I read a post in another thread about the tough discussion of death and planning for what happens to our children and each other when we pass away. The whole conversation got nasty and the original topic got lost. I posted this reply, but am afraid that no one will see it because the thread deteriorated. I feel really strongly that it's a topic that all parents should be discussing. Sorry if I'm too forward by just sharing my opinion about this, but I thought perhaps y'all could use some info. I'm not an estate planning attorney, and you should always consult a professional for these matters. Here is the info that I'd like to share with you, as a lay-person, and a first time mom:
A living will may not be sufficient, but it is a start. If you die without a will, the state that you live in has a will for you. It is administered by the probate courts of your state. It is set up to determine the flow of your assets. Some of your assets (including any retirement accounts and life insurance or annuity contracts with a specific beneficiary) will not be controlled by a will or by the probate courts. If you have your own will, the probate courts will use it to determine what your wishes are regarding your assets and, most importantly, what you'd like to have happen to your children if you've included your selection for legal guardian. A will is contestable, which means that people can argue against it in court. It is a very public process, and your debtors (or people who claim to be your debtors) can come out of the woodwork and demand payment for debts outstanding. If you are truly concerned about being sure that your assets are distributed per specific instructions, and you'd like the affair to be as private as possible, I'd recommend a simple trust.
A trust is a legal entity that you create to take ownership of your assets. It is administered out of probate courts and out of the public eye. If you, for instance, have a life insurance policy and want your children to be the beneficiaries of those policies, remember that if you pass away before they turn 18, insurance companies are REQUIRED to hold the money in a cash account for them until they reach the age of majority. This means that the money cannot be accessed, FOR ANY REASON, to help raise them. Your best bet, if you don't have a trust, is to name their adult guardian as your beneficiary, so that they may access the funds to help raise your children in your absence. This does pose the problem: there is no oversight as to how the money is spent. They could blow it and put your kids in the basement. More likely, they may not know how to properly manage their new found money and it may end up getting used for things you may not want. If you only have a small amount of assets, this may not be a big deal. Money spends fast. If you've only got a small life insurance policy, a will and a trustworthy guardian should be sufficient to be sure that your assets go as far as they can towards helping with your kids.
HOWEVER, if you're smart (like I know all you mommies are) and you and your partner are heavily insured (now that you've got at least 18 years of financial responsibility for another human being or two) like I know you are, it's a great idea to call an attorney (or use your free legal benefit from your employer) and set up a basic trust. In it, you determine not only who raises your children, but separately (if you like) who manages your money, how much they get and when they get it. You can determine exactly how your money is spent to be sure that your children are provided for according to your wishes. It's got oversight and is incontestable. Meaning: no one can argue against it.
We've decided to have my brother and SIL raise our child if we both get hit by an asteroid. But my parents will be the trustees of the trust, and will manage the money that will go towards raising our child/(ren). This means that my brothers family will be provided for per our wishes, but he won't have access to all the money at one time, reducing the risk of misappropriation of funds. I know this answer is long, and not entirely what you asked, but I thought that perhaps a little more knowledge about the process might make it easier for you all to have the conversations with your partners and family members. I know death is difficult to talk about, but if you do it right, you only have to have the conversation once. Then it's done, and you can stop worrying about it.