The primary reason was to assign guardianship of our son ourselves.
I know this is kind of a grisly thing to think about, but it brings me a lot of comfort knowing we've already made this decision and put it in our will. This coupled with life insurance relieves a lot of underlying stress. I also like having our asset allocation down in a legal document, but this was of secondary importance to us (maybe if we were super high-rollers it would feel like a bigger deal).
How did we make ours?
Our situation is pretty simple, so we did ours online at nolo.com for $34.99 each (you and your spouse will each need to do your own). You might be a good candidate for doing your will online if your situation is basic. Things like weird tax issues, property in different states, second marriages, family businesses, etc. would probably require a lawyer.
Here's a quick walk-through of what we did. None of it is particularly difficult, you just need to keep moving forward on the steps. If you find yourself stalling out on one of them, set up a time on your calendar to get it done.
1. Sit down with your spouse and discuss the following (and jot down your thoughts):
- Who do you want to serve as a guardian for your underage children should both you and your spouse pass away? (Check out this article on nolo.com for some helpful guidelines.)
- Do you want the same or a different person to manage your children's inheritance? (Think of an alternate person as well.)
- What are our major assets we own, and to whom do we want to leave them? (Think of an alternate person as well.)
- Who will be the executor of your will? (Think of an alternate person as well.)
3. Go online and make your will. Honestly, this is simple. (And, no, no one paid me to say that.) We did ours here. You do have to answer many questions, but since you've already discussed the topics in step 1 and jotted down your answers, it should be fairly straight forward.
4. Sign it in front of two witnesses. I don't know why this was such a big hang-up for us, but it took me forever to get this done. Since the probate court may need to contact the witnesses after your death, the general advice is to pick people who are younger than you are and live in the same general geographic area. (And, of course, they can't be beneficiaries in your will.) I wouldn't be surprised if my witnesses and I aren't living in the same area when I die, but frankly, I don't care because I know after we have our second (and third? and fourth?!?!?!) kid we'll make a new will with new witnesses at that point.
You and the two witnesses all need to be present at the same time to sign your will (your spouse does not), but it only takes a couple minutes. If you can't think of an easy way to make this happen (like work, church, etc.) maybe invite another couple over for dessert and will-signing (that way you'll get it done!) Just say, "Hey, this is my will," sign and initial it in front of them (they don't need to read it-- that would be time-consuming, unnecessary, and awkward). Then have them sign and initial it (ours had a space for their addresses as well).
5. Store it securely. Pick somewhere safe and tell the executor (and his/her alternate) where it is!
6. Update or recreate as necessary. I mentioned we plan on making a new will with the birth of each subsequent child. You should review and replace or update your will every few years and after major life events (see this article).
That's it! Not so painful, right?
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- "Guardianship for Your Children" on nolo.com
- "How to Write a Will Online" by Emily Brandon
- "Make Your Will: A Quick Checklist" on nolo.com
- "Executing a Will" by Betsy Hannibal
- "Writing a New Will" by Ken LaMance