Welcoming a new addition into your family is joyous – and it comes with the tremendous responsibility of ensuring your child is well cared for through to adulthood. Managing that responsibility takes a lot of planning over the course of a child’s life. And, while it may not feel like the most comfortable subject to think about, it’s important to consider who would take on this responsibility if you were no longer able to.
If you are no longer in the picture and haven’t named a guardian and trustee in your will, the courts will decide who will raise your child and manage any money you’ve left behind. To make sure you have a say, and to prevent arguments and costly court battles, it’s a good idea to begin the conversation with your partner. Here are some key questions to think about.
Who is best suited to be your child’s guardian?
Among family members and close friends, who shares your approach to parenting and your values? Who has a close bond with your child? Consider candidates who have the flexibility to add your child to their family and who live nearby, so your child won’t have to move far from other family and friends. Make a list of the best candidates for guardian, and itemize the pros and cons.
Is your chosen guardian able and willing?
Once you’ve chosen a specific person or couple, it’s time to discuss the possibility with them. Explain why you’d like to name them as a guardian, tell them your expectations and share some of your hopes and dreams for your child. Offer to answer any questions they have. Then, give them time to think it over. Agreeing to be a guardian should never be a snap decision.
How will you cover the costs of upbringing?
Accepting the responsibility to raise your child is commitment enough – you don’t want to leave the guardian with a financial burden as well. Put a plan in place to cover your child’s costs.
A Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) is an excellent start to pay for post-secondary education. (Remember to name a successor subscriber, either in the RESP, if available, or in your will, to help ensure the continuance of the RESP.) Other savings can form part of your child’s inheritance too. Are they sufficient to fund living expenses (orthodontics are expensive!), extracurricular costs (so is hockey equipment!) and other needs? If not, keep in mind you can top up the inheritance with life insurance.
The goal should be to provide more than enough, so the guardian never has to dip into his or her own savings to provide the opportunities you want your child to have.
Is someone else better suited to manage money for your child?
The best person to raise your child isn’t necessarily the best person to make financial decisions about how to invest your child’s assets. If your guardian isn’t both knowledgeable and responsible about money, you can name a trustee to make investment decisions, manage property and distribute funds to the guardian to pay for your child’s care.
This approach can help to safeguard the legacy you’ve left behind. To avoid offending your chosen guardian, explain from the start that this is your plan and that you hope it will allow him or her to focus on bringing up your child without worrying about money.
What is your backup plan?
Situations change, and your first choice may become unavailable for any number of reasons – new family or work commitments, marital or financial difficulties, health concerns or age. For example, the child’s grandparents may be healthy and active now, but they may not be able to take full-time care of your child five or 10 years down the road. Just in case, it’s always a good idea to name alternative guardians.
Put your plan in writing
When you’re ready, speak with your advisor and your lawyer. Your advisor can help you create a financial plan with provisions to pay your child’s way to the age of majority. Your lawyer can help you put legal documents in order, including a will that officially appoints the guardian and trustee.
Remember, you’re preparing for something that might happen, not something that will happen. Once the appropriate plans are in place, you can get back to enjoying life with your family.
This article was originally featured in Solutions magazine © 2017 Manulife.
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