Drafting a Will

Decisions to Make Before Drafting a Will

Our three-week trip away from our children forced Mr. T and I to finally kick into gear and make a legal will (you know, because planes falling out of the sky are actually a thing these days!). We always knew we needed one, but it seemed so daunting! Well, guys, we did it. It is done. And now I’m here to help you through doing the same thing. Obviously, I’m no lawyer or financial advisor, so don’t go around thinking this is legal or financial advice. I’m just here to help you with the first step: thinking through most of the things you’ll need to consider before drafting your own will.

Two months ago, Mr. T and I said: “We leave in a month. We need a basic will, an advanced health directive, and a legal power of attorney. Where do we start?” This, my friends, is the list of where you should start. Today, we will take you through the large list of decisions that need to be made before you’re even ready to start the documents! Ready? Here we go:

HEALTH:

An advanced health directive is a document that dictates the care you want to receive at the end of your life. I, for one, am a big DNR (do-not-resuscitate) person, but a good health directive should be more than that. Do you want a feeding tube at all? If you have an advanced fatal illness and are unresponsive, do you want to be given the chance to live indefinitely? How long do you want to be unresponsive without any action? How about if you don’t improve after 30 days of artificial breathing and feeding? Do you want pain relief at the end of life? Is that more important than sustaining life? Do you want any reasonable action to be taken to extend that life? How about after your death? Do you want to donate your body to science? Research? Transplant program? There are no wrong answers for any of these questions. This is your life and the point of this document is to ensure that you’re the one that gets to decide how it ends. You also need to choose someone to carry out those decisions for you as well as an alternate. Mr. T is the one that has to pull my plug if that time comes, but if he isn’t available, that task is left to my sister. Remember, if you don’t have this document, these decisions are left to family members and doctors and they aren’t on the same page.

LIVING WILL:

You’ve already made choices about how you want to handle your health if you’re incapable of doing so, but you also need to figure out who you want to handle the financial side. Your will is for when you die, but it gets tricky when you’re technically alive but unresponsive. Your will doesn’t take effect yet, but there are bills to pay and finances to manage and you’re still unresponsive! The Living Will allows you to choose who (in an event where you are unable to do so yourself) will be able to have access to your funds and finances to pay your medical, mortgage, utility bills, etc. and make financial choices on your behalf. Obviously you don’t want to choose someone that will run away with your money.

WILL REPRESENTATION:

  • Executor: You need to determine who will be the person that will take this will you’ve spent so much time drafting and make sure it happens. This is a lot of work. Figure out who you trust that would be capable of doing this task on your behalf.

KIDS:

Skip down if you have none. If you have kids, there are more considerations (and if you have kids from a previous marriage or have obligations to a former spouse or children, there are even more considerations I won’t go into here).

  • Guardianship: First, you need to decide who you want to take your kids in the event of your death. You need to consider your own preferences, of course, but you also need to take that person’s situation into account as well. How is their health? Family life? Could they actually do it? (Also, as an aside, you should decide on one person, not a couple in case anything happens to one of them and it becomes unclear to whom the kids should go.) You also need to pick an alternate for this position. If you live someplace away from family (like Alaska!), you should pick a local guardian that will watch your children until your guardian can arrange to come get your children.
  • Trust: The trust determines how your children get the money you’re leaving them. You can determine that the guardian can use whatever funds from the estate necessary for the raising and educating of your children and then determine how they get the rest of the money. It’s not a great idea for any 18-year-old to be instantly given (potentially) hundreds of thousands of dollars. Trusts are often set up to distribute the money in something like 3 increments (in case they blow the first one, they still get two more chances). If you set the increments to be when each one turns a certain age, they get their first third, it won’t end up being the same amount (markets fluctuate, etc.). For this reason, most trusts are set up to unlock the first amount when the youngest reaches a certain age. How and when you set these up are totally up to you. When the youngest reaches 25, then 30, then 35? 21, 27, 30? Only 2 increments at 20 and 30? Your choice.
  • Trustee: If you set up a trust, you also need to figure out who will be your trustee. This is the person that is in charge of all the money in your trust and making sure it gets doled out appropriately to your guardian when the kids are young and at the allotted times when they’re older. You want someone trustworthy and good with money.

ASSETS:

This is more than just determining who gets your money. First, you need to identify where your money is!

  • Bank Accounts/Retirement Accounts/Stocks and Bonds: For all of your accounts, go online and make sure you have a beneficiary listed. If they allow an alternate, fill that in as well. Identify your accounts. Do you have annuities? Bank accounts? CDs? Social Security? 401ks? Pensions? Military retirement? If you have kids, do they have 529s?
  • Debts: Any debt you owe anywhere. List it and how much. Credit Cards? Mortgage? Student loans? List your credit cards somewhere safe so people know what bills to pay if you die even if you do pay your bills every month!
  • Insurance Policies: Do you have life insurance policies? If they’re term, when does the term expire? What is the amount? If they’re whole-life, what’s the value? Do you have some that comes with your employment? Do you have long-term care insurance? None of these are useful if no one knows they exist when you die or are incapable of recalling the information!
  • Personal Property: What do you own that’s worth money? Do you want it all to be included in the estate as a whole (ie: potentially sold), or do you have specific bequests for your stuff? Do you have a safety deposit box? Can anyone access it but you?
  • Frequent Flier Miles: If you’ve been collecting miles, you definitely want to give your loved ones the gift of travel if possible. It’s unclear which miles can actually be transferred upon death, but your best chance is to put it in your will.

