Setting up a Will/trust

Updated on April 18, 2008
T.K. asks from Honolulu, HI
10 answers


I'm a single mom w/ one 9-year-old son. I'd like to hear from anyone w/advice about setting up a will & trust for him. I understand that natural guardianship would go to his father but I want someone else to make financial decisions as I don't fully trust my ex. Any input would be appreciated.


2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Seattle on

If you find a cheap way to do this would you let me know? I am in a similar situation ( 23 yr old dtr & 3 yr old son. Thank you! T.

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answers from Honolulu on

Hi T.,

My name is H. and I am an estate planning attorney. You should definitely set up a will AND trust for yourself. The will is where you will designate the guardian for your son. You are correct that your ex will be the legally favored guardian in the event of your death. In the event that you are both deceased you can designate an alternate guardian.

The other major decision you will make is who you want to designate as Personal Representative (same as executor) under your will, and trustee under your trust. This is the person who will make financial decisions. You do not have to name your ex. You should choose someone you trust and who you think will look after the best interest of your son, without being too unduly influenced by your ex. People usually name their own parents, or a sibling, or a trusted friend. They do not have to be a financial whiz. They just need to be able to balance a checkbook. They can hire the people to manage the money, prepare the tax returns, etc.

The next decision you need to make are the terms of your trust. People generally mandate that the trustee make distributions for the child's health, education, maintenance and support. This means that your son will get whatever he needs for these things. However, you usually defer major distributions (his inheritance) until he is older. Some people say their children get all at age 21, or 25 or 35. I would recommend staggering the distributions to say 1/4 at age 25, 14/ at age 30 and the last 1/2 at age 35.

Of course there are other factors in making your decision, such as the size of your estate. If your estate is less than $1 million, it probably doesn't make financial sense to keep the trust going to age 35 because of the costs associated with keeping a trust going after you are gone.

You can find forms online, or you can consult with an attorney. Of course I would recommend an attorney, but if cost is a serious factor (since Estate Planning documents generally will run you $1,800 +), then the online forms are fine.

If you need any further assistance, don't hesitate to contact me. My e-mail is

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

My husband and I just got life insurance and in the event that both of us die, we too do not trust that family will be the best to care for the money so we are about to set up a living will and trust for our daughter. As we go through the process, I can let you know what we know. It's going to cost some but until we can afford to go through with setting it up, we have a wonderful friend that has agreed to be in charge of the money if we die.


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answers from Portland on

I know this is an old topic, but in case anyone else comes to read...

Do NOT just go buy one of those package wills at a bookstore or will software!! See a real estate planning attorney who can give you real advice based on the current laws and YOUR situation. The cost of "doing it yourself" is huge, not only in the potential disasters you may create by setting something up while not properly understanding the implications, but in the cost of estate-administration down the road. This area of law is far more complicated than most people realize. It is well worth the money to make sure it's done right -- especially if you have children involved, and ESPECIALLY if you have exes or family members who might want to dispute your decisions after you're gone and can't do anything about it!



answers from Los Angeles on

Hi T.,
It's a great idea you have to set up a trust. I did mine last year, and I am very relieved to have it all in order. A trust is set up with 2 areas: physical custody, and financial. You may choose 2 different people, one to fulfill each, I did mine that way anyway. Depending on the situation with your ex, you may not have a choice with custody. But I'm not an attorney, you'll have to ask.
The attorney I used in the IE is Sheri Cruz ###-###-####.She is located in Riverside. She made everything easy to understand. There is also free legal advice available by calling the chamber of commerce. Retired attorneys and business men volunteer their time to people in need.
Good luck to you,



answers from San Francisco on

Hi T.,

You should contact an estate planning attorney and have a trust set up for your son. You can designate who the trustee is of the trust, i.e. you while you're living and then designate other trustees in the event of your death or incapacity. The trustee can be anyone you select and your ex-husband would have no say so in how the trust is administered. It would be up to you to fund the trust and you can set forth the specific terms you want to the trustee abide by, e.g. how much to spend on tuition payments, spending money, the age at which the money in the trust is released to your son, the standard of living you want your son to maintained in etc. A trust is better and much more flexible than having a will as it is not subject to the probate process where your assets would be tied up for a period of time before they could be released to the rightful heir(s).



answers from San Francisco on

I don't have much experience in setting up a will or trust, although I have been thinking about it a lot lately. But, can I suggest maybe a Grandparent to help with the financial stuff. And, if you have faith in one of your ex-husband's parents, maybe use one of them. That way your ex will even be ok with it.
No matter what though, if you have full legal custody, YOU do get to make that decision. That is your right. You do what's in your sons best interest. But do it soon, because if, heaven forbid, something were to happen to you, and you don't have anything in place, then your ex will have full control.
I know for me, I have full custody of my 2 girls, and they will be going to my brother and sister in-law if something happens to me. I don't trust my ex either.



answers from Los Angeles on

I'm in the same boat right now. Just starting the custody battle and I know that if it were up to my ex, the money would be spent on big screen tvs, new car, etc. instead of on my son's education and anything else he might need. I'm starting the process of setting up a living revocable trust with my sister overseeing the distribution. If you can't afford an attorney, you can purchase a will & trust "kit" from Suze Orman's website. She has been my financial guru for the last few years and the kit includes the documents to create a will, revocable trust, power of attorney and durable power of attorney for Health Care for $13.95. You can purchase them at



answers from Los Angeles on

If you have no property then a will is good. Make sure you have a power of attorney forms done for management of property and finances etc to protect your assets and have only your son as beneficiary and someone in charge to manage his finances that way your ex doesn't get control of that.



answers from Sacramento on

Hi Terry,
I recently set up my will and trust. You can definitely appoint someone else to handle your finaces and belongings. I do not know where you live but you can call a firm that has an estate planning attorney and they can put together a basic will and trust giving cetain indivduals power of attorney and appointing someone to be able to disperse payments directly to your child throughout there life so that your ex does not have control over your belongings or finances. Good luck to you.
A. K

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