I was 25 years old when I had my first baby, who is now sitting next to me working on kindergarten math problems while my toddler sleeps. Prior to having kids, I never fully understood the absolute joy and crushing responsibility of being a parent. As my kids’ primary caregiver, kisser of boo boos and momma extraordinaire, I never want to think about them having to navigate the world without me. Now in my early 30s, thinking about death isn’t high up on my list of things to do, but it is my job to prepare for that reality, just in case. That is why, right before heading out on a hard-earned cruise several years ago, my husband and I sat down with an attorney to hammer out our will. Have you started preparing your will?
For parents, making a will is arguably the most important thing you can do to ensure that your kids are cared for by the people you would want doing the job if something were to happen to you. It is the legal process for making known who you would like to serve as the guardian for your children if you die before they are adults. It also gives you the opportunity to designate someone to manage your money for your kids until they reach adulthood. Aside from making these arrangements for your children, your will also specifies who will inherit your property (bank accounts, real estate and other belongings) when you die.
If you die without a will in the state of Florida, there is no guarantee that your money will go to the people (or organizations) that you want or that your children will be cared for by the person or people that you think would be best. Of course, if you pass away without a will, the other legal parent of your children will get custody (with some exceptions). If both parents pass away, things get really tricky and a court will decide who gets the kids and where the money goes.
So, you know making a will is important, but where do you start? There are two routes you can take: do it yourself or hire a lawyer. The DIY route is much cheaper, but the likelihood of mistakes is much greater. If you choose to write your own will and have a pretty uncomplicated situation, online programs like LegalZoom can give you a basic, legally sound will. If your situation is a little more complex, you might go to NOLO.com and check out their current offerings. Be sure that if you are writing your own will that you follow the execution formalities as outlined by Florida statute.
If you choose to hire a lawyer, be prepared to pay a larger chunk of change, but you will have the peace of mind that it has been done correctly. Either way, you will need to make a list of all your assets, decide exactly whom you want to inherit what (and when), choose a guardian and alternate guardian for your kids, choose who you want to handle your kids’ inheritance (if different from their guardian), and choose an “executor” to carry out your wishes and handle the paperwork after you die. Regardless of the route you choose, you will also want to revisit your will every three to five years to make sure no major life events (new baby, marriage, divorce, etc.) have changed your plans.
For many families, the real hurdle in creating a will is emotional. We just don’t like to think about death. The fact is, as parents, it is our job to prepare for our kiddos both now and in the future, regardless of what that future might look like. It is so much better to be prepared than to potentially leave your kids in a situation you wouldn’t be happy with!