The Journey Of Life

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Choosing a College and Getting a Degree

Accreditation

When you apply to college, you can be sure the school will check your credentials. You need to do the same when you select a college.

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Accreditation

When you apply to college, you can be sure the school will check your credentials. You need to do the same when you select a college. Make sure the institution you choose is properly accredited by a trustworthy organization. Be wary of for-profit colleges, particularly online or non-traditional programs that advertise heavily. The degree offered by these institutions may not be very valuable when seeking a job, despite the high tuition costs.

College Faculty

The professors and instructors at a university have the greatest impact on your education.

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College Faculty

The professors and instructors at a university have the greatest impact on your education. Do you prefer to work with professors who are focused on research or on classroom instruction? Do you want a college with small class sizes that allow you greater access to professors, or are large lecture halls more your style? Spend time researching colleges’ faculty online and in printed materials. You may even consider meeting with some of the professors or inquire about sitting in on a class.

Size

Institutions of higher education come in a variety of sizes, from cozy liberal arts colleges to massive state universities.

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Size

Institutions of higher education come in a variety of sizes, from cozy liberal arts colleges to massive state universities. What size best fits your goals, personality and aspirations? Some small, typically private, colleges have as few as several hundred students, while some of the largest state universities enroll tens of thousands of students. There are advantages and disadvantages to both large schools and small schools. You need to determine what setting is right for you.

Cost

College tuition is expensive, requiring many students to take on significant debt to pay for their education.

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Cost

College tuition is expensive, requiring many students to take on significant debt to pay for their education. In most cases, private universities are more expensive than public ones, though some private schools offer generous scholarships and aid. Also, tuition for in-state students at public schools is typically much less than what out-of-state students pay. Carefully compare the costs associated with the programs you are considering. How much financial aid is available? Do you qualify for scholarships? How much debt are you comfortable with? How much support do you expect from parents or other relatives?

Support Services

Colleges are more than just dorms and classrooms. A good college experience includes a wide variety of services that cultivate students’ personal development.

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Support Services

Colleges are more than just dorms and classrooms. A good college experience includes a wide variety of services that cultivate students’ personal development. You should consider what services a college offers to foster student advancement. Are there particular organizations or extracurricular activities that interest you? What programs are tailored to help students reach their full potential? Make sure you take full advantage of all the resources offered by the university.

Location

The college’s location is important, particularly when considering in-state and out-of-state tuition at public schools.

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Location

The college’s location is important, particularly when considering in-state and out-of-state tuition at public schools. You should also think about how far away from home you want to go. If you attend a university in your hometown, you may be able to save cost-of-living expenses by living with your parents or other relatives. Also consider whether you prefer a lively urban campus or the idyllic setting of a college in a small town or rural area. What sort of internship or career opportunities are available in the area where the college is located?

Academics

Although college offers a lot more than just classes, a solid education is the ultimate reason you are spending large amounts of money to go to college.

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Academics

Although college offers a lot more than just classes, a solid education is the ultimate reason you are spending large amounts of money to go to college. An important part of the college experience involves learning how to independently manage coursework along with the daily tasks of living and a fulfilling social life. Be careful not to neglect your studies with all the distractions on campus. Your grades and academic achievements will play an important role in your post-graduation opportunities, including job searches and opportunities for further education.

Safety and Security

A college campus is meant to provide a safe environment for young people to make the transition from living at home to living in the “real world.”

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Safety and Security

A college campus is meant to provide a safe environment for young people to make the transition from living at home to living in the “real world.” Unfortunately, crime is common at many colleges and universities. Sexual assault is a particular concern. When choosing a school, review crime reports to determine the security on campus and in adjacent areas. As a student, be sure to take proper precautions to secure your safety.

Majors

Some students start college knowing precisely what they want to study. Many others have no idea.

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Majors

Some students start college knowing precisely what they want to study. Many others have no idea. Some students change their minds while at school. College provides a good opportunity to experiment with many different areas of study. If you are not sure what major to declare, take a sampling of courses to open your eyes to the opportunities. Many of these courses are required as a part of the university’s core curriculum. Also take advantage of student counseling and advisers.

Post College

Build a Routine

Welcome to the real world! You are out of school. You have a job. You have bills to pay.

