Around the water cooler at the office yesterday, I was congratulating one of my co-workers on her child’s second birthday. It seems like yesterday when she was pregnant, went into labor a few weeks early at work and we were all running around like chickens with our heads cut off so she almost needed to drive herself to the hospital! It was something out of a “Three Stooges” comedy. She made it to the hospital and everything turned out just fine.
The problem is that the child is now two years old – not the terrible twos kind of problem, but that fact is that the parents have not set up a will yet. This is a very common thing that people procrastinate on. The problem is, if God forbid something were to happen to her and her husband, Governor Jerry Brown gets to decide who raises the child (at least in California). I don’t think my friend really wants that.
Why do parents procrastinate and make this common mistake? I would venture to guess that estate planning is not in everyone’s ordinary realm of activities, so it may seem like the process would take an inordinate amount of work. Also, frankly, it’s tough for many people to actually choose the guardian. I’ve heard people say things like, “I love my brother and he’d be wonderful and loving to our children, but he is terrible with money and that scares me.” and “I’d like to have my best friend as the guardian, but she lives out of state.” Choosing a guardian is not very easy sometimes, as the choices are not always clear.
Difficult or not, setting up a will is an important step that parents need to take. You can either work with an estate planning attorney and get full service, or simply do it yourself – either way, setting a target date for getting it completed may help. I challenged my co-worker to get hers done by the end of the year to give her a deadline. Many people like to work with an estate planning attorney to have their wills drawn up. This way they can talk out their issues and get advice on everything including choosing a guardian for their children. The attorney will usually have a package that also includes other documents, such as financial and medical powers of attorney. It may be worth the extra money it costs to use a professional.
The do-it-yourselfer who is looking for a basic will can use estate planning software, or even online sources such as Nolo Press to draw up their own will. The only problem with doing it this way is you can’t be totally sure what you are missing, and then you may not know until it is too late. Getting an outside independent review is important because of this. NY Times writer, Tara Bernard Siegel, did just that and wrote about it in her blog. She checked out four online will programs and had attorneys review each of them and here is what she found. If you go the do-it-yourself track, be sure to also include financial and medical powers of attorney and put them in place to protect you.
Taking the time to set plans in motion to have your child taken care of, if you aren’t there to care for them, is one of the most loving things you can do. The people you choose to be the guardians are often honored and humbled to be asked to perform such an important duty. It is a lot to ask as it is a huge task, so if they say yes, you know you’re truly blessed with a caring friend or family member. Choosing a guardian and setting up a will is an emotional process! But think about it — parenting is very emotional, and that is a really good thing.
Here are some additional resources: