who you want to be the legal guardian of your kids, the local courts will choose, and the person who the court chooses may not be the person you want.”
Let’s say, for example you hate your mother-in-law, but she might seem like a lovely person. According to Robinson, if you don’t have a last will and testament of who you want to serve, the “take charge person” in your family can petition to become the legal guardian and that might not be the person you chose. In a last will, sometimes people also have separate guardianship papers, but as long as you have a will, you’ll be covered.
Under your will, you will also appoint an executor. “That’s the person taking charge when you die,” says Robinson. “It can be one person or you can appoint individuals. I never advise for all of your kids to be appointed, it’s an absolute disaster. Less is more.”
The Power of Attorney
This document used in an event you become incapacitated while living. Let’s say you have an accident and fall into a coma and your husband needs money for home care.
“The power of attorney provides him access to financial assets during your lifetime,” Robinson says.
The Healthcare Proxy
This document gives agency to someone else for medical decisions in the event you’re unable to speak for yourself. “Let’s say you have surgery and it goes awry and you’re kooky for a week,” says Robinson. “The doctor brings up whether you should have a second surgery and you can’t give consent. This mainly comes into play in a hospital.” Just remember, signing one in the hospital is not the best time. With a spouse it’s obvious, but always do it in advance.
Just remember, a will is going to give instructions, but you can’t micromanage your kids from the grave. It will not include instructions on what to eat or do after school everyday. “You’re dead, you don’t get a say,” says Robinson. “But let’s say you’re religious and your extended fdamily isn’t, you can make a note that you want them in a traditional upbringing etc, but you request you don’t direct. Appoint someone who will do their best to raise your kids in the matter in which you’d raise them.”