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Build a Routine

Welcome to the real world! You are out of school. You have a job. You have bills to pay. You have a household to manage. You may have children to care for (or at least a pet). It might all seem a little overwhelming at first, but you can manage it. Developing a routine can help you prioritize your tasks and get everything done. You will likely find that you still have plenty of time to enjoy life – and more money available to pay for the experiences and things you want.

Take Advantage of the Resources Around You

Even though you are now out on your own, you are not all alone.

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Take Advantage of the Resources Around You

Even though you are now out on your own, you are not all alone. There are many resources available in your community to help you manage your life. Examples include financial planners, tax advisers, attorneys, career counselors, life coaches, religious or spiritual guides, and medical professionals, among many others. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can also lean on your family and friends for advice and support.

Realize You're Not at College Anymore

For many people, college years were very enjoyable and will provide a lifetime of fond memories.

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Realize You're Not at College Anymore

For many people, college years were very enjoyable and will provide a lifetime of fond memories. Although the workaday world can retain some moments of college-like fun, you should remember that you have now entered a new phase of your life. For many young adults, payments due on student loans serve as harsh reminder of their new responsibilities. While it is important to work hard to establish yourself in your career and in your community, you should also make time to cut loose a little and take part in activities you enjoy.

Become a Local

It’s time to put down some roots now that you are in the working world.

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Become a Local

It’s time to put down some roots now that you are in the working world. There are many ways to get involved in your local community. Consider joining civic organizations or volunteering with local charities. Perhaps you have a taste for local politics or you have found a cause you’d like to take up. Go for it! Taking part in the life of your community not only helps make it a better place to live, but you could also reap benefits as well. You could make social connections that could further your career and enhance your social life.

Take Your Job Seriously

Let’s face it. Your first job after graduation is probably not the career you dreamed about while in college.

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Take Your Job Seriously

Let’s face it. Your first job after graduation is probably not the career you dreamed about while in college. Not many people are lucky enough to parachute right into the perfect position. No matter how insignificant you may believe your job to be, keep in mind that it is just a rung on the career ladder. Show your supervisors that you take your work seriously. Show up on time and do what is expected of you. The impressions you make in your first job could go a long way toward helping you get the position you really want.

Make Healthy Choices

You might not be a teenager anymore, but you probably still feel somewhat invincible. Unfortunately, the passing years will take their toll.

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Make Healthy Choices

You might not be a teenager anymore, but you probably still feel somewhat invincible. Unfortunately, the passing years will take their toll. Now is the time to develop healthy habits to help you avoid serious medical problems when you reach middle age and beyond. Develop healthy eating habits. Get plenty of exercise by using a workout routine that you enjoy and can sustain. Drink alcohol only in moderation and don’t smoke. Be a cautious driver. Keep stress under control. Get regular medical checkups. Your middle-aged and elderly self will thank you.

Be Careful with Your Money

You are finally earning a real paycheck. It feels like it’s time to treat yourself a little.

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Be Careful with Your Money

You are finally earning a real paycheck. It feels like it’s time to treat yourself a little. Maybe you want to travel, buy a nice car or revamp your wardrobe. It’s understandable to want to splurge some, but be careful about going into debt to pay for life’s luxuries. Credit cards in particular often charge very high rates of interest that make it difficult to pay off balances. To make sure you are living within your means, draw up a budget and stick to it. Include savings as an important part of your plan. You might actually be surprised at how much money you have left to indulge yourself.

Buying Your First Home

Rent or Buy?

Owning a home is often touted as the “American dream,” and powerful social pressures drive people to purchase real estate.

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Rent or Buy?

Owning a home is often touted as the “American dream,” and powerful social pressures drive people to purchase real estate. Indeed, owning your own home can have significant economic benefits. For example, mortgage loan interest is often tax deductible and real estate typically appreciates in value over the long run (though it can also lose value). Depending on your financial situation and the economic conditions in your area, renting a home might actually be a better option. Rent payments are often less than mortgage payments, and the landlord is usually responsible for repairs and maintenance. Renting may be a particularly appealing option if you plan on moving frequently.

Plan Your Budget

Following a budget plays an important role throughout your financial life. It’s particularly critical when planning to buy your first home.

