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10 legal issues to handle when having a baby

Preparing for parenthood includes some fun stuff—like decorating the nursery and highlighting a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. But you’ll also have to deal with legal and financial paperwork necessary to claim your baby’s space in your family, and in the world at large.

Some parenting skills are best learned in the moment, like calming a squalling infant. Others, however, are better planned beforehand. The list of legal and financial boxes for a baby is extensive, so tackling the paperwork ASAP is a smart idea.

Before delivery

  • Plan for maternity/paternity leave. The amount of paid leave you can take from work will significantly impact your household finances in the next year. Research your company’s policies and your state’s laws to get an accurate picture of how new parent leave will influence your bottom line.
  • Get comprehensive disability insurance. You’ve calculated that you can afford a new family member based on your current joint income. But what if tomorrow one of you develops a disability and were unable to continue working at your current salary? Solid disability insurance gives you additional backup, and peace of mind besides.
  • Get life insurance. How would your family survive financially if something were to happen to you or your spouse? Whole life insurance is expensive, but risk-free. Term life insurance is more affordable, but only lasts for a set amount of time, say ten years. Whatever type you decide on, after you secure a policy, be sure to inform your beneficiaries where to find it.
  • Select a pediatrician in your insurance network. Your baby’s first doctor’s appointment should come within a week after birth, so you’ll want to have a physician picked out months in advance. To find one, ask friends/family for recommendations, call local clinics, and request a phone interview. When evaluating pediatricians, consider the doctor’s doctrine on childrearing, and how it fits with your own views. Finally, be sure that your pediatrician is in your carrier’s network by calling your insurance company, so you’re not hit with unexpected charges.

After birth

  • Order a Social Security card and a birth certificate. Hospital staffers should provide you with the necessary paperwork to obtain both. If they fail to do so, or if you are having a home birth, contact your state’s office of vital records for the birth certificate and your local Social Security office to get a Social Security card.
  • Learn your right to breastfeed in public. The federal Right to Breastfeed Act states that a woman has the right to nurse anywhere on federal property, as long she has the right to be there in the first place. Some states have their own laws maintaining that women may breastfeed anywhere in public; in these states, a woman can generally sue if someone infringes on that right.
  • Add your child to your health insurance. In most cases, you have 30 days from the date of birth to add your child to an existing health insurance policy. In some employer-based plans, you have 60 days. Regardless, do it sooner rather than later to avoid being caught with a sick infant and no coverage.
  • See if you can claim a Child Tax Credit on your income tax return. The IRS allows taxpayers with children under the age of 17 to claim the Child Tax Credit if their adjusted gross income falls below a certain amount. The Child Tax Credit for 2016 is $1,000.
  • Adjust your beneficiaries. Now that you have life insurance for yourself, you may want to add your child as a beneficiary. The same goes for your 401(k) and IRA. But keep in mind that you’ll need to make adjustments elsewhere to ensure when and how your child would have access to the funds. A will or trust would accomplish this, which segues into the last recommendation…
  • Write or modify your will. Death is a part of life, so you want to ensure your child is taken care of in the event that you pass away earlier than planned. Designate a legal guardian to care for your child. In doing so, consider the guardian’s financial ability, age, and values. Your will is just one piece of the estate planning puzzle, but, it’s a good place to start.

Adding a new member to your family comes with a lengthy list of responsibilities, but by prioritizing and tackling the most important to-do’s, you’ll sidestep a last-minute paperwork avalanche. Like parenthood itself, staying on top of the associated commitments is a marathon, not a sprint.

If you have additional questions, get them answered for free by a local lawyer in the Avvo Q&A section.

Published in AvvoStories

Tracy Collins Ortlieb is an award-winning journalist and copywriter. Ortlieb specializes in parenting and family, travel and hospitality, and legal topics for such outlets as Parents, SheKnows, and Avvo. She lives in Chicago with her husband and daughters.