The following is a great post by another attorney-mama who blogs regularly over at “Don’t Mind the Mess where this originally appeared.” Here Jess wears both her lawyering and parenting hats and shares her recent experience of seeking and obtaining priceless peace of mind by completing her family’s estate plan. Feel free to congratulate her here or there! We’d also love to hear your experience with setting up the what-if (when) plan for your own family. Where are you in the process and why? What questions do you have about it? But first, here’s Jess…
It took us 746 days, but we did it.
We finally have our wills.
Honestly, as a lawyer, this was one of those things that would wake me up at night. As a parent it was something I thought about constantly.
We really should’ve done it before Graham was born. Because if you have kids, a will is no longer something you do if you have lots of cash. It’s now a necessity.
First let me put on my lawyer hat. (I do it every now and then.) You can’t just tell people what you would want. In most states, you can’t just write it down. You definitely don’t want to type it up. (In states that do recognize handwritten wills, it MUST be in your own handwriting. Plus, this sucks and will throw everyone into court to prove it’s your handwriting, etc.)
(Also, a little morbid lawyer will humor: Perhaps the strangest will ever written was done on a tractor fender, by a guy pinned under the aforementioned tractor. You really don’t want to resort to those measures. Or writing it on your nurse’s petticoat. This is the kind of stuff I remember from Wills & Estates class. Lots of funny stories about dead people.)
Ahem. Anyway. Don’t just get a form off the internet. There’s no guarantee that will work. Get yourself a lawyer. Tell them what you want. Ask for their advice. That person will be there to store your documents safely, to make changes, to file them with the court when the time comes, and to serve as a contact for your family members should anything happen. The last thing you want is to leave your family scrambling with court hearings and craziness. Cuz if you do it wrong or you don’t do it at all, that’s what’s going to happen.
Now let me switch back to my parenting hat. Imagine something happens to you, your spouse, your partner, etc. Who is with your kid? Who is going to watch your kid? Who are the authorities going to give your kids to? This, to me, is the nightmare scenario. Something has happened to me, I’m dead or incapacitated, and my kid is taken to Child Services because that’s what they do. They won’t just drop them off at the neighbor’s house. They won’t call your best girlfriend. Even if your parents live a few miles away, they may not have their contact information.
Whereas, if you have a little card in your wallet with your lawyer’s info, and a note on the fridge with the contact information of your Temporary Emergency Guardians (you want more than 1, just in case) and have made sure already that your Temporary Guardians know who to call and your family knows what to expect, it will go a lot better. Not great, but better.
There are other things you want besides just a will. You want Power of Attorney, you want to leave instructions for your medical care (including HIPAA authorizations and medical proxies), you want instructions for your funeral arrangements, you need to decide how best to leave your assets to your loved ones.
As a special needs parent this is a big challenge. I’m getting ready to write up what I expect to be an extensive document with information about all the Bug’s therapy providers, giving my wishes for transitioning, and passing along as much information as I can about the kind of care he needs. And I expect to update that document every few months.
I also feel extra pressure because leaving guardianship of a special needs child is an even bigger burden to pass along. We expect that as the years pass it’s likely that we’ll shift our guardianship plans from one family to another as everyone’s needs change and as Graham’s needs become more clear.
I know this isn’t the kind of thing we talk about much as parents. It’s depressing. We don’t like to think about it. But things can happen when you don’t expect, and the last people you want to leave reeling anymore than necessary are your closest friends and family.
So do them a favor and get your will made. Update it regularly. Get a lawyer you trust. (If you live in the Boston area, I know a great one.) Ask friends for a recommendation or check with your local bar association.
This is that stuff they call Peace of Mind.
I don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen to me in the future. But I know I won’t wake up in the night worrying anymore.