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Plan Your Budget

Following a budget plays an important role throughout your financial life. It’s particularly critical when planning to buy your first home. You need to know how much money you must spend on life’s other necessities so you can see how much you have available to devote to house payments. Keep in mind that buying a home involves more expenses than just paying the loan. You should factor in costs such as insurance, taxes, homeowner’s association fees, upkeep and emergency repairs. Once you set a budget, stick to it. Avoid the temptation to buy more house than you can afford.

Know Your Limitations

Are you having to do financial gymnastics to make the numbers work for your home-purchase budget? Stop and reconsider whether now is really the best time to buy a home.

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Know Your Limitations

Are you having to do financial gymnastics to make the numbers work for your home-purchase budget? Stop and reconsider whether now is really the best time to buy a home. If you are convinced that you need to purchase rather than rent, reassess your requirements. Could you make do with a smaller home? Are you willing to face a longer commute to live in a less-expensive suburb? Do you have the skills to fix up a home rather than buying one that is in turn-key condition? Be careful about spending more than you can comfortably afford. Being “house poor” can prevent you from enjoying other aspects of life. It can also set the stage for problems making payments, which could result in foreclosure.

Save the Biggest Down Payment That You Can Put Together

Simple math reveals that the more money you put down, the smaller your monthly payments will be and less interest will accrue.

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Save the Biggest Down Payment That You Can Put Together

Simple math reveals that the more money you put down, the smaller your monthly payments will be and less interest will accrue. There are other benefits to making a large down payment. Many lenders require a certain percentage of the purchase price to be paid in cash. This figure is frequently 20 percent or 15 percent of the property’s value, though the amount varies depending on the lender and the circumstances. If you are unable to make a down payment that equals or exceeds the requirement, the lender may still make the loan but may require you to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI) – coverage that can be quite costly.

Rid Yourself of Excess Debt

Pay down your consumer debts and student loans as much as possible before taking the plunge into homeownership.

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Rid Yourself of Excess Debt

Pay down your consumer debts and student loans as much as possible before taking the plunge into homeownership. Not only will a lower debt burden make it easier to pay your mortgage, an improved credit score may entitle you to more favorable interest rates that can make your mortgage payment more manageable. Be aware that most lenders will ask you not to take out any additional debt while your credit application is pending.

Be a Cautious Buyer

The time-honored notion of “buyer beware” certainly applies to the purchase of a home.

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Be a Cautious Buyer

The time-honored notion of “buyer beware” certainly applies to the purchase of a home. Be sure you know what you’re bargaining for and try to discover any problems before you sign on the dotted line. Most mortgage lenders will require a detailed home inspection. Make sure you hire a reputable inspector and work with the seller to ensure that all problem areas are corrected before closing. You should also work with an experienced real estate attorney to ensure the title to the house is clear and there aren’t any unexpected easements, liens or other legal problems.

Shop Around for the Best Terms on Financing

Mortgages are a long-term obligation. Even a small difference in the interest rate can make a huge difference in the amount of actual interest paid over the course of the loan.

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Shop Around for the Best Terms on Financing

Mortgages are a long-term obligation – usually 15 or 30 years. Even a small difference in the interest rate can make a huge difference in the amount of actual interest paid over the course of the loan. It certainly pays to shop around to make sure you get the most favorable terms available on your mortgage. You may consider seeking help from a mortgage broker, though brokers often charge some form of a fee. Online resources are another good option for comparing options.

Apply for FHA First-Time Homebuyer Programs

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) offers special programs to assist first-time homebuyers with financing a new home.

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Apply for FHA First-Time Homebuyer Programs

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) offers special programs to assist first-time homebuyers with financing a new home. Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for assistance from the FHA to help you qualify for a mortgage on more favorable terms. Be certain to tell your lender that you are a first-time homebuyer when making your application and ask about what programs could assist you.

How to Budget Together

Observe and Accept Habits

Now that you are joining your finances together, it is important to observe and discuss how your better half handles money.

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Observe and Accept Habits

You and your spouse or partner have developed your own financial habits during the time you lived on your own. Now that you are joining your finances together, it is important to observe and discuss how your better half handles money. Many domestic disputes center on finances. If you want to promote happiness on the home front, it is critical for the two of you to have open and honest communications about money. If you cannot accept some of your partner’s financial habits, work together on ways to reach a resolution. It may be a good idea to get help from an independent financial adviser who can offer unbiased advice.

Make a Plan Together

Generally speaking, a financial plan will be destined for failure if it is drawn up by just one half of a couple.

