5 Steps to Creating a Family Will

Check estate planning off your 2019 to-do list


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Photo courtesy of WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock.com

If making a will has languished for years on your to-do list, you’re not alone. A 2017 study conducted by Caring.com, an online resource for caregivers, found that 6 in 10 adults in the U.S. don’t have an estate plan in place. Unfortunately, this leaves millions of Americans struggling each year with expensive and complicated arrangements on behalf of deceased loved ones. 

Making a will is especially important for parents, who may otherwise leave the care of their children up to the courts and protective services if they die intestate, or without a will. So here’s how to start off 2019 with more peace of mind and a family estate plan in place.


1. Choose your estate planners.

Although you can use online legal resources and go it alone, you’ll benefit greatly from experienced estate planners, advises the National Institute of Certified Estate Planners. NICEP suggests working with a team that includes an attorney and a financial adviser who can help you avoid costly mistakes. For recommendations, talk to friends and family who have created a will and visit nicep.org. 

Creating an estate plan can cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars — depending on your assets and wishes — and can take several weeks to prepare and finalize. Many estate planners offer a free initial consultation, when they can advise you on your needs and estimate costs.


2. Select a guardian.

A guardian will be responsible for the care and raising of your children in your absence. Selecting a guardian for your children might be one of the toughest decisions you’ll make, says attorney Liza Hanks, author of “The Mom’s Guide to Wills & Estate Planning.” You’ll want to consider whether or not the guardian you choose is able to:

• Provide a stable home environment.

• Raise your children with the values you hold most strongly.

• Meet the physical challenge of raising kids.

• Make sound decisions regarding your children’s futures.

Still having trouble choosing a guardian? Hanks advises choosing someone who is the best fit for the present time and re-evaluating your choice every five years. Once you’ve decided on a guardian, you’ll need to speak to that person. Make sure he or she fully appreciates the responsibility and is prepared to follow your wishes to the best of his or her ability. 


3. Choose an executor and/or trustee.

An executor will carry out your wishes as expressed in your will. He or she is also responsible for winding down your affairs, and will use estate funds to pay off any outstanding financial obligations and mediate disputes among heirs. According to the American Bar Association, choosing an executor to carry out a will may save families the unnecessary costs and time involved with bonds and court supervision. To select an executor, choose a trusted, responsible person familiar with your affairs.

A trustee is responsible for the execution of a trust. Parents of minor children may place their assets in a trust to be distributed to their children according to specific guidelines. When choosing a trustee, be aware that your trustee may be involved in the process for months or even decades, depending on the directives in the will and ages of your children. 


4. Make important health care decisions. 

A will conveys your wishes in the event of your death, but what if you’re injured and unable to communicate your wishes? According to the North Carolina Bar Association, North Carolina residents can use a living will and health care power of attorney to make decisions regarding medical treatments. Consider whether you want to incorporate life-prolonging measures if you suffer from a serious injury or illness that leaves you unable to communicate your wishes. You can also appoint a health care power of attorney to make these decisions on your behalf, should you be unable to do so.


5. Gather paperwork.

You’ll need to provide your estate planner with a number of important documents, according to LegalZoom.com, an online legal services resource. These documents might include real estate deeds, vehicle titles and recent statements associated with your bank accounts and investments. Your estate planners may also ask for a list of your outstanding debts, including mortgages, car loans and credit cards.

To designate beneficiaries to receive any of your assets, such as investments and retirement savings, you’ll need to provide their full names, accurate contact information and Social Security numbers. You may also need to provide a copy of your minor children’s birth or adoption certificates.

Creating a will is an important step in securing your family’s future. Make 2019 the year you put your wishes in writing with a solid estate plan.


Christa C. Hogan is a local writer for kids and adults, and a mom to three boys.


Legal Glossary

Estate: The assets and liabilities of a deceased or bankrupt person.

Executor: A person who is named to carry out the details of a will.

Guardian: A person legally placed in charge of the affairs of a minor or person of unsound mind.

Health Care Power of Attorney: A person designated to be the representative, or agent, of someone who is unable to make or communicate decisions about all aspects of his or her health care.

Probate: The official legal process of proving that a will is valid, and of distributing the property and carrying out the actions as directed by the will.

Power of Attorney: The authority to act on behalf of a person in certain legal and financial matters.

Trust: An arrangement by which property is put under the ownership and control of a person (trustee) who bears the responsibility of administering it for the benefit of another (beneficiary).

Will: The legal statement of a person’s wishes concerning the distribution of his or her property after death.

Source: Webster’s New World College Dictionary and LegalZoom.com

 

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