5 Important Legal Steps for New Parents
This guide provides important information for new parents in New Jersey. These steps should be taken as soon after a child's birth as possible.
Update health insurance to include the new baby.Most health insurance companies allow a new insured to be added after a birth. In this case, it does not matter whether it is during an open enrollment period. For many policies, this add-on period closes after 30 days. Before the birth of any new child, the expecting parents should review their health insurance policy to check how to add their new baby. If a policy is provided through an employer contact your HR department for more information.
Check insurance policy beneficiaries.Aside from health insurance many parents to be have life insurance policies/retirement plans. Often the beneficiary listed is a spouse. Shortly after the birth of a child, it could be helpful to list that new child as a contingent beneficiary. This means that if your spouse dies before you, then your child will be the beneficiary of the policy.
Determine guardians in case both parents are unavailable.While not something people like to think about serious injury and/or death can happen to parents. When this occurs it is important to have a plan for who will be legally responsible as the child's guardian. Typically, I advise clients to make a list of 3-5 trusted individuals (whether family members or friends) who can serve as their child's guardian if needed.
Get an estate plan. (Will, Medical Directive, Power of Attorney, etc)Now that you have added your child to your health insurance policy, made them a beneficiary of other insurance/retirement policies, and decided on guardians it is important to legally protect those decisions.
The simplest way to do that is with a will.
A properly executed last will and testament will ensure that your wishes are legally enforceable. Having a will can help prevent challenges to the plan you have for your child's care and education. A properly prepared estate will also ensure that your wishes regarding what happens to your property are carried out. Finally, you can also prepare powers of attorney for your healthcare and financial decisions. This means that your wishes can still be carried out even if you are not deemed competent enough to make the decision yourself.
Not having a will, or other documents could leave your estate administration to the intestacy law of New Jersey. This means that the probate court will divide your estate and assign a guardian to your child based on a general law and not necessarily your wishes. The only way to make sure that your wishes are followed is with a will.
Make your plans known.Now that you have completed steps 1-4 it is important that trusted family and friends are aware of your plans. It is also important to properly store your estate planning documents. Make sure that original copies are protected, but accessible if needed.
Also, make sure to take time annually to reevaluate your plan. If you ever want to change the list of potential guardians it can be done. All that is required is having updated documents drafted and executed.
Knowing that your children are protected doesn't make being a parent any easier, but hopefully, it is one less worry for new parents.