For most, death is not something we focus on and plan for in our day-to-day lives, but instead a spontaneous reality. One thing we can do to have a voice after we pass is to make a set of plans now. Making a last will and testament is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves and our loved ones after we pass away. Some do not believe it is necessary to worry about such things until we are old and retired; however, this is a very unforgiving misconception, especially when you're a parent. The reality is that you will die. It could be tomorrow or 30 years from now, no one really knows; but, when the time does come, be glad that you've already taken care of your legacy by making a will.
A will is a specific legal set of instructions on how your assets and finances are to be handled upon your death. Someone who dies without a will is referred to as having died intestate. This means all your money, property, and assets are divided according to state law, not your desires; and let's be honest, no one knows better than you what should happen with your belongings. More importantly, if you have children, it is the only sure way to see that they are taken care of when you are gone. Besides the general aspects covered in a will that include taxes, debts, property management, and financial distribution; there are the instructions on how your estate is to be used to provide for your family.
The first thing you will do is choose someone to be an "executor" of the will. This person will be responsible for making sure any outstanding debts or taxes are paid and that your property is divided up according to what you have in your will. If you are married it is best that each parent make a separate will rather than a joint will. This is because joint wills can restrict the surviving parent to its terms even if there has been a significant change in circumstances upon your death. If your spouse is not clearly stated in your will as sole beneficiary the court will divide your assets equally between your spouse and your children. The problem with this is if your children are minors the court appoints an administrator to oversee your children's inheritance until they are 18, which can cause financial trouble for your spouse who is left to raise and provide for them during that time period. Both parents should also state their spouse as the children's legal guardian.
If a surviving spouse refuses to or is unable to care for your children, or both parents die together in a freak accident, a will can name an alternate legal guardian for your children. In this case your wills should name your children as secondary beneficiaries. If you do not have a will stating a legal guardian, the courts will take responsibility in naming one, which could be any number of people who show interest in the position. A very scary thought considering the courts will not know you, your family, or anyone surrounding your family and how you felt towards them when you died. Choosing your children's legal guardian is both the most important and most difficult thing that will be written into your will. Your will also state in detail:
- Exactly what is left to your children. If they are under the age of 18, an appointed trustee will invest and take care of the property and assets left to them until then.
- Specific instructions for using the inheritance for their education and financial arrangements as they grow up.
- A specified age in which your children can receive their inheritance.
If you happen to be unmarried with children and do not have a will, the surviving parent does not automatically receive anything. Through intestacy laws they can be removed from the house and not receive proper finances to support your children who they will be legally responsible for because your assets will go to immediate relatives; living parents, siblings, aunts or uncles.
There are endless difficulties that can occur when there is no will. The intestacy legal process can tear families apart when trying to divide estates, as well as take years to finalize everything. If you die intestate your possessions may be given to someone you would have never left anything to, like a parent who abandoned you as a child, instead of a sibling or children. Depending on your family relationships, your death may bring around relatives you never even met looking to claim valued assets. Take the books in A Series of Unfortunate Events as an over the top example. If the Baudelaire parents were more specific and thorough with their will, their children would have probably had a significantly easier upbringing. It's extremely difficult to think of someone you would be comfortable choosing to raise your children, but it's always better than the state choosing, and better for your children's future. Your will can be as specific as you want to make it, like what schools you want your children to attend and how it will be paid for down to who gets individual albums in your music collection. If you haven't made a will yet, you can start today with haven't made a will yet. Let us show you how easy we can make the process and rest assured knowing your family and finances are protected if anything happens to you. It'll be one of the smartest decisions you'll make in your life.