It's not something we like to think about, parents or otherwise, but it is a serious and imperative document to establish once you have kids. The #1 reason people put off making a will is the cost associated with it. I'm happy to tell you that you can make a legal and binding will without forking out the cash to hire a lawyer*.
*Speaking of legalities, I do have to state that this is a guideline only. I am not a lawyer nor have I had any kind of legal training or education. The good news? I successfully created my own legal will and it didn't cost a dime. Keep in mind this is for a basic estate. For those with a lot of assets or intricate wishes, you may want to bite the bullet and hire an attorney to avoid making any costly mistakes.
Why do I need a will? I'm in good health. I mean, isn't that just for the rich or elderly?
No! Having kids is impetus enough. There are many reasons you may want to draw up your will, but for this article we’re focusing on the parenting aspect of it all.
Guardianship: Accidents happen everyday, and if you have not outlined a legal guardian for your children, you are essentially leaving the decision up to a judge that you've never met, and has no clue what your final wishes are. What they think is best may not actually reflect what you would have wanted, thus reinforcing the need to delineate before it's too late.
Monetary Assets: These are your hard-earned savings we’re talking about! Maybe you want them locked down until your child turns 18, or put in a fund for their college education, or maybe you want them to have immediate access. Regardless it's your decision, and if you don't make it, someone else will have to make it for you.
Sentimental Belongings: Have a wedding ring set passed down through generations that you want to ensure your daughter receives? How about memorabilia you've been saving for your son? Pictures, home movies—you name it. If not legally designated to go to your children, it can end up in someone else’s possession. Even items that have no value outside of your family deserve to be appointed to the correct people.
Beliefs, Values, and Plans: Believe it or not, these are also subjects you can outline in your will which legally bind the selected guardian to adhere to as such. Whether religious, spiritual, or practical, you have the right to have your kids raised the way you see fit, even if you die.
Okay, okay, I get it.. So how do I make one?
1. Do your research
The first step is to consult your province or state to find out if your DIY or “Holographic Will” needs to be handwritten or typed up. A simple Google search will answer this for you. For my Canadian readers, we can do either. For majority of the American states, a will must be handwritten to be considered “Holographic.”
2. Asses your assets
This step is figuring out how much you have, how much you owe, and how you want the remaining amount dispersed. You’re also going to want to outline any sentimental items at this time. Figure out what is going where and to whom. Make sure to include funeral costs and legal fees when calculating whats left.
3. Choose your guardian
This is one of the hardest decisions you will have to make as a parent, but also one of the most crucial. You think contemplating your own death is intimidating? Try imagining someone else raising your kids. Although you can outline your core beliefs in your will, it is important to appoint a guardian that truly has the same values as you. The good news is you can always go back and change your choice of guardian, to accommodate any changes in your family dynamic. (This is also the area that you will want to outline those values I was telling you about!)
Here’s the kicker though: If you and your spouse have separate wills and have chosen separate guardians (which happens often enough!), it will once again be put in front of a judge for decision. He may want his parents but you want your sister. Either way it is ideal to try to agree on this decision to avoid it being sent into court.
4. Choose your executor
The executor of your estate is the person who handles all your affairs once you are gone. This doesn't need to be your selected guardian, but does need to be someone you can trust and rely on. They will be responsible for ensuring fulfilling your requests and distributing your assets accordingly.
5. Draw it up!
It's now time to finalize everything and input it into a legal document. I have listed some resources below to sites that can help you with the actual formatting.
6. Make copies
This needs to be done before you have witnesses to your document. All signatures need to be originals so make the required amount of copies before meeting with your witnesses. I chose to make a copy for my executor and guardian as well as keep one for myself. If you decide you don't want to make copies, be sure to keep your original in a safe place such as a safe deposit box. Your will can't serve its purpose if no one knows where it is when you pass.
7. Have it witnessed and/or notarized
Again this will require a bit of research to find out the legalities in your state or province. Some require two to three witnesses, while others will require you to actually have it notarized by a legal notary. You don't want something silly like the improper witnesses make your entire will null and void. Learn more info on picking your witness(es).
It's over! You did it! While it's always a good decision to reassess your will whenever your personal or financial situation changes (or every 5-7 years), you can now rest assured that you have a plan for your family if you die. Scary business, I know, but nobody said parenting was easy.
It doesn't need to feel like a daunting or intimidating task, but its a crucial one. Even if you think you don't have anything to leave behind, at the bare minimum make sure you appoint a guardian for your children. Mine simply states who I want my kids to live with and that my assets are to be liquidated and given to my kids when they turn 18. That’s it! It took me less than an hour to draw up, but I now feel secure knowing my affairs and family will be take care of.
At what age did you draft your first will? If you haven’t yet, what’s stopping you? Leave a comment below and join the discussion!
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