When To Make A Will

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Dear Dr. Darcy:

My husband and I are in our mid 30's and are attending a wedding clear across the country in a few months. It's the first time we are going away without our kids. My question is (depressing and hard to even type) about a will and what info I need in creating a will and who I am supposed to leave my children to if/when something may happen to me and my spouse at the same time. It's been weighing on me, I push it out of my mind a lot and I am scared about it. Do I have to go to a lawyer or can we write one up ourselves? And how do we make these tough decisions? Hope you can help, thanks.

ANSWER

Great question.  No one wants to talk about dying much less who they are going to leave their kids to. People's level of denial around this is mind-boggling considering we’re all going to die at some point. Good for you for summoning up the strength to ask about it.

Given that you have children I would recommend that you not buy a Will at your local Staples and instead go directly to an attorney. You’ll need one who is licensed in the state in which you reside. I’m happy to help by making a referral. I know far too many attorneys…

Now, on to the issue of who to leave the children to.  This is tricky. You should not feel obligated to choose family members as guardians unless they are the best choice, and by best choice I mean that their values are in sync with your own. Will they honor your religious beliefs by raising your children in the religion (or absence thereof) that you’ve chosen for them? Will they raise your children with the same morals and beliefs (generally speaking) that you’re trying to instill in them? I would encourage you to consider whether you’d want your children uprooted and relocated in the event that something happens to you…For me that would be a No-No. I think losing parents is traumatic enough without the children having to relocate, change schools, and leave their support systems.  As a result, I’d assign guardians who lived in or close to my city, and ideally who were committed to keeping my children in the same school district.

Here’s what you don’t have to do: You don’t have to announce to everyone who the guardians are (just make sure the guardians are OK with taking on the responsibility).  You need to choose people (or a person) who you feel would do the job best – not the person who would scream the loudest if she found out she was passed over. You also can change the guardians at will (pun intended) and without notice. Relationships change. People change. Circumstances change.  And guardians change.

Finally, you have to get life insurance.  As you know, raising kids isn’t cheap. Get yourself a life insurance policy and make the guardian(s) the beneficiary. Given how young you are, it’ll be very inexpensive. I’m happy to make a referral for a life insurance broker as well. And in an effort to provide you with further support, I’d like you to email me when you’ve contacted an attorney to confirm that your Wills are being drawn up. Good for you. Now get to work!

Writer’s stats: Female, Straight