Ok, let’s get right down to it, and talk about the reason you’re reading this article: your children. What would happen to your children if something happened to you? Do you know? Do you really know? It’s been my personal mission- and our firm’s driving force- to make sure that every child in the Commonwealth is protected, should the unexpected occur, and that parents have all the knowledge and tools needed to make that happen. So, at The Parents Estate Planning Law Firm, PC, we spend a good amount of time talking to people- outside of the office- about the importance of planning for your kids’ future while you are young and healthy. We know that thinking about your own demise, and your children’s life without you, is most definitely not fun stuff. So, most of the time, we try our best to inform our community with a gentle approach. Lately, though, we’ve been hearing from more and more clients that their friends and loved ones keep putting these decisions off for some other time. Sometimes, they just can’t bear to think about it. Other times, it’s all they think about, but they don’t act because of worries they’ll offend a family member, or start up an argument. In these situations, often what’s needed is a little tough love to shake someone out of inaction. I’m going to be a little tough on you, if you haven’t planned, but I promise it’s for a good reason (the best reason- your kids.) Nothing should be more important than making sure your children are protected- no matter what: not your family members’ feelings, not your own fears, nothing. With that in mind, let’s go back to most parents’ number one estate planning consideration: guardianship. The hard and simple truth is this: if you do not select guardians for your children and something happens to you, someone you don’t know will select them for you.
Short Term Guardians:Most people don’t realize this, but there are two time frames you need to think about when considering what would happen to your children if you die. Traditional estate plans take care of long-term guardians, but almost none address the need for short-term guardians, who should be immediately available to be with your children in the event of an accident. Frankly, that’s frightening, and it’s a big part of the reason why our firm does what we do. If something happened to you while your children were in the care of someone else, and if you have not designated a legal authority to stay with your children until their long-term guardians can arrive, the police will call in child protective services to take your children until someone of legal authority is located. Think about it – you leave your kids with a babysitter, you might leave the babysitter your cell phone, maybe your neighbor’s phone number. But, if something happens to you, you can’t answer your cell phone. And, if your neighbor does not have specific legal designated authority to care for your children, the police won’t risk liability by leaving your children in your neighbor’s care, or even in your sitter’s care, for that matter. As a dad, the thought of my children being taken into custody by the authorities and surrounded by strangers- even temporarily- during a potentially traumatic time, shook me to my core. I know you don’t want it to happen either, so make sure that you designate short-term guardians who live nearby, and make sure the authorities will be able to quickly identify who those short-term guardians are.
Long Term Guardians:I want to tell you what could potentially happen if you don’t choose long-term guardians for your children: a probate judge will choose for you. A probate judge is someone who will have the best interest of the children in mind, but who also will not have all the facts, and may choose someone who you would never want raising your kids. But, there will be nothing in writing to indicate your wishes for your kids, nor who you want raising them, and how. The good news is neither of those scenarios ever have to happen, if you do the proper planning (and it can be fairly easy to do!).
The Good News:You can relieve yourself of thinking about what would happen to your kids if you weren’t here. You can plan for the “what ifs” and give a lasting gift to your family, by making sure they are taken care of by the people you want, in the way you want. Ask yourself the question “What am I waiting for? Don’t wait any longer – give our office a call. You can reach Paula, our Client Services Director, at 978-263-6900. She’ll be able to answer your questions and schedule a time for you to come in to meet with us. David Feakes, Founding Attorney P.S. Want to get started on the most important planning you’ll ever do for your family? Give our office a call at (978) 263-6900 to get started. You’ll be so glad you did.
David Feakes is the owner of The Parents Estate Planning Law Firm, PC – a law firm for families in the Acton, Massachusetts area. David helps parents protect the people they love the most.