I need you to do me a favor, moms and dads. Deep breaths, because it’s a big one — a really, really big one. It’s also a vitally important one — one that can and will determine your kids’ futures and so, so much more. I need you to put your big girl and big boy undies on and just do this one thing for me: I need you to write a will.
Still with me? Or did you click away while thinking, Oh, hell to the no! I’m never dying, and I don’t want to think about my kids being motherless, or fatherless, or (gasp) both!
Still here? Great. That’s the first step. See how easy that was? You have confronted your own mortality with maturity and balls! Well done, moms and dads!
So here’s the deal: You’ve got to have a will if you’ve got kids.
Sure, it’s a great idea whether or not you have kids, but it becomes a major big deal once you pop out a little legacy. Why? Because holy shit, parents, you need to let people (and by “people” I mean the law) know who you plan to have raise your kids if you leave this Earth in an untimely fashion.
There, I did it again. I talked about your impending death, and you didn’t click away. Excellent! Keep reading, okay? This shit is seriously important.
Listen, I’m not gonna lie and make it seem like my husband and I have our estate (and by “estate,” I mean all my good All-Clad pots and his college T-shirt collection) all settled and wrapped up in a neat and tidy bow — we don’t. It seemed like for years my husband and I avoided writing a will like the plague. “We’re never, ever dying! We will be raising our kids until we’re both 95! Leave our kids for someone else to raise? Are you insane? Never gonna happen!”
So instead, we would just casually talk about the what-ifs and maybe mention in passing something to the grandparents about taking care of all our babies. But then our own parents aged and some passed away, and suddenly we were facing some serious decisions to be made, including more kids, more assets, and more major talks about how we need to ensure another qualified parent would be able to raise our kids.
Do you know how hard that is? It is fucking unbearable. Even the thought of it all can crush you. But it must be done. It just must.
I know you don’t wanna do it. I didn’t either. But just recently, we had to restructure ours. Why? Well, my oldest is now 18, so that changed some things, like the fact that this kid can now be the legal guardian of his younger siblings (a frightening thought), and as a legal adult and the next of kin, he would now be the beneficiary of all of our life insurance. Facing the thought of sitting down and rethinking who and where and what we want to do with our kids if we die now was just as scary as it was years ago when they were little. It simply doesn’t get any easier.
But it’s still so very necessary, even when your kids are in their late teen years, and you think they will be able to make decisions on their own and be okay parentless. They can’t, and they won’t.
The fact you’re still reading this at this point tells me 1) you’re ready to do this, 2) you’re ready to do this, and 3) you’re so very ready to do this.
So now what? Well, now you just do it.
Start with this: Sit down with your spouse (or your ex-spouse — even if divorced, you two need to do one too) and begin to have the conversation. You can just start with the conversation. There’s no need to immediately make an appointment with an attorney. For now, just start a conversation about the what-ifs.
Take your time and spend a few days ruminating over them, thinking about your childcare options and other long-term childrearing decisions you want to make (think education), and then start making some notes. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with that, talk with friends, family, and other older married couples with children who already have a will, and ask them for advice.
After that, the tough part comes. It involves letting the people you have chosen to take over as parents to your kids know that they have been chosen to do so, and to be sure they are willing and able to fill your shoes. This is perhaps the toughest part, and by far one of the biggest reasons parents don’t write a will.
Make your decisions and be firm. So what if you piss off Aunt Suzy who wanted your kids? You’ll be dead and won’t have to hear about it. Too blunt? Oh well. It’s true. And if that thought helps you get past your fear of making the tough parenting choices in your will, then good. You need to make them regardless of what people will think about it afterward.
Once you’re ready to put pen to paper and write your will, there are countless options and methods to do so. Do some diligent research, then choose the best option for you. The more comfortable you are in the process, the more likely it will actually get it done. If that means you let your crazy Uncle Joe (who is also a lawyer) do your will, then great. If that means you spend time interviewing several family attorneys until you find one you connect with, then wonderful. If that means you go high-tech and your first attempt is a will drafted and filed through an online legal site, terrific. No matter how it’s done, the result is the same every case — you have a legal will. Period. And that’s what is most important.
Parents, I know the thought of you passing on and leaving your kids without their mom and dad is a horrific thought, and it’s one most of us avoid thinking about at all costs, but you know what’s an even sadder thought? You’re both gone, and all you’ve left is a mess of custody options and asset divisions behind you that put undue stress and angsts on the people left here to raise your kids.
Nobody wants that, but the good thing is it’s totally preventable. It’s just takes having that one conversation, and you can have all that shit worked out now. So please, just do it.
Then you can spend your eternity knowing things on Earth are under control, the kiddos are fine, and all is well in the world. It starts with one conversation, so have it today. Okay? Good.