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3 Key Decisions Young Families Need To Make When Preparing a Will

by Craig Ford

Too many young families do not have wills.  Actually, too many families in general do not have wills.  Dave Ramsey reports that 70% of Americans do not have a will at the time of their death.  Why?  It is a combination of business and the feeling of invincibility.  Young families think that once they get older they will take the time to prepare a will.  They think that this time is better spent planning for retirement and other such activities.  As a result, preparing a will is a task that is often neglected even though it is extremely important.

Common reasons why young families don’t prepare wills:

  • People hate thinking about death. They’d rather focus on the positive aspects of life.
  • Death happens to old people, so most people delay preparing a will until they are older.
  • Making a will forces people to address their own mortality and some are not emotionally prepared to face the possibility of death.
  • Some people think they don’t have enough money to make a will.
  • Preparing a will is too complicated.

Some of these issues are psychological; others are financial.  I’ll help you with some of the financial parts and let you work through the psychological parts on your own.

Let me assure you, preparing a will is not complicated, and a will does a lot more than split up your money.  A will also tells the courts who you want raising your kids.

Remember: A will is one of the most loving acts a young father and mother can do.  In the case of an untimely death, you will leave your family with some direction and assistance.

3 Crucial Will Related Decisions For Young Families

Who will you designate as the guardian?

The guardian is the person who would have custody over your children if both of the parents passed away.  If you do not prepare a will or designate a guardian, then by default, you’re giving the court permission to choose a guardian for your children if you and your spouse pass away.

The person you designate as the guardian should be someone who shares your family values and who you know loves your children.

Important: Be sure to ask potential guardians if they are willing.  Guardianship is voluntary, so the courts will not require them to keep your children.  For this reason you need to know that potential guardians are willing.

What will happen to your estate?

You will need to decide who gets your possessions and when they can access your estate.

In the case of smaller estates, it is not uncustomary to allow the guardians to use your estate to help pay the cost for raising your kids. See this related article regarding how much money to leave your children’s guardians in your will.

If you have a larger estate you will also need to decide when and how your kids will receive their share of the estate.  It is recommended that you state your wishes using specific ages and percentages.  For example, when Little Johnny turns 18 he has access to 50% of his inheritance and to the other 50% when he turns 21.

When you have additional children you will want to be sure to update your will.

Who will be the executor?

The executor may be the same as the guardian.  This could be a good idea if the estate is smaller.  It will make things simpler for the guardian/executor.

For most families a personal friend could server as the executor.  Look for someone who is trustworthy, has a solid financial foundation, loves details, and is financially organized.

Once again, it is suggested that you confirm that the person is willing to serve as the executor.

With larger estates you may consider a paid professional to serve as the executor.

The simplest way to draft a will:

Once you have made these important decisions, it is time to actually draft the will.

For simpler wills (smaller estates) using some type of will maker service is advisable.  I used US Legal Forms to prepare my last state specific will.  Once you buy the product they walk you through all the important steps. For larger estates or more complicated estate plans, you may be better off going with a lawyer who specializes in estate planning, trusts, and related areas.

Once the will is completed it should be notarized, registered with the county clerk (depending on the requirements of your home state), and kept in a safe place.  Be sure a trusted friend knows where the will is and also holds a copy of the will.

Wills are not fun to prepare, but they are crucial.  Most importantly, they are a blessing to your family.


Published or updated January 12, 2012.
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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ron

I think another reason, and a big one, is that writing a will deals with a future event. Most people are too caught up in the here and now, that’s why they don’t save for retirement, but instead opt for that new car. That’s why they don’t spend some time investigating better insurance options, but instead plan a weekend away. They’re too busy changing diapers, getting to work on time, worrying about using up their vacation time, helping kids with homework, going out with friends, cleaning out the gutters, planning that party, wondering what other people think about them, complaining about their in-laws to their spouse, and all sorts of other NOW events and priorities.

They’re (myself included too many times) way too myopic.

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2 Chris Ball

I agree I am the same, I have just retired and I dont have a lot of money. I wish I had put money away over the years my daughter is looking at getting me away for a hol soon again everything is always here and now.Looks like there will be more than me in this boat soon.

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3 Miranda

Great reminder! We’ve been thinking of putting together a will for quite some time now, but haven’t got to it. But we really need to figure it out, especially since our son will be turning 8 soon.

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4 Kristen

We’ve been talking about writing our will. Guardianship of the baby is our biggest issue right now. My husband and I aren’t fighting about who should be the guardian. Neither of us can come up with someone who we think would be right. We need to sit down very soon and have another conversation about it.

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5 Benjamin

Thanks for posting this! This is one area of our financial lives were my wife and I are clueless! I’m glad to hear other financial bloggers have used (and trust) the online legal form websites!

We’re pretty lucky that both my wife and I already agree on who should get custody of our two children.

Now its just a matter of writing it up! Incidentally, this is also one of my New Year’s resolutions!

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6 Craig Ford

@Benjamin
If you’re situation is fairly standard a court will not challenge your will even if it was written by hand. The online programs are nice because you can just insert the relevant information and they do the rest.
I think it took us about an hour (once all the decisions were made) so it’s not a big deal.
Get it done and check off another New Year’s Resolution.
@Kristen
I think you’re right that you do need to have another conversation about it. If think it is a hard decision imagine how hard it would be for a judge to decide.
@Miranda
OK. It’s on the web. We’ll have to check up and be sure you got it done.
@Ron
I think your right that people just don’t want to deal with future events. We are so focused on the urget and pressing that we rarely make time for the future.

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7 RJ Weiss

Craig – Thanks for posting about this issue.

For someone who knows just the basics about will and estates, I’m amazed at how difficult it can be passing belongings on. Even to another spouse.

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8 Austin

Before I left for Japan in July, my grandpa kept suggesting I make a will even though I’m 23. I took his advice because it just makes it easier for every one in case something happens.

It felt strange writing it up, but I’m glad it exists and would suggest it for any one no matter how young.

Austin @ Foreigner’s Finances

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9 Jason @ MyMoneyMinute

Craig,

Just curious how your will distributes your estate to your children (if you have them)? Is it similar to the example you gave above (50% at age 18, 50% at age 21), or was a trust set up to manage their inheritance?

I haven’t used LegalZoom or U.S. Legal Forms, so I was just curious how detailed they get for a $30 document. Also, were medical directives included in the package?

As a disclaimer, I’m an attorney in Texas, and have done a few Wills. The online forms are certainly better than nothing. My concern is they may fail to address potential issues with how your funds are distributed to your children and/or their guardians, not to mention just plain legal counsel that you might not receive otherwise that would benefit you — but you wouldn’t even know it was an issue based on the online form.

Great article, keep up the good work!

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