I’m a part of a handful of mom-related Facebook groups that I’ve joined for one reason or another throughout the last few years, and there was a very active discussion in one of them recently where someone posed a question to others about who their children would go to if something tragic were to happen to her and her spouse.
A large chunk of those participating in the online conversation said they’d never actually given it much thought, or they had an idea of what they’d like to happen (i.e., who would raise the kids), but didn’t have anything written down legally.
Ack. Hairy situation for sure.
About four years ago, my husband and I were making plans to go away just the two for the first time since becoming parents. We were flying from southern Arizona to Boston for a quick 72-hour trip so that he could run the Boston Marathon. Since it would be such a fast and furious trip, we decided to ask my in-laws to watch our 5-month-old daughter in our home. They happily agreed, and everything was good to go prior to our trip.
About a month ahead of time, my mom rocked my world when out of nowhere she gently asked if our daughter was in our will should something happen to my husband and me during our travels. I’ll never, ever forget that conversation. Ever. I told her no, and that we actually hadn’t given any thought to that idea.
She went on to say something that made a tremendous amount of sense. I seriously remember her words like we had the conversation an hour ago. She said that if we both passed, the best gift we could give our families is a will that outlined everything that we wished to happen with our child, our assets, etc., because not only would our families’ worlds fall apart, but while grieving they would also have to deal with the legal issues of a judge ultimately deciding what to do about custody, finances, etc.
I could see it so clearly that that would be so unfair for my parents and in-laws to deal with. I didn’t need a single ounce of convincing that we needed to make sure that our daughter was in our will ASAP.
When my husband got home from work later that day, I asked him to think about who he would want to raise our daughter and take ownership of our assets if the worst were to happen (these are known as personal and property guardians). I told him to sleep on it and we’d talk about it in the morning. I wanted to be sure we were on the same page. When we talked about it the next day, we both blurted out the same people who would raise our child (and any future children) as well as who would take control of our assets.
There wasn’t enough time to create a will on post with an attorney, so we created one online via LegalZoom, getting all of our wishes legally documented. (We went to see an in-person attorney on post after our second daughter was born to write a new will altogether.) Should the absolute worst happen where we both weren’t around anymore, we would want our families to rest assured that there weren’t any gray areas of what to do. We wanted it black and white. We shared our wishes with our families, and while those conversations felt a little awkward (because who in the world wants to talk about something so unlikely and depressing?), they were responsible and felt necessary.
Oh, and I should mention that before we listed specific people as the ones who would we would put in charge of our kiddos and assets, we had a wonderful conversation with them first, asking for their thoughts and getting their permission to tie them to such a life-changing responsibility. (They asked us the same questions regarding their own children.)
My husband and I both grew up knowing where we would go if something happened to our parents, and it was never scary for either of us. We knew nothing would likely ever happen. I assume we’ll have this conversation with our girls down the road when they’re old enough to somewhat understand. Just the thought of all of this makes me teary-eyed and is very hard to swallow, but I feel peace knowing everyone is on the same page with a topic that rarely should ever be mentioned again.
Photo by Bethany Meysenburg Photography