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How to Take Care of Your Family If Something Happens to You

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Mjallhvít from an 1852 Icelandic translation of Snow White via WikimediaI don’t like to think about death. But the fact is that my husband and I will die someday. If we die before my son is grown, I want to know that he is taken care of. For healthy young adults like us, paying an attorney to set up a will or a sending a monthly fee to a life insurance company can seem like a waste of money. We choose to spend the money now because, if our family ever faces a tragedy like a terminal illness or a fatal accident, we want our family to be secure.

  • Give a medical power of attorney to anyone who cares for your children. A power of attorney gives anyone who takes care of your children the right to get medical care of your children’s behalf. For example, two family friends took their granddaughter skating. When she fell and broke her arm, doctors refused to set it or give her pain relief without her parents’ consent or a power of attorney.
  • Set up a will. If something should happen to you and your partner, you might assume that you children’s grandparents would become their guardians. Think again. In most states, grandparents have no rights without a will. A will gives you the chance to specify who gets to care for your children if something happens to you. It also directs who gets your assets—like the money in your bank accounts and your house. A will is especially important if you have a non-traditional family where your children don’t live with their two biological parents.
  • Set up a trust. A trust is like a bank account you leave behind for your loved ones. If your children are younger, their guardians will be able to use that money to help raise your children until they inherit the trust when they are grown. But even if your children are already adults or you’re leaving all your money to your spouse, a trust may still be a good option. A good lawyer will help you decide whether you need a trust.
  • Insure yourself. Life insurance may seem like a waste of money for healthy adults, but there is no better way to ensure that your family is taken care of if something happens to you. Generally, families choose to insure parents who work outside of the home to protect the families’ standard of living if something should happen to the breadwinner. Get insurance now. The younger and healthier you are, the less insurance costs. If you wait until you are truly ill, you may not be able to get insurance at all.
  • Insure your children. You should get your children insurance for two reasons. First, it will be much easier for your child to get insurance later in life—even if she develops a difficult-to-insure condition like heart disease or mental illness—if you insure her now. Second, heaven forbid something happens to your child, the last thing you’ll want to worry about is how to cover last expenses. (A funeral can cost $10-15,000 before you buy a burial plot.)
  • Set up a living will or durable power of attorney for yourself. A living will specifies what happens to you and your resources if you become too injured or sick to take care of yourself. Without a living will, your family may someday have to make difficult decisions about life support or do not resuscitate orders by themselves.

These sorts of legal arrangements aren’t things you can do for yourself. You’ll need to look for qualified professionals to walk you through the process.

  • A good attorney. Find a lawyer who is AV-rated and practices in “wills and trusts” or “estate planning.” Martindale-Hubell is a good resource. Start on their “Trusts and Estate Lawyers” page and search by your state and city. Make sure to check the “peer review rating” on the search results to find an AV-rated lawyer. (Other lawyers rate the most qualified and ethical lawyers as “AV.”) Any friend who works in the law may be able to refer you to someone as well.
  • A qualified insurance agent. Most estate attorneys will be able to refer you to a good insurance agent. But if you need to find one for yourself, look for one with a CLU. You can search this directory to find highly-qualified agents who have earned their Chartered Life Underwriter designation.

I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. If you have questions about powers of attorneys or wills and trusts, please speak with qualified professionals.

Have you made plans to protect your family if something happens to you?

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