Annie Babbitt, guest contributor
As a parent, you have made the promise to take care of your children until they can take care of themselves, and sometimes for a bit longer. But what happens to your children when the unthinkable happens and you and/or your spouse die unexpectedly? It isn’t the most pleasant topic to think about, and I know you’d much rather be reading about tips for cute Halloween decorations or a new chicken recipe. But planning ahead for the unexpected is the best way to make sure your children are cared for—even after you are no longer able to.
What is a Will?
A will is the easiest and most important thing you can put into place as a parent to be sure your child is taken care of after you’re gone. A will sets out in plain terms who you would like to become guardian of your child and to whom your assets go. Many assume that the nearest relative will become guardian of the children, but without a will any friend or family member can put themselves up for candidacy, leaving the judge to choose among them.
Do not confuse estate planning with a will. Estate planning includes a will, but that is only one part of the process. It also includes growing your assets and finances while you are still alive, as well as what happens after death. They are very beneficial, but require meeting with various professionals. A will is much simpler to create.
Creating a Will
You do not need a lawyer to create a will, but it will take some time and probably a little money. There are guides and resources online or at the library that will give you something to follow. Here is a basic list of things to write in your will.
- Pick someone close to you and your family to be your will’s executer after your death. This can be any family member, friend, or a professional like a lawyer or bank. This person will be in charge of making sure your will is carried out and will take care of any paperwork. Make sure to ask them if they are willing before you make it official though!
- Make a complete list of all your property, including bank accounts, real estate, investments, and life insurance.
- Decide who you want to inherit what, and when. For instance, if you want your daughter to have your grandmother’s necklace, but not until she is 18, then clearly state this.
- Choose someone to be the guardian of your children, and then pick one or two alternate guardians just in case the first choice is unable to take the job, or chooses not to. Then decide whether you want the guardian to also be in charge of the assets you leave your children or if you would like someone else to fulfill that role.
- Consider writing a letter specifying how you would like your children raised—how you want them to be educated, what religious beliefs and values you think are important. Also, specify what you would like your funeral arrangements to be, etc., and update the letter every few years.
- Be sure to name your spouse as sole beneficiary, otherwise the court may split your property between your spouse and children and assign a state officer to control your children’s portion until they are 18. Naming your spouse as sole beneficiary will allow him or her to use the entire portion of assets to raise your children. You can also name your children as sole beneficiaries in case you and your spouse pass away at the same time.
- Name a trustee to manage the property passed on to your children. The trustee can also be the guardian, or you can name two different people.
Legalizing a Will
To make a will legal it must be typed or computer-produced (handwritten wills are only accepted in some states), it must say in the document that it is your will, and it must be dated and signed. You must sign the will in view of two (some states require three) witnesses, and these witnesses must also sign and date the will confirming that you did this of your own free will and that it is the official will.
Some states require a will to be notarized, so be sure to check if your state does.
Stay tuned for part two of this article, which will discuss choosing a guardian for your child, and making sure all the details are in order.
Annie Babbitt writes about her interest in current events, political science and philosophy. Annie loves helping promote change and being an advocate for those in need.