Will we or won’t we? If the question is die, the answer is: you will.
No one likes to think about it, but eventually – hopefully later rather than sooner – we all die. When you’re parenting a young child, the thought of leaving them early is heartbreaking, but for your kid’s sake, you’d better plan for the possibility, advises wills and estate lawyer Katy Basi “I think it’s negligent for parents not to have a will,” she says. For one thing “Your will is the only document that can name a guardian for your child for a 90-day period if you and the other parent are both deceased”. It doesn’t matter if you’ve expressed your wishes verbally or in writing: if both parents pass and there’s no will, it’s ultimately up to the courts to decide who should raise your children, regardless of what you’ve said before. A will gives your chosen person 90 days with your children, and emphatically tells the court that you’d like them to stay with that person after that period.
Not only that, but your assets don’t automatically flow to your child upon your passing. If both parents die without a will, all their money and property is held in trust by the government – for a fee – until the child turns 18, at which point the kid gets everything. EVERYTHING. Imagine yourself at 18 and think – would you give that person all your money? Even if only one parent passes, the surviving spouse inherits the first $200,000 of the deceased spouse’s assets, and the rest gets divided between the surviving spouse and the child – the child’s chunk, again, to be managed in trust by the government, for a fee.
So if you’re wondering, parents, if you should get a will, the clear answer is yes. But if you think that planning your own death is the worst part, surprise! A good legal document considers all the contingencies, including some you’ve probably never considered (or don’t want to admit you have) like:
What if I die and my partner dies and our favourite alternate guardian dies? Because yes, you need a D-list for your child’s guardianship – and no, this guardian isn’t available.
What if we get divorced and my partner has kids with someone else? What if we’re still together and my partner has kids with someone else? If I die first and my assets go to my partner, will my partner’s other kids – legitimate or otherwise – inherit my money when he dies?
Even after answering for uncomfortable contingencies, a will can’t solve everything. You know your kids now, but you don’t know what they’ll be like in 5, 10, or 20, just as you don’t know when you’ll die. That’s why Basi recommends planning for no more than 5 years at a time, and periodically reviewing your document to ensure it still applies to your family dynamic.
Planning for the end isn’t fun, but it doesn’t have to a burden, either. Remember: a will makes a difficult time easier for surviving family members. And it needn’t be all doom and gloom. Many parents find that a serious talk about death inspires a serious talk about life, and can kickstart a positive discussion about all the wonderful family experiences you want to share as long as you’re together.