This is kind of morbid, but Aaron and I recently meet with our attorney to draw up our wills and living trust. After almost seven years of marriage, we decided to get on the ball and have a professional will and trust executed.
It hasn’t been a fun process. Preparing a will makes you think of all the worst case scenarios.
Now that we have a new baby, all of a sudden everything becomes just a little bit more important.
With our older girls, it wasn’t much of an issue since we knew that if anything happened to us they always had their mother. I knew that even if Aaron passed away Melissa would let me see them whenever I wanted to (one of the many reasons I love my husband’s ex-wife).
With our new baby, the legal lines aren’t quite as clear and we wanted to make sure that our baby wasn’t caught up in some type of weird legal probate issues before going to our chosen guardian.
On the other end, I’m a step-mother and I cherish the relationship I have with our girls. One of my biggest reasons for having a will was so that if anything happens to Aaron the girls know that I’m following his wishes. I can’t follow his wishes if I don’t know what they are.
If expectations are clearly written then the chance for conflict decreases significantly.
As I’ve thought about this process I’ve talked to many friends and family and have realized how few people actually have wills.
This includes people who have asked Aaron and me to take care of their children if something were to happen to them. It is kind of scary to think about the legal issues that can happen if there is no will.
I’m not an attorney, so I’m not going to dwell on all the legal ramification of not having a will. What I do want to focus on is why you need a will.
1. Minor Children
If you have minor children you need a will. I can not stress this enough – you need a will. This is particularly true if for some reason you don’t want the obvious family members to gain custody of your children.
Aaron and I have almost the opposite issue. I’ve got five siblings, he has eight, we have grandparents that are still young, even his daughters are old enough to take our child if needed. We would both feel 100% comfortable with my best friend and her husband raising our child.
Our options are endless. Most people aren’t this lucky and really need to pick and chose who will raise their children.
I don’t know about you, but even with our endless options, this wasn’t a decision we wanted to be left up to a random judge. After a lot of thought and discussion, we laid out a specific plan, spoke with everyone involved and explained our reasoning to the various family members.
The important thing to remember is that a will is a living document – it can be updated anytime.
We chose one of my sisters as the primary guardian. In another 5-7 years, we will most likely change things and have one of our daughters take over this responsibility.
It gives me so much peace of mind to know that if anything happens to us, our child will be loved and cared for by the guardian we chose.
2. Financial Assets
In Arizona, if your estate is larger than $75,000 your estate will go to probate. Most people, particularly if they are homeowners, will fall into this category.
Again, do you want the state to be making financial decisions for you? I certainly don’t. Do you know that if there is a conflict between beneficiaries this process can take years?
My Brother-in-Law always says, “People get funny when it comes to money.” I’ve seen it first hand. Do you really want your family to be left fighting over your money because you weren’t responsible enough to address this issue?
I’ve seen too many families torn apart by money fights and want to prevent this in our family.
Our estate isn’t the largest, but when you add in life insurance policy (which can be handled outside of probate if they are done correctly), the numbers increase very quickly.
Unfortunately, we are still worth more dead than alive.
Since we we have a minor child one of our major concerns was making sure provisions were made for her financial future. I don’t want to ask someone to care for our child without leaving them some extra money to help handle the increased financial burden.
We also wanted to make sure our older children received funds. However, we don’t want to suddenly give them a whole bunch of money at this point in their lives.
We structured our will to give them lump sums based on a percentage of the total estate when they hit certain ages. We made provisions for drug usage and even behavioral issues.
We even required that our kids take Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace class (or something similar) before they would receive any money.
We want this money to be a blessing not a curse in their lives.
3. Personal Assets
This can be a really tricky issue that is often forgotten until it comes up. Who gets valuable jewelry, guns, collectible items and personal mementos?
My parents have an old fashion sewing machine, the kind that you have to peddle yourself that was my great-grandmas. I never paid any attention to it until I got married and realized that the brand name was “White” (which is written on the wood front – it is so cool looking). Since I married into the White family, I’ve told my parents and all my siblings that this is one item I’d really like to have.
It is a totally stupid request and I hope I don’t get it for a long time, but I know that when the time comes that is an item I will receive.
Aaron and I went through our house and we divvied everything up. We showed up at the attorney’s office with a 2-3 page list of personal items that we wanted to be given to specific people for specific purposes.
We didn’t list every item, but we made sure that the stuff we considered valuable and worth fighting over had a specific beneficiary.
We didn’t want the girls to be left dealing with trying to figure out our wishes during what would already be a stressful horrible experience. We asked for their wishes before making final decisions. We wanted them to have a say in items they considered sentimental.
The final product:
When we are finished with the whole process we will have a complete estate planning binder. Our estate binder will include the following:
- Wills for both of us
- Living Trust Documents
- Power of Attorney for legal matters
- Medical decision forms and required power of attorney forms
- Information on our funeral requirements
- List of all bank accounts, retirement funds, and life insurance policies
- Insurance information for home, vehicle and medical
- Titles of vehicles
- Information on any debt (hopefully none by the time we are gone)
- Letters to the kids
Why You Need a Last Will Now
I know that preparing a will is the last thing on your mind right now. I certainly don’t like thinking about my death, but I hate the thought of causing issues for my family even more.
When I die, I want my family to celebrate my life rather then be stressing about who is taking care of the kids, what happens to our home, who gets what portion of our money . . . . . the list can go on and on.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to why you need a will.
Our attorney also had us complete all the medical forms, including powers of attorney, she added provisions for potential long-term disabilities of any of our kids, we created a trust. She even went over our burial wishes.
Obviously, not everyone needs to go into this level of detail. Our will and living trust was done by a personal friend and business contact who gave us an amazing deal. A basic will, done by a good attorney should cost between $700-$1,500 if you add a trust and all the other legal documents the pricing will be higher. Obviously the more complicated your estate the more expensive.
In the past, my will was done through LegalZoom. Legal Zoom is one of the online will makers who provide printable living wills and trust. You can print up state specific wills that when completed and notarized will offer sufficient protection for the basics. A basic state specific will costs around $69.
I recommend something a bit more robust if possible, but in my opinion, anything is better then nothing. The most important thing is to get a legally binding document put together that will clearly lay out your final wishes.
We’ve already discussed our wishes with the girls multiple times, but when we finalize the documents we plan to go over it with them again and then send copies to certain family members who have been asked to serve as trustees if needed.
Our goal is to make this process as smooth as possible for our family. There will be no dramatic reading of the last will. Everyone will know exactly what to expect when we die.
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PS. If you are looking for a Phoenix Estate Planner we used Victoria Ames from Artemis Law Firm. She did a great job!
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