Who will care for your children when you die?

If something happens to you while you have children under 18 years of age, who will take care of them?

Many people have thought about this question, but few have taken steps to make sure that their wishes are carried out.  If you haven’t signed a Will, then you’re leaving this decision up to the courts – and it is not always as simple or as clean as you would hope.

It is not easy decision, but it is an important one.

I recently came across an article on Wall Street Journal online and here are a few of the key take-aways:

  • You can change your mind.  Maybe your priorities have changed, maybe the people you named have changed, maybe your children have changed.  Who you want to take care of your children upon your death is a moving target.  Keep in mind that nothing you do in your Will is final until your death, so the person you name to take care of your children can always be changed (and once you have a Will in place, that’s a pretty easy and inexpensive process).
  • You can choose anyone.  Many people start with family members, but that doesn’t work for everyone.  Maybe your family circumstances make this difficult, maybe your friends are better suited to take care of your children – don’t limit your list of candidates.
  • No one is you. You don’t have to replace yourself…you can’t.  No matter who you choose, they wont be you and they won’t be perfect.  Don’t let that stop you from making a decision – choosing someone is almost always going to better than making no decision at all.  And keep in mind, you can always change it up down the road.

In narrowing the field of candidates, consider the following:

  • Know the person.  It’s a good idea to make sure they will ba able to rise to the occasion of raising your children, that is, can (or will) they adapt their lifestyle to accomodate taking care of children…your children?
  • What is important to you? Consider where they live, their religion, their career, their support network, their family values or any other values that are important to you.  These things may have a significant impact in who you choose.
  • In money an issue?  Can they handle and afford the added financial responsibility.  In considering the financial burden, you can always make sure that your estate plan has provisions to help them out financially (e.g. money for a new addition to their home or a new minivan).

Regardless of all these factors, one thing is certain, if you dont take the time to think about these things and sign a Will, you’re letting someone else think about these things and make the decision for you.