Debra Ginsberg once said, “… The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that – a parent’s heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.”

Parenthood is a beautiful thing.

As parents (whether it be your first or your fourth child) bliss is in the air. The journey as a parent is one that comes with so many emotions and typically, feeling like you just won the lottery is one of them. While we often feel lucky, good parenting takes more than just luck. Be sure to celebrate and enjoy your child’s life, but be careful to not fall into a daze of excitement or cycle of busyness and forget to plan.

Planning ahead for young children is an important step to take when on the journey of parenthood. While planning for things such as picking a name, the color of your child’s new room or even what activities, sports, or schools they are going to attend all seem very important, there’s more to it. No matter what age your children are, you also need an estate plan that can grow with your children and keep them protected, and not just leave things to chance. Take these three steps to get started.

1. Create a Budget.

To begin – let’s talk about money. Children are expensive to raise, plain and simple. In fact, middle income parents can expect to spend $233,610 to raise a child born in 2015 without even counting the college tuition and costs, according to a recent report by the Department of Agriculture. Where do all these costs come from?

For many, the financial costs start to mount early, before birth even, as a child can impact a job or even a career. Will one parent stay home and for how long? What is the opportunity cost of lost wages or the cost of childcare? From there it expands into choosing preschools to deciding if they’re going to private or public school to eventually sending them off to college. Along with this education comes many costs such as food, activities, clothes, and traveling. Don’t forget medical costs, either. Preventative care for pediatricians, dentists and orthodontists, and eye-doctors add up quickly over the years. Of course, if your child suffers an illness or disability these costs greatly increase.

Even though planning for your child’s future seems so far away when they cannot even walk, it’s critical to making your life easier in the future! Sit down and create a budget! Talk about what kind of education you plan on giving your child. Will it be private? Public? Homeschooling? Consider the options in your area and even start visiting some schools. Time flies and your child will be in school before you know it. If you plan on creating a savings fund for college, the earlier the better.

Why make these decisions now? The reason is simple. These decisions need to be shared with the person or people, who will serve as your child’s guardian if something happens to you. Don’t leave the potential guardians of your children in the dark on what you would have wanted for your children.  It will also help you identify  you are providing enough financially for your child and their guardians so that your wishes can be carried out.  By calculating future costs and working with a team of professional advisors, you can determine how to best save, invest, and how much insurance to seek.

2. Name Guardians.

Not all talks have to be about money, although who is the right person to care for your children’s finances should be a part of it. You don’t have to have the same person oversee your child’s money and his or her care. Depending on the size of your estate, the types of property you own, or your family dynamics, it may make more sense to have a more neutral party such as a local bank, trust company, or a professional fiduciary manage your child’s inheritance.

You do need to find the right person to care for you child if you cannot.   Otherwise you risk the unintended consequences of creating family conflict or a court selecting someone who you might not have chosen, who is not a good fit, or who is a stranger to your children and your family’s values.  You and your spouse need to work together with your estate planning attorney to decide who is the best fit based on your unique needs and those of your child. Don’t forget, it’s important to name back-up decision makers as well.

Making this decision is hard for any parent, but it simply can’t be put off. While you cannot be replaced, you can leave a legacy of love for your children by ensuring they are cared for and raised by whom you want and how you want.  For more tips and considerations on how to choose the right guardians for your kids click here.

3. Create Goals (and set a timeline).

Creating goals, with set timelines, is a good way to create a good foundation for your parenting. For example, you could aim for your child to learn how to help put away his toys by the age of 3. As time passes, and your child gets older, you can plan for him or her to take on more household chores. This teaches your child that with age comes increased responsibility.

Similar to the goals you set for your child, set goals for yourself. For example, by your little one’s first birthday, you will have all of your estate planning documents finalized. By eighteen months, you will have had the crucial conversations you need to with your child’s potential guardians. By the age of two years old, your estate plan will be integrated and ready for small changes as your adventure together continues.

Parenthood is an amazing gift, but of course cannot be planned to a tee. Some of the beauty within parenthood is enjoying the time that is unintentional. However, taking a few steps to put in the time to plan for the foreseeable and unforeseeable circumstances of the future will give you the peace of mind you need to enjoy the present.

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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an Orange County estate planning attorney and elder law attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He is all about family and has a passion for educating his community about estate planning and how to protect what matters most.

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