Monday, May 19, 2014

Have Children But No Will With Guardianship Nomination? Watch Cinderella And Find Motivation To Get It Done

As the parent of preschoolers it was bound to happen, the request to watch Cinderella.  Never a huge fan of Disney movies due to the fact they always manage to kill off the mom, I had kept these films from our kids. But now, on the cusp of turning 6 and 4 they had heard enough from classmates to request a viewing.  A free DVD was up in our closet, a long ago gift from family.  So, this past Mother's Day weekend, as the heavens unleashed a Spring storm over Madison, I curled up with my kids and husband to watch this classic film.

Almost immediately my husband turns to be, and with an amused but shocked expression on his face, mouths "it's an estate planning problem!"  And so it was, on my day off from work here I was watching a film with the type of situation I walk clients through on a daily basis.  If you die, and then your spouse dies, who will take care of your children and the funds you leave behind?

Guardianship, it's a key sticking point for many parents of young children.  Indecision or an inability to face their own mortality keep this question from being answered.  Thanks to Cinderella I can safely say, planning is not nearly as bad as not having a plan should the unthinkable happen.  If you need a starting point, here are a few questions I would offer -- as a mom myself -- for your consideration:

  1. Who shares your values?
  2. Who is close to your child(ren)?
  3. Who has the ability to welcome your child(ren) into their life and home?
  4. Is the same person as equipped to handle funds you leave behind (i.e. life insurance, retirement, home equity, etc.)?  Remember, someone who might be great with children may not be skilled at financial matters.
  5. Who shares your views on religion, education, lifestyle, and finances?
  6. Consider those in your circle of family and friends -- you are not required to name a blood relative.  More often than not family shares your life but not your DNA.
  7. Have a backup plan, who is your second choice.
  8. If you are considering a couple, ask yourself which one would you choose if that couple divorced? Given the divorce rate it is an important factor to consider -- is the one person sufficient, or was it the couple that made the deal in your mind?
And I could go on and on, but that is for you to consider and speak with your attorney.  Remember, a blog is not legal advice.  Rather it is a forum for discussion.  The same week I watched Cinderella I also read a news story about a women who had created a plan for her houseplant -- one that will likely long outlive her.  This woman had planned for a plant!  Yet how many parents have not asked, what happens if were not here.  Need more motivation?  Watch Disney's Cinderella and you'll likely be prodded in the right direction -- make a decision, and make it legally binding.  Thanks for reading, and have a great week.


Christine said...

I think it is vital that folks also plan for their furry children as well. Who will take care of them when we are gone? Great article!

Melinda Gustafson Gervasi said...

Christine -- Yes, that is an excellent point. And one I made post seminar talk this very morning, before I saw your comment. Thanks for the prompt to write more about planning for pets. Thanks for taking time to comment! -MGG

CJ said...

Cinderella's mom died, and so the dad cared for the kids. He married someone mean-spirited before he himself died. If the dad liked the woman, I imagine guardianship wouldn't have helped, although I don't know.

The estate planning aspect I noticed was the wealth went to the stepmom and her daughters. They squandered it and failed to do needed maintenance on the home. It seems like the parents could have set up some trust to manage the wealth. It wouldn't have done anything about the ill-tempered stepmom, but it would have preserved the wealth and the home.

Could they have done something prior to the mom's death to prevent the kids being stuck with an ill-tempered stepmom?

Melinda Gustafson Gervasi said...

Yes, the father could have named an alternate guardian. That would have been another person looking after her interests. And you are correct, the father could have used a trust to preserve funds for Cinderella herself, managed by a trustee....ideally someone other than the stepmother with her own financial interest in the fund.