A mom never forgets the sting of being called an irresponsible parent. And, yet, often the truth in that accusation leads to something good.
And, when you think of being called irresponsible, you might think it was a grandparent or relative who would have leveled such a blow. But, in our case it was our financial planner. To make matters worse, we were called “irresponsible parents” on our first visit with him. And, that honesty. . .the truth in his statement. . .forced us to change.
Stressed for time to do anything besides care for four children under four, our attention to financial planning was practically nil and yet we knew that we had to have some type of plan. Already exhausted by the demands of young children, sitting down to make out a long-term strategy was pretty much like climbing Mount Everest. We finally agreed to meet with a financial planner, to talk about everything from retire to college savings to budgeting on one income. .
We met with Ben Mandel of MDH Financial. One of the best things we realized about Ben is that he is a great listener, and he listened quietly as Scott and I separately described how we saw our financial situation.
Then he looked as us and asked this fateful question, “Do you have a will?”
“No, we stammered, “we’ve been meaning to get one but. . .”
And, even though Ben doesn’t remember saying this next statement, with a very low and serious voice he said, “You are irresponsible parents without a will. I refuse to go any further with your financial plans until you have that piece in place. Here’s the name of a lawyer.”
Whoa! I.HAD.NEVER.BEEN.CALLED. IRRESPONSIBLE. After recovering from the harsh reality of that comment, we realized that he was absolutely right. We had no will nor had we ever formally established who would be the guardians of our four children or who would control our assets (i.e. house, life insurance) for their benefit (four year olds tend to be horrible financial decision makers!) if something happened to us.
Are you an irresponsible parent, too? Do you have a will? Have you formally designated the guardians of your children–and I don’t mean you’ve told everyone who you want your children to go to if you and your partner die–but do you have a legal document that indicates your wishes?
If not, you aren’t alone.
According to a survey I read online, nearly 50% of parents do not have a will and have not legally designated who would be guardians of their children. What you might not know is that if you haven’t decided and written this down, if you and your partner die, the state in which you reside will decide for you. Don’t think that your children would automatically go somewhere and don’t assume that in the throes of grief, yours and your partner’s family would easily settle the question of who is taking the children.
The throes and chaos of grief is a really bad time for people to be making life decisions.
Here’s the problem with getting a will and establishing guardianship of your children: Besides the fact that you are acknowledging your own mortality, imagining your children being raised by someone else most often shuts down parents.
Believe me, none of this is easy to consider. . .but even worse is imagining the scene if you don’t do it!
DETERMINING A GUARDIAN FOR YOUR CHILDREN
I’ll talk about setting up a will in a later post, but now, consider these suggestions when determining your children’s legal guardianship in the unlikely event that both parents die.
When making a list of potential guardians, consider these things:
- Go for good–not perfect. Let’s face it, no one can replace you as your children’s parent. So put some thought into what are the most important qualities you want in a guardian for your children. No one on your list of potential guardians will parent exactly like you do. It is important not to let that stop you in going forward and choosing a guardian who might be close enough to make you and your partner feel like the situation, while not ideal, would be a good option.
- Cast a wider net: If you and your partner are struggling to agree on a person, consider people whom you might not at first even think about. Extended family might be an option–for an example adult cousins. Friends might be excellent candidates. Is there a teacher with whom you and your children have a special bond or relationship? Work with your partner in establishing a list of people (without criticizing his or her suggestions) and then start talking about the potential of each candidate.
- Choose a person with similar values: Which potential guardians share similar values regarding faith, education, parenting philosophy and style? Does your potential guardians share similar values regarding faith, education, parenting styles?
- Financially Responsible: Potential guardians don’t have to be independently wealthy but they should be financially responsible. Keep in mind you want the guardian to be a good decision maker–and that includes financial decisions. (You might consider having a guardian for the children and then a different person to be the guardian of the estate, that which you leave for the care and well-being of your children, including life insurance funds, retirement savings, property, any stocks/bonds.
- Multiple Children: It goes without saying that the more children means additional parenting challenges. Not everyone is up for that challenge. Would the guardians be able to handle taking in all of your children? Would you consider separating your children between a different guardians?
- Age: Are your potential guardian young enough to be in your children’s life until they reach adulthood? If they’ve already lost their parents, you don’t want them to re-experience that loss again in their childhood.
When we finally decided on a guardian, and asked this person if he would be comfortable taking all of the children, we were able to finalize our will and the other documents necessary to ensure that we made decisions about our children while we were of “sound mind”.
I remember leaving the lawyer’s office, after we signed all of the paperwork, with an utter sense of relief. Originally I thought I would approach it with a sense of dread. . .but actually I felt lighter. I knew that we had done everything we could to make sure that our children would be together, loved and well-cared for–even if we were no longer able to be there to do it ourselves.
If every other New Year’s Resolution has fallen by the wayside, please make your 2015 goal to be responsible parents.