Fans of the British royal family are celebrating the arrival of the 7th in line to the British throne, and even some of us here in the colonies will admire the paparazzi pics of baby Sussex and speculate about what his first name will be. It seems unlikely that this Little Prince will be born into a world of financial worries. For the rest of us commoners, though, having a baby is a fundamental life change that raises new financial and legal considerations.
Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex are a young, married, heterosexual couple having their first child, but there can, of course, be many, many variations on expanding the family. A parent may be single. Parents may be same-sex. Parents may not be married. Parents may not be romantic partners. One or both parents may be re-partnered and already have children with a previous partner, meaning the new baby will have step-siblings. Parents may choose adoption, insemination or surrogacy, each of which comes with its own set of legal concerns and requirements. And there are many other possibilities.
Updating Estate Planning Tools to Reflect New Additions to the Family
The arrival of a new child in any family can be a wonderful incentive for people to turn their minds to legal or financial housekeeping that they may have been ignoring, such as revisiting insurance coverage, and making or updating wills and powers of attorney. Just as young parents-to-be have often built the crib and painted the nursery, it’s equally important to ensure that the legal basics are also in place.
If this is a first child, chances are that young parents may not have wills at all, or if they do, their wills most likely will need updating to include inheritance considerations related to the baby. And, while no-one wants to put their minds to this at such a joyful time, it is prudent to make sure that any parent’s will includes specific instructions about guardianship of minor children, and guardianship of money for those children, in the event of a parent’s death. Difficult though it may be, responsible planning for a new parent includes discussion and agreement about who could be named as guardian in the event of a tragedy.
For a family bringing home a new baby, it may feel like the only thing growing faster than the laundry pile is the “pile” of expenses. It would understandably be tempting to look for a less expensive alternative for preparing wills than consulting and paying a reputable lawyer. But this is not the place to cut corners by going a “do-it-yourself” route. A will that is completely handwritten (known as a “holograph” will) is technically legal in many jurisdictions. Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act allows for holograph wills, stating, “A testator may make a valid will wholly by his or her own handwriting and signature, without formality, and without the presence, attestation or signature of a witness.” Big box business supply stores carry “will kits” with fill-in-the-blank options, and in recent years many online will-making services have become available.
The potential for omissions or errors, however, makes a will prepared without full legal advice an extremely unwise option. We strongly encourage new parents to make an appointment to come in and discuss face-to-face the reconfigured family’s best options. Young parents are very familiar with the overwhelming range of parenting choices. Which is best, cloth or disposable diapers? Co-sleeping or bassinet? Imagine the significant choices to be faced when making a will. Each individual family situation will raise unique questions whose answers will dictate specific testamentary wording. At an in-person meeting, a lawyer can ask all the right questions to ensure your choices (literally, your “will”) end up fully expressed in the final document.
We generally recommend that clients making or updating wills also prepare Powers of Attorney – documents that give another person the authority to make your financial or healthcare decisions if you are incapacitated. Once the will and power of attorney documents are completed, signed and witnessed, they can be checked off the “to-do” list and will only need to be revisited with the birth of another child, or another extremely significant change in the family’s circumstances. People further up the family tree, particularly grandparents, may also want to review their wills when a new grandchild comes along. Some grandparents might want to research tax-free gifting options. In some families, the question of establishing or amending a trust may arise. We can advise on this as well.
Seek Advice on Estate Planning Updates From an Experienced Lawyer
Harry and Meghan will have a legion of helpers over at Windsor Castle. For others with a new baby, life will take a turn for the hectic. It takes a village, as the saying goes. We won’t offer to come over and babysit or change diapers, but we can help with wills, estate planning and other legal issues that can arise when a family expands. At Gelman & Associates, our knowledgeable and compassionate lawyers provide exceptional legal representation in all family law matters. Our goal is to always empower clients to make informed decisions about their future.
With six offices throughout Aurora, Barrie, Downtown Toronto, Mississauga, North York and Scarborough, we are easily accessible by transit and off-highway. Our phone lines are open Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Call us at (844) 769-0737 or 1-844-769-0737 or contact us online for an initial consultation.