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Wills Protect Children's Interests
By NEALE S. GODFREY
October 31, 2005
Your will may be the most important document you ever create for your children.
Not only does a will determine what happens to your financial assets, it outlines
how you wish your children to be cared for until they're old enough to be on their
In some states, children become wards of the court if their parents die without
a will. And more than half of American adults don't have a will, according to legal
If you don't have a will, write your wishes down immediately. Sign and date your
will, have it notarized, put it in a safe place and give copies to a trusted relative
or friend. There are books and Web sites where you can get information on
how to write a will.
You can reduce your legal fees if you know the answers to a few simple questions:
- Who will be the executor, the person who sees that your interests are carried
out? You should pick someone you trust: a friend, family member or lawyer.
- Consider introducing your children to the executor so if something happens
to you, they will already have met the person who will outline their future.
- Who will get custody of your children if you die?
- How will the children be provided for financially? Check to see if your
assets and insurance policies are sufficient for the rearing and education of
your children. There may be things that you haven't thought of; is your chosen
guardian's house big enough to accommodate them? If not, you may wish to provide
money to help solve this problem.
- How are your assets to be divided? Do you want the children to receive their
inheritance when they reach maturity or do you want to space the payments out?
Reassure your children that they'll be taken care of if anything happens to you
and your spouse. They already understand that you carefully choose who will look
after them when you are not there after school or out for the evening. Explain that
a will is just an extension of that kind of planning.
Even children as young as 4 may have wondered about this. From the time they
are quite small, children hear terrible stories about what happens to boys and girls
without parents. Think of Cinderella, Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket's Baudelaire
With grade school and teenage children, you can go into more detail about the
will and perhaps even tell them where it is located. Children under 7 are probably
too young to listen to detailed explanations of wills. They may need to be reassured
that the will probably won't be used until they are grown up.
It should be reassuring to both you and your children to know a plan is in place.
Make sure they are comfortable with the choice of guardian, that they understand
where they'll sleep, whether they will still have their pets and what school they
Once you have a will, be sure to review and update it periodically. You'll know
it's time to dig it out of your safety deposit box:
• If you haven't looked at it in five years.
• If life circumstances change; the birth of a child, a divorce, a death in the
family or if your financial profile changes.
• When estate tax laws change.
• When you move to another state, since laws vary from state to state.
• When you buy property in a different state, since it may be subject to different
Neale S. Godfrey is a former bank president and expert on family finance.
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