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Your Most Valuable Asset

     It has been estimated that overall only 44% of adults have made a Last Will. Alarmingly, it seems that the rate of young adults with children under 19 is little more than half that rate in the 26% range. Intuitively, an overriding basis for such a low portion among young adults is the notion that actually they have many more years of life ahead of them, compounded by the feeling that they have not yet garnered sufficient material possessions to be concerned about how they will be distributed among their loved ones. Such reasoning is short-sighted, however, and fails to take into account that one of the most important functions of a will can be to nominate guardians for their children.

     While the state legislature has enacted a scheme for distributing material assets pursuant to which one’s children will receive a significant portion of the estate, there is nothing in the Alabama’s statutes (or those of most other states) that definitively designates the person or persons who will take custody of the minor children in the event that both of their parents meet an untimely demise. It is therefore vitally important that the wills of parents of underage children contain designations of the persons they want to serve as guardians for their children. Many times young couples fail to make wills because they cannot reach a consensus as to who should be named to serve as guardians, and rather than biting the bullet and making a touch decision, it seems easier to put off the entire process and remain intestate (i.e. not having a valid will).

     Indeed, "People who can't agree on guardians won't do anything," reports Colleen Barney, co-author of "Best Intentions: Ensuring That Your Estate Plan Delivers Both Wealth and Wisdom" wherein she observes that guardianship matters cause one in five young adults to procrastinate in making wills. There is a definite distinction between serving as a guardian and acting in the role of a trustee in whom one’s wealth is entrusted for the benefit of their children, and different sets of people can be nominated to serve those respective roles. Thus, if the reticence is occasioned by concerns whether a prospective guardian who shares your values and general circumstances, pick other persons to serve as trustees who will be better suited to handle the financial affairs associated with child rearing. In addition to placing those persons in roles for which they are best suited, doing so will also add a measure of checks and balances to the overall situation. If it is a “my family” versus “your family” disagreement, get over it and consider what would genuinely be best for your children, if God forbid, someone else would have to take over your child rearing opportunities. At the very least, for the sake of your children, talk with your spouse (civilly), find a middle ground, and compromise on someone who could best fill that position at this time.

     Given our ability to prepare and preserve such important instruments digitally, our office frequently encourages prospective testators (persons making wills) to make decisions that are best for the current situation, and to re-visit those issues a year or two later since a minor adjustment can be accomplished without much ado. Also, we encourage persons to name a back-up set of guardians in case those initially nominated cannot serve when and if the occasion arises. Bottom Line. If you have minor children, don’t let grass grow under your feet between the time that you read this and the time you make a will in which you name your children’s guardians.

© 2013