We’ve all seen the statistics – over half of the population doesn’t have even a will – let alone a comprehensive and effective estate plan that covers the important bases. What’s more startling and sad is that the percentage without a will is even higher for those with kids – a group that really afford not to have one.
These parents with young children are otherwise completely focused on nurturing and protecting their kids. So why is it that they haven’t made plans to protect their children from the worst possible disaster?
The worst-case scenario in their minds is what would happen if they’re in a fatal car crash and “something happens” to them. So why is it that they are apparently neglecting the job of making sure these kids have a suitable home and substitute parent (also known as a guardian) if they couldn’t be there for their child? Jacoba Urist writes about estate planning and she started to interview parents to find out.
She found out that there are some big misconceptions about the process. In fact, most folks are letting four major myths hold them back from getting the job done and protecting their kid in case the worst happens.
Myth #1: There is a perfect match
When I meet with parents to help them plan for their young children and choose a guardian, this is one of the biggest mindset problems that hold them back. Of course there will never be a perfect match – only the natural parents fit the bill.
Parents who search for the perfect guardian can spend all of their time looking and never finding the perfect match instead of choosing the best available option. Isn’t it better to have someone that you’ve selected instead of risking a bad selection by the Probate Court judge and having your children in limbo in the meantime?
Jacoba discusses a process that I’ve found to be extremely helpful and important. There is not a person on earth who would parent just like you, and of course, nobody is a perfect parent. But you can make your choice based on your parenting style and the values you instill in your children,
Write down your four most important core values — think about things like parenting style, religious beliefs, attitudes about education and money — and then try to find a friend or a relative who shares at least three of them. Take comfort in the fact that your choice is never set in stone. You can always name a different guardian when your children age, or your friends move away, or you simply change your mind.
Myth #2: Someone will step up anyway
Without a will; a judge makes the final decision, not you. And while your in-laws and neighbors are all vying for custody, your child could be caught in the middle — meeting with lawyers and social workers until the whole mess is sorted out. Some children even land in foster care while their case grinds its way through the legal system.
No one wants to think about leaving a child behind, but if you’re a parent, you’ve got to get your act together, and choose somebody.
Myth #3: You’ve left a letter or an email
No matter how eloquently you’ve voiced your preferences, your letter or email is not legally binding. A judge could take it under advisement, but he could also come to his own “better” assessment. And why risk it? If you’ve taken the time to consider the right person, why not just make it official and seal the deal?
Myth #4: You don’t have to ask
I often work with parents to help them pick the best choice for their family. But then, they don’t want to sit down and actually ask their guardian.
The Danger: If you don’t have the face-to-face, you don’t know how they feel about the role (some people don’t want the responsibility, no matter how much they love your kid), or what questions they have for you. Raising an additional child is a huge commitment. Your guardian may want to get a sense of your family’s financial picture and some of your day-to-day expectations: have you got a life insurance policy? College savings? Would you want your guardian to move into your place? Make room in theirs?
A little prying is a sign that the person or couple you’ve chosen takes your child’s future seriously. I recommend having all of the financial information organized ahead of time, and sharing it openly when you sit down to talk, so everyone has an accurate sense of what it would really mean to care for your child.