That’s the exact experience I had a couple of months ago. I woke up suddenly with a whirlwind of questions in my mind wondering what would happen to my kids if I was no longer around. Who would take care of my little one since she’s a minor? Who will take care of my affairs? How will anyone know what to do? I know what you think: “Wow, that’s morbid!” But bear with me for a second.
Three years ago, in 2020, smack in the middle of COVID, my partner of 30+ years moved to another country, leaving me to raise my then 16 and 10-year-old daughters alone. Never in my wildest dreams had I anticipated being a single parent. Yet here I was. Like single mothers across the globe who have been raising their kids independently for decades, I did what I needed to do to care for and nurture my girls and ensure they were mentally, physically, and emotionally secure.
Since they were born, I always thought we needed to have a Will to protect them if something happened to us, but we never did. Every year I would put it on my to-do list for the year, including a timeline, but then life would happen, and another year would go by.
Fast forward to 2 months ago, I woke up in a sweat and panic, wondering what would happen to my kids if I passed on.
I had always known that if a parent passed away and didn’t leave a Will behind that established a guardian for a child, the courts would jump in to determine the child’s best interests. If one of the parents is still alive, they would be a consideration, but if they’re not active in their child’s life or my situation, live in another country, or if they were also deceased, there would be a period of chaos where someone else would have to decide what to do with your child.
In addition, any assets you owned that didn’t have a named beneficiary and did not meet specific requirements would go to probate, meaning that the courts would determine their distribution. Note the laws differ from state to state.
Within a month, I took the steps to create a Will to protect my kids if anything happened to me.
Here are the 9 steps to help you easily create a Will to safeguard your children:
- Bank accounts – outline the type (checking or savings, vault, safe, etc.), account name, account number, and corresponding links.
- Investments – include type (brokerage, IRA, 401k, money market, retirement, college savings, etc.,) account name and number, and relevant links.
- Liabilities – outline the type (credit card, mortgage, car loan, personal loan, etc.), account name, and relevant links.
- Life Insurance Policy – include the account and account number.
- Digital footprint:
- Google Drive
- Social media accounts – Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Tiktok, Pinterest, Threads, Twitter, Reddit, etc.
- Email accounts
- Blog sites
- Subscriptions – Amazon, streaming services, business and personal
- Medical insurance, utility accounts
- Storage accounts – Dropbox, iCloud
- Cell phone
- Photos in the cloud and any other cloud storage account
- USB drives
- Photo books and pictures in boxes
- Framed photos and paintings
- Clothes and shoes
- Household goods – furniture, kitchen appliances, beds, electronics
Some questions to consider; do you want cremation or burial? Where do you want to be buried? How should your loves handle your ashes? How should they pay for expenditures?
Determine primary and secondary guardians for your children if you have minors. Talk to your guardians to confirm that they agree to take on the responsibility of caring for your children when you are gone. They must be in good health, known by your children and familiar with them, and near where you live. While the latter is not a deal breaker, it simplifies things for everyone involved. In my instance, I selected my younger sister and a close family friend whom my little one is fond of.
Once you choose your witnesses, chat with them to ensure they’re on board. They must be adults (18+), in good health, know you well, and not beneficiaries in your Will. They will need to be present when you sign it. They must input their name and address and initial each page of the Will. I chose two of my dear friends. We have known each other for 25+ years.
Select a primary and alternate executor to your Will. As with choosing a guardian and witnesses, your executors need to be people you know, in good health, nearby (they can be out of state, but it is less convenient) and bought into serving in that role. Executors can be beneficiaries in your Will.
The software you choose will depend on your needs. I selected Nolo’s Quicken WillMaker because I was looking for a tool that offered three key features; will creator, final arrangements, and letter to survivors. The software also provides a health care directive, durable power of attorney for finances, living trust, and transfer on death, all in one place.
Once you have created your Will, download, print, and review the draft to make necessary changes. Printouts should include the Will, instructions for the executor, directions for the alternate executor, guidelines for final arrangements, and letters to survivors. Your printouts should consist of any documents you created with your software. The papers I outline here are unique to me and to what Nolo’s Quicken WillMaker software offers.
After you finalize your Will, sign it in the presence of your two witnesses. As mentioned, they must sign the document and initial each page. Once it is signed, do not alter it. Any changes you make to the Will must be done either by creating a new one or as a formal addition called a codicil to the existing one and go through the signing and witnessing process again. It is easier and recommended to make a new will than a codicil.
Store and secure your Will in a fireproof metal lock box, file cabinet, or home safe. Other storage options include your lawyer, probable court, executor, and online document storage. Click here to learn more about the pros and cons of each option. Alert your executors to the location of your Will to make it easier for them to find it when the time comes.
We all know that life is unpredictable. We’re also aware that all of us will pass away at one point or another. While it’s a difficult pill to swallow, it should not stop us from doing the right thing to protect our loved ones. Creating a will can be daunting, but you can easily make one with our step-by-step guide and the right tools. I know because I put it off for so long, and in conversations with friends, I found out that many of them didn’t have one for the same reason, and they kept pushing it out.
The good news is that the only heavy lifting needed is in step one, compiling the inventory of your assets, liabilities, and other possessions. Once you get through that step, you will breeze through the remaining eight steps of outlining your end-of-life planning, selecting a guardian for your children, choosing witnesses, identifying executors, selecting a will creator software, printing, reviewing, finalizing, and signing, and storing your Will.
When you pass on, whether you’re a single parent like I am or in a two-parent home, don’t let someone else determine your children’s future or how to handle your affairs. Create your Will today.
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Disclaimer: The content in this blog post is not meant to be legal advice. It is an overview of the process I used to create my will and should be used for informational purposes only.