LAST REQUESTS:

You want to be cremated? That needs to be put in your will! You want your sister to sing at your funeral? You want your funeral to be a Spice Girls-theme BBQ where everyone wears glitter and cowboy boots and plays beach volleyball? Write it in your will!

Again, I’m no lawyer, so this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list of considerations, but it’s a pretty good start. Sit down and start making lists. Starting the conversation is better than doing nothing. On Wednesday, I’ll cover the next step: how to set up all the legal documents and save money doing it! If you learned any lessons from Prince’s death this year, let them be: Party like it’s 1999 and have a will when you die!

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links which, at no cost to you, helps support Northern Expenditure and keeps our heat on in the winter. Thanks!

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23 Comments

  1. This is an INCREDIBLY important post and we just did this too. It took some time to “digest” it all – especially with a blended family and kids of varying ages. What % goes to who and making sure they were all considered. And who makes those important end of life decisions too. You are definitely right – start the conversation but take action too. We got the paperwork and it still took a few months to get it all figured out. Looking forward to the next post as well to see how we did in terms of cost!

    • MaggieBanks

      Families are complicated! And add money and death to mix and all bets are off! Making decisions like that is tough, but will be infinitely tougher if you leave those decisions to the complicated, grieving family members!

  2. thejollyledger

    We have been talking a lot about creating a will. My plan was to get this done in 2017 so I have time to research and think about it a bit. Your post really helped to get us started on the basics. Thanks!

    • MaggieBanks

      You’re welcome. We struggled finding a list like this, so after the hassle of figuring all this stuff out, I figured others might find this useful as well!

  3. Hey, Maggie. Nice job! Never considered bestowing my frequent flyer mileage. But if it can be left to someone, why not? Mrs. Groovy and I completed our wills a coupe of years ago. Like a lot of people, we procrastinated for years. But once we finally resolved to take care of it, it wasn’t too daunting. I think the hardest part was finding a lawyer. We asked around, of course, but all of our friends and co-workers were still in procrastination mode. Love your idea of a theme funeral. Spice Girls wouldn’t work for me. I’m more of a Woodstock-make-love-not-war type of guy.

    • MaggieBanks

      I’m an old-school Spice Girls fan, but having a themed party might be a bit much. Mr. T and I ran into a Spice-Girls themed Bachelorette party in Scotland after I wrote this post and I take it back that a Spice Girls themed funeral is a good idea. 🙂

  4. We finally got the will done last year with LegalZoom, and then it took us 6 months to get them both signed. It’s done now, though, and that feels a lot better.
    We do try to keep the most current copy of our net worth statement with our will, so that our executor will have a list of all of our accounts. We also keep a list of all of our recurring bills. I do see recommendations now to keep your online accounts and passwords with your estate papers. I haven’t done this, but it might be a good idea as there is so much information that is only online.

  5. We’re close to finalizing our wills and creating our trust!

    As we close in on that, I’m also putting together a document of all our important information: all the home stuff in case something happens and we need help here, all our financial accounts (since I’m our Family CFO and if I were out of commission, PiC would not know where to start), all the health records and necessary information for the whole family, instructions for our trust executor to guide their decisions if they forget what we discussed.

    There’s a lot to clean up in the aftermath of losing someone, and if one of us were left without the other, I want to be sure that we’ve made it as easy as possible. More so if both of us are gone and our JuggerBaby has to be cared for by someone else.

    • MaggieBanks

      I agree! It’s annoying to gather all this information, but now that we’ve done it, it feels great!

  6. This is a great starting guide – thanks for putting it together! I’ve been procrastinating on this, and this is just the kind of outline I needed to get started. We have kids, so even though I’m only 25, I know this is something we need to do now – just in case.

    • MaggieBanks

      It is something so easy to procrastinate! We had nothing until we had 3 kids! TOO LATE! It’s a good thing nothing happened to us up until now!

  7. This is something that has been on my “to-do” list for… well… years…

    Thanks for the reminder!

    I don’t have kids, but I want to make sure that my pets are taken care of if I die… It would suck for my cats to end up at the SPCA because I didn’t have a plan for them…

  8. Great overview! We keep starting and stopping the process of making a living will and trust, so this is a good reminder for us to get going on it.

    • MaggieBanks

      I recommend setting a deadline for yourselves. Having this trip is the only reason we actually forced ourselves to finish the process.

  9. We need a will. Maybe that will be our anniversary present to each other 😉 I never thought about frequent flier miles!

    • MaggieBanks

      What a great anniversary present! And no guarantee the airlines will allow the points transfer, but definitely worth trying!

  10. TheMoneyMine

    Maggie, your post couldn’t come at a better time. Since we’re expecting our first baby in September, we have been talking about doing a will. We went to one lawyer a friend recommended and he estimated the total cost to be between 10,000$ and 15,000$ !
    There are so many questions your listed that do make sense and I hadn’t thought about, especially regarding health (level of incapacity, how long to be kept under artificial life support, …). Not the fanciest topic, but definitely an important one.
    I’m definitely sharing this post with my wife!

    • MaggieBanks

      I’m so excited for your baby! And September is a GREAT month for a birthday (it’s my birthday month, if that was unclear.) 🙂

      • TheMoneyMine

        September is definitely a great month, it’s also my birthday month 🙂

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