Over the years, childfree couples have contacted me for advice on writing their wills. I am no expert, but do have my own experience and know how many childfree people have created theirs. I recently saw the piece by Rebecca Chamaa on businessinsider.com, “My husband and I don’t have kids, so we asked ourselves 10 questions to decide who to include in our will,” which has a list of great questions to consider for those without kids. Let me briefly comment on them, and add a couple more of my own:
Who do we want to be the executor of our will?
The executor is called this because s/he ‘executes’ what is in your will. Who to choose? Consider those you know who you:
- trust will, as Chamaa writes, have your best “intentions and interests at heart.”
- think could successfully take it on.
- think would be willing to take it on.
Approach who you think you’d like to have as your executor before you begin drawing up your will. Make sure the third bullet above is a solid Yes. Ideally, think of a backup executor as well, and approach him/her before drawing up your will too.
Who makes up the circle of people we consider family?
Of course this can be family by blood, but often this means those who are your chosen family. While traditionally people put family by blood members in their wills, don’t feel like you have to. As discussed below, an important part of the will creation process includes determining not just who you want to give to but why.
With whom do we have a high level of contact?
Chamaa writes, “Not all of our family members are close to us, and some we rarely speak to, so leaving them a part of what we have spent our careers saving and building doesn’t make sense to us.”
Their thinking here can assume that people have a high level of contact with those we feel closest to; this may not always be the case. I may have people I consider family who are very important to me, but are not people I see or talk with a lot. And just because I am close with them does not automatically mean they will go into my will. For example, I may decide to put someone I feel less close to in my will who I know could really use the financial gift in his/her life.
What if our parents survive us?
Chamaa and her husband “are worried about the long-term care of [their] parents, and if they survive [them], [they] want the majority of [their] assets to go to them.” While the odds are less likely (but can happen, as anything can happen) long-term care is very expensive and worth considering as part of your will.
Which of our seven siblings are well prepared for retirement?
The answer to this question may well make you decide to divvy up your assets depending on their financial situations. Here again, while traditionally done, you don’t need to assume that you will include your siblings in your will. It may be that others, organizations, or entities may be more important to you to gift.
What if some of our siblings don’t survive us?
Many wills stipulate that if the sibling is not alive at the time of your death, then the “the gift shall lapse” or go to the sibling’s spouse if s/he is alive at the time of your death – definitely something to consider.
If our siblings die before us, do we want to leave their portion to their heirs or split it between the surviving siblings?
This question assumes siblings are in the will to begin with, which may or not be the case. If they are, something to consider is how to handle the gifts with sibling(s) who have heirs and those who don’t.
Do we want to leave anything for our nieces and nephews?
Things to consider here include: 1) your personal relationship with each of them, 2) their financial situations, 3) the family and financial situation of their parents.
Do we want to leave something to our favorite charities, some that we have supported for over a decade?
In my experience, people with no children often gift to charities, causes, college Alma maters, and organizations that have special meaning or nostalgia for them.
Is there anything, like jewelry or dishes, with sentimental value that we want to give to a specific person?
This is also common to stipulate in wills. It’s also very common to ask loved ones what they would want upon your death as a sentimental token and write that into the will.
Two questions I would add include:
How will we handle the care of our pet(s)?
If you have pets, this is something important to consider. Not only decide and approach who you’d like to take it/them, determine what amount of financial support you want to gift for the expressed purpose of pet care.
What do I want done with my remains?
Making this decision and having it clear in the document (or in an addendum) will make it much easier for your executor to implement.
Three more tips:
Rather than assign exact dollar amounts for the gifts, assign distributions by percentage, and make sure they tabulate to 100 percent. Using percentages will account for changes in the overall value of your assets over time.
Include an attachment that lists account numbers, key pieces of information e.g., your social security number, and contact information for the parties, organizations, etc. who are stipulated in your will. Your executor will appreciate this.
Keep the original copy of your will in a very safe place, e.g, safety deposit box or home safe. Make sure your executor has a copy, and knows where to find the original. Have another copy that can be easily found in your home. The identity theft worrier in me keeps an easily found copy with no account numbers and other sensitive information redacted.
It is worth noting that most if not all of these questions can and should be considered even if one has kids!
If you are married, it does not mean your wills have to be the same. It’s very common for spouse’s wills to be different.
If you decide to craft your will in such a way that might not line up with what you think loved ones’ expect, talk with them about this while you are very much alive. Best not to have any big surprises. If there are, this too will only make your executor’s job more difficult.
If you are not sure how to go about creating a will, don’t hesitate to get legal assistance. It’s worth it. Your executor will thank you for it.
No matter the amount of assets, executing a will takes time, effort and commitment. We want its execution to be as clear and easy as possible.
Have a Will.
As an adult, it is never too early to get down your wishes and intentions upon your passing.
And review your wishes and intentions annually. Life happens, desires change. Adding what is called a ‘codicil’ with changes is generally not a complicated thing to do.
Even if it is a very simple one, keeping a current will helps ensure the business of your death will be as uncomplicated as possible.
*Updated from 1st posting in 2020.