A surefire way to make any new parent squirm is to ask them who they want their kids to go to in the unlikely event of them passing away. Just writing this makes me feel a little sick to my stomach. So it’s no surprise that young parents often put off creating a will – because who really wants to “go there?” We sat down (virtually) with the founders of Epilogue, Daniel Goldgut and Arin Klug, two lawyers/dads who have set out to simplify the process of creating a will, and who are delivering simple wills at an affordable cost. They provided helpful guidance on making those monumental decisions and shared some unsettling insights about what happens when there’s no will in place.
What To Do (Bites)
Everyone will NOT be reasonable, especially when it comes to guardianship
The single biggest motivator to start a will is the birth of a child, and it’s also the biggest barrier to completing that will – because parents get stuck on the guardianship decision. It’s only natural for parents to obsess and struggle over it – it’s a situation we never want to envision. And no one seems like the perfect choice (except us!) But remember, no one is in a better position than us to choose, and we should get as close to perfect as we can. When guardians aren’t named, it can be a free-for-all, with everyone and their mother (or worse – no one) petitioning the court for guardianship. Experience tells us that as reasonable as we believe everyone will be, their belief in the best interests of the child(ren), are often not aligned. A decision from you is better than no decision. You can and should revisit your choices should your minds or circumstances change. Bottom line? If you don’t already have one, now’s the time to get a will so that you make the choice about guardianship!
Think trust first when it comes to guardianship
When considering who is best equipped to care for your children, trust is number one. Would this potential guardian have your child(ren)’s best interests at heart? Do their core values align with your own? Align with what’s most important to you as you think about raising your children? Are they financially in a position to take care of your kids (with the help of your estate)? Also consider the number and ages of your kids, and theirs. Would that be a situation you would like for your child(ren)? Would it be too much for them to handle? Often young grandparents might be the right choice when naming guardians for newborns or young children. But ten years later, that might not be the case. Again, the good news is you can always update your choices, but it’s a consideration, even at the outset.
For the rest, perfect is the enemy of done
After guardianship, there’s ‘everything else,’ most notably, the distribution of your assets. Many think they’ll have to itemize everything they own, which makes the idea of preparing a will feel daunting. Luckily that’s not the case. You’ll make some decisions about where your assets should go, and then you’ll need to pick the person or people who will carry out your wishes – aka your “executor(s).” While most people assume that if you don’t have a will, everything will just go to the spouse, that’s only true some of the time. In some cases, if there are children involved, assets are split between the spouse and kids, which may not be ideal because minors can’t own property – so the government could take control. Oh, and if the couple is common law, the spouse probably gets nothing (jurisdiction dependent – so check!) The laws that determine how things get divided are not necessarily in your best interest. In fact, in most cases, people would not choose the default rules because they don’t end up with the best result. In an effort to not get paralyzed by choices and never complete a will, make it as simple as possible. And while we’re on the topic, don’t forget about Powers of Attorney (click here for definitions and some direction).
Ask and confirm with the people you name. That means executors and guardians. It’s comforting to know that they feel up for the task, and it’s best not to leave any surprises. As for what to tell them, that really depends on how simple or complicated your situation is. If you have really specific wishes about what you want for your children (like what schools they should go to, helping them lease their first car, or buy their first place), those are conversations you should probably have with them, or you can express all your wishes in a letter that accompanies your will.
If you and your partner are doing your wills together, make sure you understand if there are any major differences. That doesn’t mean they need to be identical, but if they aren’t, you should probably understand why that is. Be sure you are comfortable with any differences in distributions (e.g. if you are leaving everything to them and they are leaving something sizeable to someone else).
Once completed, pull out your will every 3-5 years, or sooner in the event of major family changes (such as a marriage, separation/divorce, birth of children) or financial changes (major investments/sales, getting an inheritance, winning the lottery, changes in estate or tax laws, etc.). Revisit what your will says and consider changes, because even if your circumstances haven’t changed, maybe they have changed for someone you have named (e.g. the person you named as executor has passed away, or the person you named as guardian has moved to Europe).
I’M (MARRIED TO) A SOPHIA
We talk about the ‘cram it all in years,’ and our community is mostly working moms but we also love hearing from dads. Here’s some insight from Daniel (who has 2 year-old twins) and Arin (who has a 9 and 5 year old) about their experience as dads and their motivation behind the creation of Epilogue:
Thinking back to when your first (or in Daniel’s case first and second) were born, do you recall a ‘whoa’ moment when you thought how are we going to do this?
