I remember laughing with a work colleague when we found out a married couple we knew were actually years younger than us. How could people younger than us be married? Both of us were on the verge of our 30s at the time, and yet, nearly a decade post-college graduation, we still didn’t feel like ‘adults’ ourselves. Both of us went on to marry later in life, and had our first child within weeks of each other.
The joke’s on us now. According to our timeline, we’re officially adults.
With this new parenthood status comes a bit more responsibility. Once you have children, you really do need to get your affairs in order. Maybe you were one of those people my friend and I laughed at — you married young and sorted your life out over a decade ago. (Or, you are my age and just happened to be more responsible. I get it.)
If so, congrats! You have officially adulted before me. If not, read on.
Lots of people put off the business of adulting for many reasons — some of us think catastrophe will never strike us. Others believe their family will help them out of any situation. Still others might have anxiety levels skyrocket just thinking about this. However, once you knock these things out of the park, your stress levels might actually go down knowing your stuff is organized.
Nobody wants to think about job loss, sickness or death. But when children are in the mix, you really should have a plan in place in case something happens to you or your partner. Now is not the time to stick your head in the sand.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but these five things will get you started:
1. Make an Official Will
In some states, this might be as simple as making your requests known in writing with one witness’s signature. Friends in Idaho once had me sign their ‘will’ before they jetted off overseas sans children. Nothing else necessary, at least at the time! Tennessee needs something a little more official: a written will, witnessed by two people. Hiring an attorney is advisable. Laws do vary state to state, so if you move, you want to be sure your will is still official. Lawyers don’t come cheap, but once it’s done, it’s done.
You may not think you need a will. You may automatically think that your parents or your siblings, or a good friend would take over and care for your kids if you and your spouse die. But what if you were all together and something catastrophic happened? Or what if there are specific people you do not want caring for your children? Get it in writing exactly who you want your children to go to, particularly if it’s not the next of kin.
Whether you specifically name family members or friends, please get their permission before you officially name them as guardians. No matter how much someone loves your children, they may not actually be able to physically take care of them full time, if you aren’t around.
2. Create a Living Will or Advance Directive
Nobody wants to think about this one, but do you have a plan in place in case of an emergency or catastrophic accident? Do you want your spouse to have to decide if you should be on a ventilator, even if you’re brain dead? Do you want your teenage children to have to make that decision? Do you want your organs donated? A life-threatening illness or accident puts enough strain on a family and there are numerous decisions that need to be made, while you might be unconscious. Make some of those decisions ahead of time.
If you have hired an attorney to help with your will, an advance directive is often included. Be sure to name someone as power of attorney (like your spouse) to make certain decisions for you if you’re incapacitated.
3. Take Out a Life Insurance Policy
Is your husband the sole provider in your family? Are you? Could you live on only your income if something happened to your spouse? Consider a life insurance policy. Some also give you funeral benefits and unless you have savings for something like that (see below), burial and cremation costs are not cheap.
4. Have Emergency Savings
Financial advisors say if both partners work, you should have a minimum of three months of living expenses saved. If you have only one income in your family, you should have at least six months living expenses saved. (That’s living expenses, not necessarily income.)
That might still seem impossible, but even setting aside $20 or $50 here and there every few weeks will start to add up. If you have finished paying off a debt (like your car) consider still ‘saving’ that monthly car payment for several months towards your emergency cash. Or save yearly bonuses or whatever other extra income you can spare. The key is to save money before you spend your entire paycheck.
5. Password (Not) Protected
Who deals with the household finances in your family? Is it you or your spouse? Do you know how to pay the bills? Could you transfer money from accounts? Recently, I listened to a group of ladies lament the fact that they didn’t know how to pay their mortgage or even get into the family safe without their husband. The reverse can also be true. Since the Sailor is gone so often, I deal with the ‘red tape’ in our household, but he still knows how to access everything.
Joint accounts, car payments and home loans are not necessarily the time to have your own passwords. Share and share alike.