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6 Legal Documents Every Parent Should Have in Place

Guest Post by Shannon P. McNulty, Esq.

When it comes to parenting, you’re the expert on your kids – what foods they like (cheerios and bananas?), their allergies, their favorite Disney movies, and the toys they like to play with.  However, you’re probably not an expert in how to make sure they’re legally protected and cared for if you’re not able to be there.  Below are some of the legal documents every parent should have in place to protect their children.

Will.  In addition to making sure your money goes to take care of your family upon your death, a will also designates the person or persons who would be appointed legal guardians of your children.

Trust.  While many people think of trusts as vehicles for the ultra-wealthy, a trust provides many protections that are important for parents with even modest assets.  A trust prevents your child from inheriting a substantial amount of money at the tender age of 18.  If you have more than one child, a trust also provides flexibility for allocating assets according to each child’s need, allowing for adjustments for unexpected medical or therapeutic expenses.

Standby Guardianship Designation.  While a will designates a guardian for your children after your death, that designation is not effective if you were unable to care for your kids because you were unconscious in the hospital.  A Standby Guardianship Designation allows a chosen individual to act as guardian for your child if you are incapacitated (e.g., unconscious in the hospital).  Without legal authority, even a close relative is not authorized to enroll your child in school or authorize medical treatment.  Nor are they technically authorized to care for the child, leaving your child open to temporarily being placed in foster care.

Power of Attorney.  A Power of Attorney designates a trusted friend or family member to manage your affairs in the event you become incapacitated.  It is the easiest way to protect your assets and ensure important expenses continue to be paid if you become temporarily or permanently incapable of making those payments yourself.  The Power of Attorney allows your designated agent to take immediate action to manage your finances, ensuring that important family expenses, such as your mortgage, nanny, or private school tuition, go unpaid.

Healthcare Proxy.  A Healthcare Power of Attorney is a document that confers upon another person the power to make medical decisions for you in the event you are unable to make those decisions for yourself. The person to whom the power is granted is called your healthcare agent or healthcare proxy.

Medical Consent Form.  A Medical Consent Form allows a designated person to authorize medical treatment for your child and ensures that your children receives the medical care they need when neither parent is present.  Without it, healthcare providers may be refuse or be reluctant to treat your child.  A medical consent form should be completed anytime both parents are out of town.

These are the most important documents for families to have in place.  To learn more and to implement a plan to protect your family, consult with an estate planning attorney in your state who specializes in trust and estate planning.

Shannon P. McNulty is an attorney and founder of City Parents Legal Planning, a Manhattan law firm specializing in legal planning for busy parents with young children.

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