“The first night in the hospital, the twins slept fine. The second night we couldn’t get our daughter to stop crying. We called the nurse, and she asked if we tried to feed her. We hadn’t. Changed her? Hadn’t thought of it. Done anything? No, we just figured she’s crying and not stopping, and we figured the nurse could get her to stop. We thought there was an on/off button. In that moment, we looked at each other and thought, we have no idea what we are doing, and we shouldn’t be in charge of babies.” – Dan
What’s the one thing you wish you would have known ‘then’ (when your babies were newborns) about being a dad that you know now that would have made life easier?
“Nothing lasts forever, which applies to the good things and the bad. A couple of nights of poor sleep doesn’t mean they’ll never sleep again. A couple of nights of great sleep doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. We were always fearful that the start of something meant it was going to be a new normal. Things constantly change. There are harder and easier stretches and there’s always another phase coming behind it.” – Dan
“Routines are hard to establish, but they’re worth the investment of time and energy because habits are hard to break. From kid tuck in time to what we are eating for dinner each week, having a set schedule can be simple but make a big difference.” – Arin
What’s the one thing the world doesn’t really understand about what it’s like to be a dad in 2020?
“The world is changing but there are still gender role expectations. To do what my wife and I have done over the last year is totally outside of the norm. My wife is a physician, and when I left my professional career and got into the startup world, I became the one making the lunches and picking them up at the end of the day. People ask me, ‘oh what’s your situation – why is it that you’re able to be so involved with your kids?’ No one would ever ask a mom that. We spent months talking about our dynamic and finances and how to make this all work. My wife being a professional gave me the opportunity to do this.” – Arin
Both of your wives work. What do you most admire about their ability to juggle being a mom and a working woman?
“When I was still working as a lawyer, my wife was the one who was rushing out at the end of the day, she had the school calendar, and she had so much to think about. The challenge is different for her now. I feel badly that she feels so guilty she can’t be there. She feels like it should be her. Society expects it to be her. But now she’s got to be there for her patients. She goes to the ends of the earth for her patients. It’s hard for her to let anything go because she wants to be doing everything. The fact that she can find any balance – I really admire that.” – Arin
“The biggest thing is that she is always doing something during “downtime.” As soon as the kids nap, she’s prepping dinner or buying them hats. My mind is not on what season is it and when are they going to grow out of the clothes they have. Her mind is always going about all that needs to get done – personally, professionally, for the house. She has so many to do lists in her head. At any opportunity, she’s crossing things off the list, which is admirable. It’s a real effort on both of our parts to convince her that she can take some time to rest.” – Dan
How has having children influenced your career paths?
“Before we had our first, I was working at a large law firm, with crazy hours. I didn’t feel like I could relax or be away from my phone until 11pm every night. It wasn’t going to be sustainable or allow me to be present in the way I wanted to be. So I worked outside of law for a few years which allowed me to spend significant quality time with wife and son when he was a baby.” – Arin
“I wasn’t fulfilled with what I was doing and I’d get home from work and not be in the frame of mind I wanted to be in when I was spending time with my kids. I wanted to be a happier person and father which started with doing something I was passionate about. It got me asking how do I find something that brings out the better qualities in me – personally and professionally.” – Dan
You guys were both working as estate planning lawyers – what motivated you to step out on your own and start Epilogue?
“We were in a unique position to be looking at the problem because we’d practiced as estate planning lawyers for years. When we talked to friends, and realized how many people don’t have wills, and the reasons why they don’t have them, we felt we could help solve the problem. The cost to do a will through a lawyer is very high, and when we were doing wills for young people like us, they all came out looking pretty similar. That made us realize we could come at this problem with a lawyer mentality, and create high quality, comprehensive wills at an affordable price.” – Dan
“One thing that was important to us was that we were producing lawyer quality documents – that you couldn’t distinguish between what you get from us through Epilogue and what you’d get from us through a law firm. We also wanted to do this education piece. Unlike filing taxes, you don’t have to have a will. If you combine that with the fact that it can be daunting, expensive and time consuming, that’s too many barriers, even though there are so many benefits. We thought it was important to dispel myths, simplify the process and break down these barriers to give everyone an opportunity to get their will done.” – Arin
Who is Epilogue serving? What does your typical client look like?
“When we started Epilogue we set out to serve young families – this part of the population that has some assets, and typically uncomplicated family situations, but don’t really know where to go or where to start. We’re trying to make what has traditionally been a very intimidating process very approachable, and as a result our client base is much broader than originally expected. But it makes sense because when it comes down to it, every adult needs a will.” – Dan