Reminder: If you have kids, you need a will

If you don’t care about what happens to your assets after you die, you probably don’t need a will.  Your stuff will be apportioned out in accordance to state laws and people will get what they get, including the government.

But if you have kids, you need to make sure they’re taken care of.  Even if you don’t have much of an estate you need to make sure that if you die unexpectedly that the powers that be know where your kids are going to go.  So they don’t have to enter the foster care system.

You may be thinking, but I have a spouse, if I die or if they die then it’s obvious that the kids will just go with the other spouse.

That’s fine, but what happens if you both die at the same time?  Say you’re in a car accident together.

You need a will.

The will needs to say who is going to take care of your kids and who is going to take care of your kids’ money.  (Which they will presumably get because you and your spouse had life insurance, right?  If you have kids, you probably need life insurance!)

If you have pets, you may also need a will depending on what the people in charge of your estate would do if you died without a will.  At the very least, stick a note in their vet records saying who will take care of your pets should you be gone (and make sure that person agrees!), especially if said person is not your next of kin.  If you don’t have people you can trust, this random website says that a will may not be enough.

Do you have a will?  

16 Responses to “Reminder: If you have kids, you need a will”

  1. Mary Says:

    Excellent points!

    Of course, kids are not property, so you can’t ensure that the person/people you name will end up with guardianship. The court will, of course, give your views as expressed in the will some weight.

    But especially if there are close relatives who you’ve excluded (maybe because you think friends would be better guardians) they certainly can contest guardianship in court. For that reason, it might be a good idea to leave that person some extra money to hire a lawyer.

    • xykademiqz Says:

      This! We did our wills about a year ago, and the lawyer emphasized that we can say who we’d like to take the kids, but that kid placement goes to family court and gets decided there. They certainly take into account the deceased’s wishes, but the court’s charge is to try to do what’s best for the kids so there’s no guarantee the kids will be left with whom you’ve said to leave them with, which, honestly, is terrifying. I don’t give a $hit who gets my car or furniture, but I definitely care who gets my kids. Our eldest son is 21 now, so he’s our designated guardian for the younger two, which hopefully wouldn’t be contested (none of us have other family on this continent anyway). We’ve designated money for living expenses and the annual maintenance of the family home until the youngest is in college, also money for college for the younger two, and the rest to be split and accessible when they’re of age.

  2. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    This is on my to-do list for this summer! We do have a will but it’s severely outdated.

  3. rose Says:

    Will or trust! TOTALLY decide who cares for the kids and animals, also who controls the money & what it can be used for, Need not be same as guardian person. Everyone with or without other people or animals in their lives needs to set up their legal affairs when there is no problem!!!! AND UP DATE IT AGAINST LAWS CHANGING or life changes! Check beneficiaries too on any insurance policies including those from work.

  4. anandar Says:

    We don’t yet have a will– it is on my to do list but not a super high priority, because (a) we don’t plan to alter the default distribution of assets per our state law; and (b) (most importantly) all of our close relatives (parents + siblings) are very functional people who would make excellent guardians, and we trust their judgment and relational skills. We have had conversations about our wishes, but it really depends on things like what stage of school our kids are at. We do need a will to protect against the potential future cognitive decline of our parents, but thankfully everyone is in good shape at the moment.

    We do have advance health directives, that to me was a higher order priority. As is making sure that all of our close relatives have copies of all essential documents, contacts, and financial info just in case my husband and I both become incapacitated (even just temporarily). I don’t want them stressing about who our pediatrician is, or #s for accessing money or insurance. We’ve done a lot but not all of that. After that I’ll do the will!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think the will is also important if you have kids in order to decrease the chances of them having to go into foster care while the court figures things out. While having functional relatives can help limit those problems, everything is just easier and faster with the courts if you have it all spelled out in the will.

