Choosing Guardians, Writing a Will & a Revocable Living Trust
A little over a year ago, my husband and I started to revisit writing a will. Shortly after this post, I held an introductory meeting with a local family estate attorney at my house. I invited several other parents over to learn the basics of writing a will. It was purely for education purposes – no pressure to commit to anything.
When the attorney finished, I was definitely overwhelmed by how complex this could get but it was her personality that really motivated us to move forward. A few weeks later we were in her office for 90 minutes learning even more about what services she could provide, trying to determine what would make the most sense for our family. We settled on having her write our will as well as a Revocable Living Trust. A will is a directive that goes into effect after your die where a Revocable Living Trust goes into effect immediately upon signing it. There are a few resources (here and here) that might explain this better and help you decide what’s best for you.
In my opinion, we waited longer than we should have to have our will written. However, part of the problem was that my husband and I couldn’t agree on who would be the most suitable guardians for our children. Before our attorney became our attorney she really drove home the importance of writing a will for this exact reason. If we couldn’t agree, what would make us believe anyone else could? Without a will there was the potential for relatives to battle and ultimately, a judge, who knows nothing about our family, would decide. Further, without a revocable living trust, much of our assets would be tied up in probate for a decent amount of time making it difficult for anyone to move forward after such a tragic loss that hopefully never happens.
Our attorney actually helped us decide who the guardians would be. She helped us talk through every scenario and listened to both of our opinions. After our first official meeting as her client, I felt like I just finished a counseling session with a psychiatrist! Once we decided on guardians, we later learned she would be notifying the primary guardians and the two alternates via mail. In addition to long term guardians, we also had to appoint three short term guardians. Short term guardians being the individuals who are in close proximity to our home and able to care for our children in a short term situation. I found this to be one of the easiest decisions.
Our will and trust are very complicated. We choose a variety of people to have different responsibilities in following through with our wishes. Our Power of Attorney is one person, while our Trustee is someone else, the Trustee Protector yet another person and our Health Care Proxies are also different people. By doing this it keeps everyone involved and keeps our children’s best interest in focus.
As I flip through the three-inch binder that is the home to our trust and will (also on a disc that is safely locked up), I reflect back on the decisions we had to make and the things we had to identify. We let the guardians know that we have cord blood for our children and where they could find it. We outlined some special requests around involvement of family in our children’s upbringing. The attorney drafted a letter for the babysitter that outlines our intent for short term guardians (in the event something happens when we’re not home). We outlined at what percentage and at what ages our kids would receive any funds left in the trust (if they exist) after they turned 18. We even outlined rules around what financial advancements could be made for things such as a car, wedding or home and which family member had the ability to make this decision (different from the guardians because we didn’t want to put the guardians in the position of having to make the decision and simply love our kids).
We also appointed a health care proxy (mine is different from my husband’s) and made those individuals lives a little easier by detailing out a variety of different scenarios and our wishes. We noted our thoughts on organ donation and feeding tubes. We identified HIPAA agents – the individuals our physicians are allowed to share medical information with. I reflect back on one page that actually details out the care I want if I’m put in long term care. Our attorney actually advised us to list some key things out particularly around bathing and general hygiene. Seriously.
What’s left? There’s a section where I can write out my burial instructions. I can’t bring myself to do that. There’s also a section where I can make note of any special belongings I have and who they go to. Again, not something I’ve put time into. Perhaps later on. Once we were done drafting the will and trust, we then began the time consuming process of renaming all of our accounts into the trust. This extra step would help avoid probate later and would provide some tax benefit as well.
Our attorney was a wealth of knowledge and guided us through every step. Choosing an attorney who is an expert in family estate planning was definitely the best decision we made to make this entire process easier.
- Online Community: Picking a Guardian