Who Will Raise My Kids If I’m Gone?
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Making a plan to secure your children’s future
Widows with children are powerfully aware of their own mortality. Because they have experienced the death of a husband or a partner, they are mindful of the need to make arrangements for their minor children in the event of the unthinkable—maternal death. Many married or cohabitating couples put off the question of guardianship, but for widowed Solo Moms, there is nothing abstract about loss, so finding a guardian is urgent and pressing. For Solo Moms, in general, the issue of guarding their minor children is critical.
No matter your situation, here are some things to consider:
- Secure legal representation. Legal representation is important whenever there is a question of legal guardianship for children. States vary in their laws regarding guardianship, and, in many cases, parental wishes are not necessarily binding. Third parties, such as judges, are often called on to review predetermined arrangements to make sure that the appointed guardians are still suited to the task. This is an understandable effort to be certain that guardians’ circumstances have not changed. For example, a previously appointed couple that is now divorced may not be in a position to absorb children, or an illness can change circumstances. Although parental wishes are certainly weighed and considered, they are not always set in stone. This Forbes magazine article describes an attorney’s role in this process. If you are in a position to spend money on legal fees, this is a good place to invest. If you are not in a financial position to consult with a private attorney, contact a local chapter of the American Bar Association. Most state bar associations have legal clinics for people who need services but lack the means to pay for representation.
- Use other moderate-means legal alternatives. These may include law schools that supervise student-run clinics with professorial mentoring. If you live near a law school, consider reaching out to it for a clinic referral or an intake interview. Be certain that the legal services you obtain are competent and that the person who represents you has proper credentials and is admitted to a state bar in good standing.
- Consult a financial adviser to be certain that all accounts and assets are used to benefit your children. Once more, legal consultation in this regard is a stellar way to spend any money you have available. The best way to begin is to get a personal recommendation for an established trust and estate lawyer. However, if you are unable to budget for this, reach out to the legal resources previously mentioned. The person you appoint as guardian should have some flexibility to make financial decisions on behalf of your minor children. However, the assets meant to benefit your children should ideally be used solely for that purpose with as much value as possible preserved for their future use. Raise questions with attorneys about possibly contentious issues such as whether it makes sense to appoint a separate guardian and trustee. This may depend on assets available, but it may make sense in certain circumstances.
- Secure all assets to help with the financial implications of guardianship. Legal guardians are taking on a large responsibility in the event of the unthinkable. Express gratitude to them for their service to your family. Anticipate and take care of all the steps you can to ease the transition during circumstances that are sure to be challenging both practically and emotionally.
- Have a frank and open dialogue with those you are considering appointing. Make it clear that they should decline the obligation if they cannot fully honor it. Ask difficult questions gently, but do ask them. As a Solo Mom, you have a right to know the answers even regarding information that might be considered touchy or personal. For example, if you ask your sibling and his or her spouse to be guardians, would the request stand in the event that something happened to your sibling? Would you want your sister-in-law or brother-in-law to raise the children alone? Further, would he or she want to? These may be difficult conversations to have, but now is the time to do it, since you still have other options available.
A trust and estate lawyer whom I spoke with said that people sometimes get hung up on the question of guardianship because it feels impossibly overwhelming. It is hard to consider a question as necessary and as terrifying as, Who will raise my children if I am gone? For Solo Moms, this has a real and pressing immediacy. Many have faced grief and loss, and all are trying to guard their children’s futures, often without the support of another parent.
This lawyer said that people might do well not to consider who would raise the children the way they would—no one would. This is a catastrophic situation, and all the players would do anything to change the outcome. Instead, this lawyer advises parents considering guardian appointments to look at who would love the children the most.
So perhaps that is the jumping-off point here. Who would love your children the most? Get out the notepad and pen. Go.
Curious how other Solo Moms handle guardianship? Sister Chat is a place to ask the hard questions in a confidential community.
Tara Shafer is the cofounder of Reconceiving Loss, an online resource center for families coping with pregnancy and infant loss. She is a contributing blogger to the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and BabyCenter. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and on National Public Radio. You can follow her on Twitter at @reconceivinglos.
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