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There are a lot of firsts in life: 6 Estate Planning Tips for Families

- By Megan Gebhardt, Gebhardt Law Office, Estate Planning and Wills Attorney (and PEPS mom)


A new child means lots of new responsibilities. One of these responsibilities is making sure you have basic protections for your child in the event something should happen to you.

For parents, just the idea of making a will can be overwhelming. We are busy and it’s not always a top priority to plan for the unthinkable. However, creating an estate plan is the most important thing you can do to make certain your child is cared for if anything should happen to you. A will can provide certainty and security to your family by naming a guardian for your child and secure the benefits you wish for those you love. Another item that often holds parents back is not knowing what you need – while planning for your property is one thing, you always need to have a plan for who will care for your minor children – regardless of what you own.

Here are some tips to help you begin the process:

  1. Consider a Guardian for Your Child. You legally nominate a guardian for your minor children in your will. The guardian will have custody of your child. Pick someone who is willing to take on the responsibility and who is able to provide care for your child that reflects your wishes for your children. You should also consider your personal parenting philosophy and that of any prospective guardian, the age and health of the guardian, the physical location of the guardian and stability of the guardian. While each parent has their own will and can make their own guardianship determinations, this is one item that is nice (but not always easy) to come to consensus on.
  2. Consider Your Child’s Financial Needs after Your Death. Using a children’s trust in your will prevents a child’s inheritance from being placed in a locked account controlled by the court. You have the opportunity to name a trustee of the trust, who will be responsible for managing the funds that will be used to raise your child. The trust assets will be used to pay for the child’s health, education, maintenance and support. Finally, you can designate ages you would like your adult child to inherit the assets in the trust outright. For example, some parents find that 35 is a more appropriate age to inherit a lump sum of money than 21.
  3. Update Beneficiary Designations. Make sure that your beneficiary designations are up to date on life insurance policies, retirement accounts, or other beneficiary-designated assets, and that these designations match the intent of your will or trust.
  4. Create a Durable Power of Attorney for Medical and Financial Decisions. If you become disabled or incapacitated, a Durable Power of Attorney gives the person you designate the power to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf. Absent this document, and without a spouse present to make the decisions for you, the only alternative to naming someone to take on medical or financial decisions for you is through a court-appointed guardian.
  5. Maintain an Inventory of Your Assets and Key Documents. Make it easy to determine what you have and what you owe, and don’t forget about digital assets: work product, intellectual property, and those digital photos. Keep a master list of accounts and assets owned, insurance policies held, and important legal documents. Let your Personal Representative or Attorney In Fact know where this list can be found.
  6. Execute your documents and keep your plan up to date: Each state has different, specific rules for how a will and other legal documents can be validly executed. Make sure that your documents comply. This is the most common issue I see with existing documents that clients bring into my office. As for keeping your plan up to date – review your documents once a year. Tax time is a good time to review your documents. Some helpful questions that can determine the need to revise documents are: 1. Do I have any new family members? 2. Is anyone that is currently named in my documents no longer the appropriate choice for the role I have given them? 3. Have my net worth and/or estate tax thresholds changed significantly?

How long should this all take? It depends on how to decide to tackle the planning, but at my office, plan on the time it takes to fill out a questionnaire, one planning meeting that lasts a bit over an hour, the time it takes to review your documents, and one short meeting to finalize your documents. Not so painful. Often the time it takes you to make decisions about guardianship far exceeds the time it takes to get the documents in place once those decisions are made.

For more information on estate planning, please contact Megan Gebhardt at

Updated and revised: September 9, 2015

About the Author

Megan Gebhardt

Megan lives in Seattle with her husband and two sons, ages 5 and 2.5. She is the Owner of Gebhardt Law Office, and focuses her practice exclusively on estate planning. She serves as a volunteer speaker for PEPS groups and on the Board of the Washington First Responder Will Clinic. She is an enthusiastic supporter of PEPS and always recommends it as the first thing to sign up for when she finds out someone is expecting. Her family is still close with their PEPS group and hopes to remain so for the years to come.

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