Updated: Apr 23
The coffee table conversation quiets to a near whisper when it’s been mentioned that one of the couples present has an appointment Monday afternoon to speak with their lawyer about having a will written up. Eyes dart uncomfortably around the room and a palpable level of tension can now be felt. Someone played the “death” card, or so it would seem to outside observers.
While we have all heard the old adage, “the only absolutes in life are death and taxes” we continue to do what we can to ignore the former. When we have a family it becomes even more frightening to acknowledge the reality that we won’t be around forever. We “bury our heads” in the proverbial sand and seem to assume that if we don’t do anything formal and make any final decisions then the need to decide who will care for our children in our stead will never arise.
Have you, as parents, taken the time to talk about this possibility? Have you been honest with yourselves about who the best caregivers would be for your children if you were no longer able to meet that obligation? Have you thought about how the finances would be sorted to ensure that your children are able to be adequately provided for?
There are a few different ways to put a will together. If you have the time and the financial resources I strongly recommend that you consider finding a lawyer to put your documents together. When I asked if my followers on Twitter had created a will @AureliaCotta was quick to say, “Yes, but please tell people to get a lawyer or legal clinic to help, it’s the best money they’ll ever spend.” If you are simply not able to fund having your requests compiled by a professional then the other options are to purchase a “Do-It-Yourself” will kit (online or at a bookstore) or to handwrite something out which outlines your requests. With the latter two options I do recommend having your signatures witnessed by two different and unrelated people. This helps omit any chance of confusion in the future.
I’ve stated that I think you should, when possible, consult a lawyer for the drawing of your papers but my reason goes beyond the reality that it is the easiest route to take. Your lawyer is there to consider all possibilities for you and to ask you the questions you might not think to ask yourself about how you would like the see the cards play out in the world if you are not able to be here yourself. They will help you see value where you might think there isn’t any, they may help you determine the best way to choose executors, they may even help you make allowances for subsequent life eventualities which you hadn’t even considered.
A lawyer may suggest asking someone other than the executor/executrix of your estate to be the person to care for your children. Why would this make a difference? Perhaps it offers you the opportunity to feel secure that the financial decisions, that will need to be made for your children, are thought about and discussed by more than one individual.
Does the person you’ve asked to care for your children in the event of your death, have a relationship with your children? I asked my own mother about that when my children were small. Her mother died when she was quite young and my grandfather was unable to care for her by himself so she was sent to live with relatives. The times were very different then and because these family members lived a few hours away my mom did not know them. She not only lost her mom but she also lost her dad to live with people who were strangers. And please know and understand that my great-aunt and great-uncle who took her in were the most incredible people imaginable but that doesn't take away what her perspective was, at the age of 4, when she first went to stay with them.
What about your child(ren) maintaining a relationship with family on both sides? Does this new caregiver have connections to members of your family on both sides? Why? This might make it easier for ensuring and enabling strong connections to all family members who would like to stay active in the lives of your growing babies.
What if one of you dies before the other? How will you manage in the interim as you cope with the grief of your loss while meeting the needs of your children? Are there provisions that may be included to ensure everyone is as happy, supported, knowledgeable as possible in such circumstances? Living wills, powers-of-attorney, etc. are also important considerations.
There isn’t any doubt that a will is a necessity for parents. I know that even thinking about the possibility of not being around to watch your children grow up is heartbreaking. It is not something that any parent wants to consider. This reason alone should be responsible for you taking the steps to secure the future you have mentally mapped out for these small individuals who mean more to you than your own life does.
Be there for them in death as often and in as many ways as you have been in life.