14 documents every new parent needs


While my typical clients trend older, I do think it's important for new parents to consider their estate planning. Here's a good summary of paperwork for new parents to have in place.

A couple of years into my daughter’s life, I woke one night with a jolt. Had we named a guardian for her in case we both died? I couldn’t remember, so I scrawled myself a middle-of-the-night note. When I checked in the morning, sure enough, although I’m a consumer reporter and my husband is a financial planner, we had overlooked this crucial document. We’re still kicking, and we’ve now added a guardianship document to our will, but the original blunder got me thinking: If two pros like us can screw this up, maybe other people also need help. That’s why I dug deep to develop this list of 14 documents you need for your new baby.

Birth certificate: Duh! This one’s a no-brainer, but there are a couple of details worth mentioning. Whether you give birth at a hospital or at home, the staff or midwife should give you the forms to apply for a birth certificate. Do this promptly. Waiting more than a year can complicate the process of getting other official documents, including a passport. Once you apply, not all states automatically send you a copy of your baby’s birth certificate. You may need to fill out a separate birth-certificate order form. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a list of vital-records offices in each state. Since this is such a crucial and lifelong document, it may be worthwhile to order multiple certified copies.

Social Security card: Back in the day, people did not get Social Security cards until they got jobs, but times have changed. The Social Security Administration recommends applying immediately at the hospital. Your baby needs a Social Security number to get health insurance, have a bank account or be eligible for government services. And you need your baby to have one so you can claim him or her as a dependent on your taxes. If you did not apply at the hospital, you can visit a Social Security office.

Will: You need a will so that, in the event of your untimely death, you will have decided what to is to be done with your assets — whether bank accounts or baseball cards — rather than leaving the decision to a probate court. When the court decides, this process eats up time and money. Instead, you want to provide legal clarity so that the focus is on using those assets to take good care of your child. You should also appoint an executor who will carry out the wishes outlined in your will. Most of those who are married leave all of their assets to their spouses, with their children as alternative beneficiaries, but this advice comes with a caveat. “Only if it’s an intact family,” said estate planning attorney Lori K. Murphy of Lynch Conger McLane in Bend, Ore. “If it’s a blended family, professional advice is definitely needed, since giving all assets to your spouse would effectively eliminate any inheritance to your children from a former relationship.” In other words, if you have children from a first marriage, and you’ve remarried, you should consult an attorney to figure out how to provide for those children in the event of your death.

Guardianship document: This can be part of your will or an addendum to your will. It specifies who is to raise your child or children in the event that both parents die. The website BabyCenter.com provides a thoughtful list of questions to consider when choosing a guardian. It can also be smart to appoint an alternative guardian and temporary guardian. “I recommend that clients appoint temporary guardians in two situations,” said Murphy. “When parents travel, it’s important to delegate authority to a caregiver so he or she can seek medical care for your child. . . . In a death situation, if the permanent guardians live far away, consider appointing a temporary guardian to take care of your child until the permanent guardians arrive.”

Letter of instruction: Here is your chance to philosophize about how you would like your children raised and educated if you die. Perhaps you are religious and would like your son or daughter to attend services. Maybe there are certain friends or relatives you would like to make sure they get to visit. Parents have also used this document to spell out nitty-gritty details. “I once had a client use a letter of instruction to provide a specific guide on how to handle a special-needs child,” Murphy said. Things like “be sure to provide water in a red cup. Otherwise he will have a meltdown.” And “be sure to buy fire engines as toys as they make him happy.”

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