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Don't Have a Will? We'll Show You the Way

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Updated on Mar 6, 2009

You’d do anything to protect your kids, but there’s one important stone many parents leave unturned – creating a will. Most of us don’t like to dwell on our own mortality, let alone think of leaving our kids behind. So, we procrastinate. Liza Hanks, Founder of Family Works Law Office in Campbell, California, and author of “The Busy Family’s Guide to Estate Planning,” thinks that’s a bad idea.

“Every parent needs a will,” says Hanks. “It’s not a financial issue, it’s about naming guardians for your kids. If you don’t, a judge makes that decision without your input.” You may think it’s obvious that you’d want your sister and her husband to take the kids, but without a legal will, your in-laws or a family friend could take guardianship instead. And until the judge decides, the kids might get stuck living with crazy Uncle Kevin.

Choosing legal guardians is one of the most difficult decisions parents can make, especially when partners disagree. Hanks offers these tips: “Focus on who your kids really love. Focus only on the next three to five years. Remember that there are always compromises to be made, so focus on the things that matter most to you and your partner.” If you want Grandma and Grandpa as guardians and your partner wants her brother Bill, agree to choose only for now; you can revisit the issue in a few years if circumstances change.

If your family’s affairs are cut and dried, you may be able to buy a kit and create a legal will on your own, although it’s always a good idea to have a lawyer read it over. However, “if you have property that’s valuable, a blended family, kids with special needs, or want to treat your kids differently, you should see a lawyer,” says Hanks. For example, if one of your children has a disability and may need lifelong care, you will need to provide differently for him or her than for your other children, and should see a lawyer.

Once your will is done, you’ll want to keep it in a safe place and update it every time you move, if you have a new child, get divorced or remarried, or when the legal guardians’ circumstances change. Usually, says Hanks, this means reviewing the will every 3-5 years.

Then you can go on to live a long and healthy life free of anxiety over your children’s futures.

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