So I’m in the waiting room at the radiologist’s office the other day, waiting for an x-ray of my 2-year-old’s adenoids (for the second time, because asking a toddler to hold perfectly still for an x-ray is not exactly the easiest thing, folks!), when I see this new commercial on the waiting room TV.
Like most other fortunate parents, we too have managed to accumulate quite the collection of child-proofing and safety devices. We watch what they eat carefully, apply sunscreen and bug spray. We make our children wear helmets to ride their bikes and ensure their car seats and booster seats are safe and secure. I’m sure you do all of that and more to protect your children too! We hope they’ll go to college someday and started college savings accounts for them at birth to plan ahead. (OK, they’re small and nowhere near enough to pay for college, but the good intention was there! See this post on Forbes.com by Kelly Phillips Erb, a Philadelphia tax lawyer on this that made me laugh with empathy.)
But in all this planning ahead for your children and protecting them (quite often from themselves!), there’s just one thing you may have been forgetting that is worthy of a similar ad campaign: you need to protect your children from the risk of compounded trauma if their parents are ever injured or ill and incapacitated for awhile and also protect them from the risk of losing their parents forever. It’s easy to push these thoughts out of your head or dismiss them as unlikely to happen and therefore not worthy of your scarce time or fierce competition for your attention, but you shouldn’t and here’s why.
While it is true that it is unlikely for you and your child’s other parent to both die prematurely while your children are still minors, stuff does happen; it’s not impossible. I read about and see it all the time in my line of work. As my colleague, George Constant, recently put it in his own blog post, that’s precisely why we don’t think twice about buying life insurance as a precaution. It’s not likely to happen, but it would be so bad if it did. And it’s so sad when it happens and that’s what leads their surviving friends and family to my office to plan for their own families to ensure that the same never happens to them. Why wouldn’t you want to be the one to decide who should raise your children in the unlikely but possible event of your deaths?
What is far more likely to happen is that at some point you and your child’s other parent may be temporarily unable to return home due to accident, injury, or circumstances out of your control. You need a clear plan for who is to take care of your child in your absence until you are well enough to return home and do so yourself. You may need someone to manage your financial affairs for a short time. You might need someone to express your medical wishes. These aren’t pleasant thoughts, but wouldn’t you prefer to think about these things and make a clear plan while you are healthy and well and not in crisis? Wouldn’t it be better to choose the people you want to make your medical decisions and speak on your behalf if you can’t than to have your loved ones possibly disagreeing about what you might have wanted? Wouldn’t it be better to find and establish a relationship with a lawyer you trust before you need legal intervention in a crisis situation or during a period of mourning?
And then there’s this. From what I hear (all the time!), the urge to protect and provide for your children doesn’t mysteriously vanish once those children turn 18! More on that in the next post….
For now, please do yourself and your family a huge favor and have your existing estate plan (your Will, Health Care Proxy, Power of Attorney, etc.) reviewed to make sure that you understand it completely and it is structured to do what you want it to do when the time comes for it work in practice. And remember, it’s your estate plan so you can make it what you want it to be. You don’t have to settle or squeeze into a plan that doesn’t fit your family. If you don’t have a plan in place yet, the time is now, while you can.