The moment you become a parent you see the gift of life more vividly than ever before. You quite literally hold new life in your hands. Life that didn’t exist 9 months before. Indeed, becoming a parent is life changing. But the very act of creating life, sharpens our focus on the circle of life; reminds us that one day it will be taken away.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is to value our health and the time we have with our family and friends. By showing us how quickly life can be taken away, how we are not invincible, how we don’t know when “our time will come”, the pandemic has highlighted our mortality. So what happens to our family if we die? Ultimately, who is going to look after our children if something happens to us sooner than we thought?
It’s not a question that is easy to answer. If we die whilst our children are still minors, we really want them to be looked after by someone who has the same values as we do, so that our kids grow up in the way we would like them to. Perhaps it could be a brother or sister, but it could be a friend, or grandparents.
Whatever your values and wishes, the best way to ensure your kids grow up with the people you want them to is to have a current and legally valid will. The simple act of arranging your will with a lawyer, ensures that the person or people you want to look after your children do so. You are the person who knows your children best, and so it is you who should decide who looks after them. If you die without a will, a court could decide who looks after your children.
You might have some particular wishes on how the kids are brought up too. Perhaps you want the kids to go to a particular school, to do certain sports, dance, music or theatre classes. Maybe they need, or you’d like them to have a particular diet. Perhaps you want to insist on limited screen time, I know I would! Whilst some of these wishes may not go in your actual will, it is worth turning your mind to them, and writing a letter to the potential guardians of your children so they know what your preferences are. This letter could be kept with your lawyer or with your will as helpful suggestions if you are gone. Of course it’s worth regularly revisiting it as things change.
It’s easy to deny the inevitable. I know how hard it is as a Mum to look to the future sometimes. You are constantly living in the moment, dealing with melt downs, poo-namis, and organising the night’s dinner time can sometimes be a challenge, let alone future life planning. But it is necessary for your family’s wellbeing and children’s financial future security to get your will in place. They will thank you for it.
Of course your will doesn’t just address who will look after your children. It also includes who will administer your estate, and who will inherit your estate. The person who administers your estate is the person who arranges to sell any assets you have and distribute them accordingly. Again, this is someone you need to choose carefully. You need to be able to trust them, and know that they are capable of investing your money and distributing it to the children’s guardian to use for your children. Often it’s a good idea to appoint a few people to this role, so they have to agree between themselves.
In your will, deciding who will inherit your estate is often a lot easier than deciding on who will look after your children; most want their spouse to inherit, and if not children. But, from there it often becomes a little more complex. If one of your children passes before you, do you want their share going to their children – your grandchildren? Or would you prefer it going to a brother, sister or friend? By using a lawyer to draft your will properly, there will be less chance that unwanted people get your assets, or that there will be any legal claims on your estate. If you die without a will, the laws will distribute your estate according to a formula which may not align at all with your preferences. It could also end up costing your family thousands.
In response to many Mum’s requests to organise their estate planning, we’ve recently released a Will Package for Mums in NSW, and you can purchase it here.