Regardless of how much or how little property you own, if you have children under the age of eighteen, single mothers need a living trust and will. Without them, your children's fate will be in the hands of the court, who may appoint a family member or other person you would not have chosen as guardian. To avoid this, you can use a living trust and will to appoint a trustee to manage the property you leave to your children, and indicate to the court who you want to act as guardian and raise them until adulthood.
Make a list of all your property, including real estate (e.g. your home) and personal property (e.g. your car, bank accounts, retirement plans and household items).
Obtain one of the many legal publications or computer programs designed to assist with preparing a living trust and will. When choosing one, verify that it was published to conform to the laws of your state. The information on the publication or packaging should explicitly say that it was designed for use in your state.
Choose two people to act as trustee and backup trustee under your living trust and will. The trustee will manage your assets for the benefit of your children after your death. When you prepare your living trust, it will state that you are the trustee during your lifetime, and that the first person named will be substituted as trustee when you die. Although it is not legally required, it is wise to secure the consent of those you have chosen.
Nominate two people as guardians in your will. A guardian will raise your children to adulthood after your death. Like the position of trustee, the first person named will seek guardianship at your passing, and the other will act as an alternate. However, unlike your ability to name a successor trustee to manage your assets, all jurisdictions require a court to appoint a guardian for your children. Courts are not bound by your choices, but are inclined to follow testamentary intentions absent unusual circumstances.
Execute your living trust and will according to the laws of your state. This usually requires you to sign the documents in the presence of two "disinterest witnesses" (that is, two adults who are not beneficiaries of your estate). Notarizing the documents is good practice, and the notary will count as one of the witnesses. Put the original documents in a place for safekeeping, and make copies for the trustees.
- Your trustee and guardian do not have to be the same person. Think of the trustee as a good money manager and the guardian as a good parent for your children's day-to-day life.