      • anandar Says:

        A will can’t prevent temporary, short term foster care placement in an emergency situation, if the circumstances of the parents’ death/injury and the age of the kids warrant that. The procedures that CPS has to follow where I live would allow them to easily identify and contact appropriate guardians (all of whom we’d be fine with) for anything longer than an emergency overnight, and I trust that that those would be followed. But, different localities are different, and the courts and administrative agencies in your area may be something you want to avoid at all costs! For example, if my kids/family were not white, I’d def feel differently. :(

      • anandar Says:

        One more thought: where we live, there is a form that you can file with your kids’ public school that identifies your in-case-of-emergency contacts and emergency family plan (including preferred guardians); those are the people who will be called if for some reason your kids are at school (or CPS is called) and you and your spouse are incapacitated, killed, or deported. I have no idea how common this is, but if an option, def file that form and make sure it is someone who you trust to be a guardian, and to navigate bureaucracy in the event of an emergency, it may be the first thing the local authorities are able to get their hands on.

  5. Jessica Says:

    I’m 26 and don’t have a will, but I also don’t have kids or pets. I have my siblings listed as equal beneficiaries of my accounts, and I’m realizing from these comments that I should also make sure they have the info for those accounts. I don’t have or want life insurance. Is there anything else I need to do?

    • Jessica Says:

      Oh, I should add, I don’t own a home. The most valuable thing I own (outside of the investment, savings, and checking accounts) is my car, which is probably worth $6000.

    • Sarah Says:

      Also 26 in similar situation and no will. But something I’ve always wondered if I should have or what precautions I should have in case (like you said) car accident or something unexpected happens. If people have resources please share!

    • Jenny F. Scientist Says:

      In some states there’s a really easy fillable form (usually enacted by the legislature) for a simple will, and also for a medical power of attorney. Sometimes also a DNR type form. Even if you don’t have kids or pets you may wish to decide who would make decisions for you, especially if it’s not your next of kin (parents, siblings). Here are Wisconsin’s (https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/forms/advdirectives/adformspoa.htm) and (https://wilawlibrary.gov/topics/estate/wills.php#forms). You might want to see if your state has similar provisions. A lot of law offices will do a simple will and various medical documents for a few hundred dollars.

  6. First Gen American Says:

    I think the easiest time to do a will is after you get married….because there is a lot of paperwork that needs to get done at that time anyway.

    1) make sure if you name someone as executor, guardian, etc, they know where the paperwork is (like what drawer in what cupboard) and that they are okay with the responsibility.
    2) if you have a house do a homestead.
    3) we also drafted powers of attorney, health care proxies at the same time.
    4) put beneficiaries on all your accounts (at the very least, your big ones like 401K and life insurance.)
    5) if your power of attorney person is not a beneficiary in your will, consider giving them something for their troubles at the end of it all. Especially if your family has a history of dementia or stroke. “Volunteering” a friend for such a task can be huge commitment with years of work taking care of a person and their finances. I know a couple of such cases of childless people who recruited a friend and it’s a huge responsibility with no set end date.

    Good topic.

    • First Gen American Says:

      I just realized not everyone will get married even in the context of kids, so strike that first line.

  7. revanche @ a gai shan life Says:

    We have a will and trust and they now need updating for Smol Acrobat’s arrival, to change an executor, and to generally go over it with a trial type lawyer to poke holes in the boilerplate and catch any areas of weakness to ensure that if both of us are gone or if one of us remarries, there is no way for a third party to easily go against our wishes. That’s on my calendar to deal with this year.

    I did not know that it’s possible for our wishes on guardianship to be disregarded though and I find that deeply upsetting. We have “closer” by blood relationship relatives who we do not ever want to be anywhere near our kids (my parent and sibling for an example) and we have relatives we love but know are not at all up to the task of caring for and rearing our kids (or have religious or political views we do not want in a parent of our children).

    • Angela Says:

      The guidance I’ve seen is that it is recommended to write a (sealed) letter discussing why you did and didn’t choose those people in your life that the court can refer to and hopefully support your choice. I have no idea if that’s correct.


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