Most people have some idea of what estate planning is about, but much of what they “know” is false!
Everyone who has children can probably relate. Recall bringing home your first baby from the hospital. It was so helpless, so cute, so dependent on you for everything.
In the first few days it seemed like Mom could not leave the baby alone even for a minute. After a few days, however, she was back to doing what mom’s have to do, taking care of the house, cooking and so forth. But still, never far from the baby. Hardly out of earshot, so she could rush to meet the little one’s needs at any moment.
Dad is pretty excited too, of course. But not quite in all the ways Mom is. He starts getting a little stir-crazy. After a few days, maybe weeks, he starts suggesting that Mom take a few hours off. “I could make a reservation at a nice restaurant, we can do a little shopping. Let’s call that nice young lady from church to babysit. After all, Honey, you deserve a break!” About there he probably cracks a bad joke about the special dinner he’ll get her at McDonalds, but he really will take her somewhere upscale.
Eventually Mom agrees. You remember the next scene. It’s time to leave. The babysitter has arrived, and Mom is reviewing a page or two of instrcutions she’s written out. How hot to heat the milk, how often to do a visual check of the diaper, what the variouis cries and squeals mean, how to properly hold the baby…and on it goes. Then there are the phone numbers: today it would just be the cell phone, but a few years back it was the restaurant, the shopping mall security, Grandma’s, the pediatrician! Everyone who might be necessary to reach in the event of even a minor emergency. Mom is reviewing these instructions, making sure the babysitter understands them fully, and adding details as she talkks.
Dad is getting a bit nervous. “We’re going to be late, they may give our table to someone else!” At the last minute, he pulls Mom out the door to the car that has been running for 15 minutes, and they risk the wrath of law enforcement as they speed to the finest eating establishment in town…a bit ticked off at each other.
When they arrive Mom has one thing on her mind: call home, check on the baby. Dad is still on edge: “We’re only going to be out for a couple of hours, Dear! She’ll call us if we’re needed.”
Upon return home—parhaps a bit earlier than planned—what did they find? Everything was fine, of course.
The tragedy of this scene?
Most people spend more time writing instructions to a babysitter when they are going out for three hours than they spend writing the instructions for raising the minor children when they will be gone forever. For that is what an estate plan amounts to: my instructions for completing the “rasiing the kids” job, the most important task any of us have as parents.
Do you care about how they will be brought up? Have you left any instructions? For instance, your estate plan should attempt to answer the following questions, and provide the new guardian with the benefit of your wisdom:
- How do you discipline your children?
- What church should they attend?
- How should they be educated, and by whom?
- What are you trying to teach your children about money?
- To what extent should extended family be involved in their lives?
- What happens if your named guardians get divorced?
- Are there others to whom the guardians should look for advice?
- Should the same people who oversee your estate (money) be in charge of the children’s care day-to-day?
Estate planning when you have minor children. It’s a little like leaving the kids with a babysitter. Just a lot more permanent and you can’t call back to check on how they’re doing or if they need you. You need to get it right. Don’t sell yourself and your little ones short!