It’s not an easy discussion. But, we have a responsibility to have it.
In fact, I believe that one of my most solemn duties as a parent is to make sure that my children are protected, always. Even in the event of my death.
As an the Client Services Director of an estate planning law firm, it is also my responsibility to educate parents about planning for the worst, while they are young and healthy.
Even if the conversation is uncomfortable. Especially because the conversation is uncomfortable.
And so, as I sat shocked, reading about the horrific limousine accident in Schoharie, NY, all I could think about was the five children left behind. My heart utterly breaks for them as they suffer not only the loss of their parents, but also, potentially, the loss of the people who would have loved, and cared for them in the difficult days ahead, as their guardians – their parents’ sisters, brothers, and best friends.
David and I regularly traveled with our children’s guardians while the kids were young. The people we were closest to (and who we felt would raise the girls the way we would want,) were the same people with whom we were going on vacations and sharing cars home from dinner on Saturday nights.
While estate planning could not have prevented this catastrophic event from happening to these young people, proper planning could ensure that their children have a bright future, even in the darkest of times.
Plan B: Legally Document Your Guardians
I can’t know what plans the seven parents in the car had put in place for their children, or if they even had legally documented plans at all. Certainly, “Plan A” was to celebrate Amy Steenberg’s 30th birthday, then return home to their children and carry on living ever after.
What haunts me, though, is that if the parents had a “Plan B,” it was likely to assume care of one another’s children if something happened to them. Many moms and dads incorrectly assume that family will step in to take care of their kids if something happens to them. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Even in cases where a sibling or godparent is willing to serve, unless guardians are legally nominated by parents before they pass away, a Judge who doesn’t know you or your kids ultimately decides who will care for them.
And then, as the Schoharie tragedy illustrates, there is the need for back-up guardians.
Have a Plan C: Name Back-up Guardians
David and Amanda start the following conversation with every parent who sits in front of them: “If the guardians you choose to raise your kids are no longer available, have you thought about alternate long-term guardians?” Most haven’t.
Because we work almost exclusively with young families (and because David and I are parents,) we ask our clients questions that most other “traditional” estate planning attorneys don’t or won’t.
- What happens if one of your guardians passes away – can the other serve alone?
- In the case of divorce, would you want one of your guardians to continue to serve alone, or would you want another couple altogether?
- Are there any family members you know that you don’t want to serve as guardians, under any circumstances?
What these questions result in is a “Plan C,” a contingency plan that considers and adapts to the uncertainty of life. People get divorced. Unfortunately, people die. Your plan should ensure that your children are protected, always, no matter how messy things may get.
If you’re reading the news and find anxiety building in your chest as you think “I’ve got to put a plan in place to protect my kids,” or “I was never asked these questions… what if “Plan B” isn’t enough?” there is hope: click through for a free educational resource “5 Legal Documents Every Parent Must Have,” to learn what documents absolutely must be in your plan.
Once you’ve learned about this essential planning– please make time to do it. Call our office at 978-26-6900 and we’ll schedule your consultation. Whether you choose to plan with our firm or another firm, I hope this resource (and the others on our website,) give you the knowledge to make the right plan, and Plan B, and Plan C, for your family.
From one parent to another,
Paula Feakes is the Client Services Director of The Parents Estate Planning Law Firm, PC – a law firm for families in the Acton, Massachusetts area. Paula helps parents protect the people they love the most. To learn more, call her at 978-263-6900, or email Paula@ParentsEstatePlanning.com.