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Make a Plan Together

Generally speaking, a financial plan will be destined for failure if it is drawn up by just one half of a couple. Discussing finances, developing a budget and dealing with money problems constructively are important habits to develop right at the very beginning of a relationship. Compromise is often the key to contentment when dealing with money issues, just as it is with so many other issues that arise during a relationship.

Insure Your Life Together

Now that you have a spouse or partner, and perhaps children, there are other people who are relying on you.

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Insure Your Life Together

Now that you have a spouse or partner, and perhaps children, there are other people who are relying on you. What would happen to them in the event of your death or disability? If your loved ones are dependent on your income to pay for housing, food and other basic needs, consider purchasing life and disability insurance to protect them in the event of a tragedy. If you are dependent on your better half’s income, you should consider purchasing coverage for him or her as well.

Save Something

It is never too soon to start saving, even if you think money is tight.

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Save Something

It is never too soon to start saving, even if you think money is tight. Not only do you need to begin saving for your retirement right from the start of your career, but it is also important to begin building up a rainy day fund so money will be available in a crisis. Consider setting aside a certain percentage or dollar amount from each paycheck. Put it in a savings account and forget about it unless you need it for an emergency. Resist the temptation to raid the piggy bank to buy something you want but don’t really need.

Know Credit Scores
and Debt Obligations

Openness and honesty are crucial when discussing your financial life with the person you love and plan to share a home with.

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Know Credit Scores and Debt Obligations

Openness and honesty are crucial when discussing your financial life with the person you love and plan to share a home with. Make sure both parties in the relationship know each other’s credit scores and the debts they are brining into the relationship – particularly if the two of you are getting married or buying a house together.

Be Generous

If you have the means to do it, contributing to charitable efforts can be very rewarding.

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Be Generous

If you have the means to do it, contributing to charitable efforts can be very rewarding. Helping others in need if you are able is a part of being a good citizen. Make donating time and money a part of your financial practices as soon as possible in your career. You can truly make a difference in your community. Be generous with friends and family, so long as you don’t have to run up debt to do so, and it is done as an act of kindness rather than a form of bragging. Keep in mind that charitable donations may be tax deductible.

Consider the Future

Ready or not, the future is coming. Take time now to prepare as best you can for the rest of your career and your retirement.

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Consider the Future

Ready or not, the future is coming. Take time now to prepare as best you can for the rest of your career and your retirement. Many people find it beneficial to set career goals to help them achieve what they want in their work life. Continuing education may also be important for your career. If you have children or want to have children, make plans for how you will pay for their upbringing and education. You should also make plans for when and how you want to retire, and chart a course to turn your plans into reality.

Retirement

Optimize Government Benefits

When it comes time for you to retire, be sure you get what you deserve from government programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

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Optimize Government Benefits

Most workers spend their lives paying into government program. When it comes time for you to retire, be sure you get what you deserve from government programs such as Social Security and Medicare. For example, Social Security offers different levels of benefits depending on when you retire. Make sure your retirement decisions optimize the amount you will receive from Social Security.

Make Sure Investments Are Tax Efficient

The days of employer-funded pensions are over for most workers.

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Make Sure Investments Are Tax Efficient

The days of employer-funded pensions are over for most workers. Instead of defined-benefit plans, most workers have defined-contribution plans such as 401(k) programs. There are other types of individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and investments that you may wish to use to fund your retirement. Be sure to discuss the tax implications with a professional to make sure your investments will provide the best return for you when you need them.

Consider the Appropriateness of All Asset Classes

As you approach retirement age, your investment priorities change.

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Consider the Appropriateness of All Asset Classes

As you approach retirement age, your investment priorities change. While young workers have the option of making riskier investments that offer the potential for higher yields, older workers may be more concerned with security even if it means a smaller return. Don’t just set it and forget it when it comes to your retirement savings. Periodically reassess your portfolio to make sure it still fits your priorities and risk tolerance.

Seek Advice from a Professional

In the same way you probably wouldn’t attempt to repair your car or treat your own medical condition, you may not be equipped to plan your own retirement.

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Seek Advice from a Professional

Most people are not financial experts. In the same way you probably wouldn’t attempt to repair your car or treat your own medical condition, you may not be equipped to plan your own retirement. If you are uncomfortable navigating the complex world of investments, consider seeking advice from a professional financial planner who can work with you to create an investment plan that matches your goals.

