If you’re a parent — whether you’re just starting your new life with a tiny newborn or getting your oldest ready for college — you know the decisions parents have to make every day can feel overwhelming.
No matter where you’re at in your journey, creating a will may not be on the top of your list, but it’s an essential step all parents need to take — sooner rather than later.
Many parents feel that the estate-planning process will be uncomfortable, so they put it off. However, having peace of mind for your child’s future, should anything go wrong, can make the conversation more comforting.
Most parents think the only reason to create a will is to decide who should care for their child or children if one or both parents die. Of course, choosing a guardian for your children is important. If you don’t make this decision, the state will make it for you, which could result in temporary foster care. The decision of guardianship for your children is only one aspect of an estate plan, however.
Family dynamics also play a role in how you create a will: If you’ve helped raise a child, but you’re not the child’s legal parent, the child will not receive anything from your estate unless you have an estate plan saying otherwise.
To ensure the child receives money or a special heirloom, you must lay out the specific details in a will. Another common situation can come up when a couple isn’t legally married. Without a will, the surviving partner might not receive anything at all.
Another consideration is how responsible a child is. If the parent doesn’t think the child can handle a large inheritance, even as a legal adult, there are many options. Trusts can be created to put rules or conditions in place so the child won’t have access to money until a certain age, or the parent might decide the money can be used only for college or to buy a first home. Often, the money is held back until a certain age, or distributed over a period of years.
How property is left to minors needs to be thought through carefully.
Children under 18 can’t legally sign contracts, which can make accessing an inheritance prior to an 18th birthday difficult. Sometimes it can require a court order.
This can be a problem if a child under 18 inherits an interest in the family’s home. In this situation, the home might not be able to be sold until the child is an adult.
Creating a will is something you shouldn’t wait to do. If you die without a will, you’ll be subject to the state’s default rules, which are the same for everyone. Of course, we’re not all the same and neither are our families.
Creating your own will gives you the opportunity to override the rules of the state and customize a plan specific to your needs. If you don’t want a certain person to receive your money or belongings, make the decision now to do something about it before the state decides for you.
Find a guide
There are ways to create a will on your own, but it’s best to find a state-licensed estate-planning attorney to help you navigate what can be a complex process.
Creating a will and trust can be confusing. My philosophy is to help clients feel as comfortable as possible, while also making their plan easy to understand.
I listen to the client’s concerns and goals, and from there, we create a plan that best suits their specific needs. My goal is to help families feel confident in their decisions.
Philip Ruce is a Minnesota estate-planning attorney at Stone Arch Law Office and is married with two children. Learn more at stonearchlaw.com.