Generally, most people think that only older people need Estate Plans. But, perhaps the most important reason for Younger People to have a Will is when they start a Family. There may be other reasons to do so; however, having young children is, to me, the most important.
One of the saddest stories, along these lines, is about a young man that I met quite some time ago. While visiting our Marketing Department, I was introduced to this new member of the staff. Since I really didn’t have much in the way of dealings with Marketing, I never saw him again.
Several years later, however, I read that he and his wife were killed, driving on I-95, on New Year’s Eve, when they hit some construction debris. Their two-year old daughter, who was strapped into a car seat in the back, had survived. Well, two years after that, I read that the two sets of Grandparents were suing each other, in the Courts, over Custody of their Granddaughter.
How very sad–for the little girl, the Grandparents…and the Judge, in deciding. It reminds me of the Story of Solomon threatening to cut the baby in half–since two Women claimed it was theirs. Solomon decided to give the Baby to the Woman who supposedly was willing to give up her claim–to save the Baby’s Life.
So, it appears that the young couple just didn’t see the need for a Basic Will. Remember that, if someone dies without a Will (Intestacy), the State (of Residence) will write one for them. Considering the emotional aspects of this situation, however, sometimes family members fight over Custody of a Child, perhaps, for Emotional Reasons, rather than practical ones. When a Child reaches age 14, or so, Judges often listen to the Child’s wishes of who to live with.
Now, I realize that the situation above is somewhat of a worst case scenario; but, I believe that some variations of this do happen frequently. Below, I am going to outline the specific approach that my Wife and I took in creating a Will when our Children were young (perhaps as a starting point), and you should certainly consider your own approach.
Now, seek advice from your attorney; however, be sure to keep in mind that lawyers write legal documents, but you need to ask about the practicality. Be sure to get a Draft of the Will and review it with a Friend or two.
When my wife and I created our initial Wills, I was concerned that my Mother would want to take Custody of her Young Grandchildren. But, she was too old to care for Young Children and wouldn’t have had the energy take them to Museums; to Participate in Youth Sports; or to attend Artistic, Educational or Athletic Events.
The Attorney who drew our Wills up took particular care to address, in Legal Terms, “Custody of the Person(s)” (Children) and “Custody of the Property” (Assets). Now, we didn’t consider ourselves particularly Wealthy, at the time; however, when you include Life Insurance (on both lives recommended, at least, in the Children’s early years); Equity in a Home; Personal Bank/Brokerage Accounts and 401(k)/IRAs, your Financial Assets can, in fact, add up.
Custody of the Children, in my opinion, should generally be most important. Two of my siblings were somewhat younger than us, and we knew that they would take the Children to all of the places that we would. But, make sure that you check first and make sure that they are willing to take-on the role–in addition to caring for their own Children. The idea here was to have a Primary, and a Secondary, Custodian of the Children. We were lucky that both my Sister and Brother, and their respective Spouses, agreed to take-on that potential responsibility, if necessary.
Not wanting to attach the additional responsibility of Managing the Property and Financial Assets to the Custodian, I assigned that responsibility to our Bank’s Trust Department. If you expect to assign a Fiduciary Responsibility to a Money Manger, always submit a copy of your Will(s) to that Institution–to get their viewpoint and Acceptance. Also, it might be worthwhile to provide for the Child(ren)’s Custodian to shift the Management role to an institution that they might be more comfortable with.
If you work for a Company that has a “Cafeteria Plan” (Health Insurance, Dental, 401(k), etc.), you might have an option to select Legal Services. If so, it might cover a Will. Also, for Older People, Durable Power(s)-of-Attorney and a Health Care Surrogate might be covered, as well.