Get Protection for Health and Long-Term Care Expenses

Many workers get health insurance from their employers as a part of their benefits package.

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Get Protection for Health and Long-Term Care Expenses

Many workers get health insurance from their employers as a part of their benefits package. When they retire, most workers are eligible for Medicare to help pay medical expenses. However, Medicare does not pay 100 percent of the cost of medical care. To make sure healthcare expenses don’t eat up your retirement savings, look into supplemental insurance to cover what Medicare doesn’t. You may also consider purchasing coverage to help pay for long-term care, such as that provided by assisted living facilities or nursing homes.

Take Full Advantage of Your Employer’s Matching Plan

Many employers offer 401(k) plans or similar retirement programs. In many cases, a part of the benefits package includes the employer matching the employee’s contributions.

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Take Full Advantage of Your Employer’s Matching Plan

Many employers offer 401(k) plans or similar retirement programs. In many cases, a part of the benefits package includes the employer matching the employee’s contributions. Some employers will contribute a certain amount to employees’ retirement account for each dollar the employee contributes, up to a limit. For example, an employer may contribute 50 cents for each dollar a worker contributes up to 6 percent of the worker’s annual salary. You are leaving money on the table if you don’t contribute at least the full amount to maximize your employer’s match.

Estate Planning

Maintain an Inventory of Your Assets and Key Documents

Keeping a list of your assets and important papers can be a major help should tragedy strike.

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Maintain an Inventory of Your Assets and Key Documents

Keeping a list of your assets and important papers can be a major help should tragedy strike. If, for example, your home burns down, having an inventory could help you put your financial life back together with greater ease. If you were to pass away, an inventory could help your loved ones assemble your estate with less confusion and frustration. Consider keeping important papers in a safe deposit box or other secure location, and make sure your close loved ones know where to look.

Update Beneficiary Designations

Failure to do so may mean that an ex-spouse, not your current spouse, gets your savings after your death, for example.

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Update Beneficiary Designations

Relationships change over the course of a lifetime. People get married and divorced, and they may become widowed. Children are born and children may pass away. For this reason, it is critical that you periodically update the beneficiary designations on financial instruments such as life insurance policies, retirement accounts and other assets. Failure to do so may mean that an ex-spouse, not your current spouse, gets your savings after your death, for example.

Create a Durable Power of Attorney for Medical and Financial Decisions

If you were unable to do so yourself, who would you want to make important healthcare and financial decisions in your place?

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Create a Durable Power of Attorney for Medical and Financial Decisions

If you were unable to do so yourself, who would you want to make important healthcare and financial decisions in your place? Creating a durable power of attorney provides you the opportunity to select who gets to make these important life decisions for you in the event you are incapacitated. You may also consider creating a living will to set out your wishes regarding life support and other end-of-life decisions. These documents are often drawn up as a part of a comprehensive estate plan.

Consider Your Child’s Financial Needs After Your Death

If you have dependent children, your estate plan should include provisions that will provide for their care until they reach a certain age.

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Consider Your Child’s Financial Needs After Your Death

If you have dependent children, your estate plan should include provisions that will provide for their care until they reach a certain age. Many such estate plans include a trust that provides money to pay for the child’s living expenses and education until the child reaches a certain age. At that time, the child may be entitled to receive the corpus of the trust in cash to use as he or she wishes.

Execute Your Documents and Keep Your Plan up to Date

It is important to work with a qualified attorney to make sure your estate plan is properly drafted and executed.

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Execute Your Documents and Keep Your Plan up to Date

It is important to work with a qualified attorney to make sure your estate plan is properly drafted and executed. Many “do-it-yourself” wills may not stand up in court due to flaws in the language or the way they were signed and witnessed, for example. You should also update your will and other estate planning documents as necessary to account for changes in your life and changes to the tax code.

Consider a Guardian for Your Child

Who would you want to care for your child if you and the child’s other parent passed away?

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Consider a Guardian for Your Child

Who would you want to care for your child if you and the child’s other parent passed away? Without guidance, the courts may not make the same decision that you would. You can help ensure that your wishes will be carried out by naming a guardian for your child in your estate plan. Although the courts are still bound to act in the child’s best interest, the parents’ choice of a guardian carries significant weight.