THE PROBLEM: 50% of Americans do not have an Estate Plan (wills, trusts, powers of attorney).
THE CHALLENGE: Make the case for an Estate Plan to 50% of Americans (or at least to my family, friends, and community).
THE CONTENDER: An Oak Park attorney (sole practitioner) who has discovered the value of both having an estate plan and the ability to draft one.
THE METHOD: One argument, article, or essay a week persuading action.
THE DEADLINE: 7 weeks
CHOOSE A NAME, DON'T PLAY THE ODDS
Making the Case for an Estate Plan
Parenting really is wonderful. Helping children to blossom, discover their talents, and embrace the world is incredibly fulfilling. Of course, it is not as easy as it sounds. There are many decisions to be made and responsibilities to undertake along the way.
DECISIONS AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Mostly, those decisions and responsibilities are readily assumed by us (reading books, hosting birthday parties, attending graduations). But not always. It is our job as a parent to make the tough decisions and endure the heavy responsibilities (crying babies, enacting discipline, homework patrol).
I would like to think that my husband Mike and I have been responsible parents. We have tried to raise our kids to be hard working, kind and caring. However, since Mike's heart attack, I now realize we were incredibly irresponsible in one regard. We never named guardians for our kids.
In our defense, choosing a guardian is not an easy decision. Parenting your own child is an all consuming, life changing endeavor. Suggesting someone else assume that role seems incomprehensible.
Would guardianship of our kids by our parents close the door on our parents' hard won carefree retirement years? Guardianship by siblings or friends without children would effectively force them into a lifestyle that they had not chosen. Didn't our siblings and friends with children already have enough on their plates? Guardianship was a lot to ask of someone, even family, even in theory. So we didn't. No will with guardianship designations, no powers of attorney, no estate plan. Mike and I just played the odds. Fingers crossed that our kids would make it to adulthood without needing a guardian.
Now I realize that not naming a guardian for our kids effectively would force that decision on our family. Raising a child who is not your own could be a burden. Choosing the best parent substitute for a family member's child could be downright soul crushing. If our kids turned out great, no regrets. But what if one of our kids developed problems? Wouldn't our family constantly wonder if they made the right guardianship decision?
That forced guardianship decision could have deeply impacted our children's lives. It could also have affected the harmony in our extended family. Plus, would our kids always have wondered why their own parents, two attorneys, did not find the time and garner the courage to draft a will with a guardianship designation? Was our inaction not only irresponsible but also cowardly?
Fortunately, for Mike and me the odds were on our side. Post heart attack, we now have an estate plan with guardianship designations. Our kids are adults and teenagers, so it made our guardianship decision a lot easier. Still, the decision needed to be made.
So, what guardianship advice is there for parents with young kids or with a disabled adult child? Use your parenting skills to solve your guardianship problem. As a parent you solve the problem in front of you first. Put the tired baby to bed before you read books to the toddlers.
The same is true for guardianship decisions. Think in the short term for your guardianship designation (three to five years). If after that time, no change, then great, let it ride. However, if your life or your guardian's life have changed, change the guardianship designation.
Through drafting a will you be able to designate a guardian for your child. This way you can decide the best person to be a parent substitute for your child. You will avoid the possibility of forcing your family to make that decision for you. A guardianship designation is still not one of the easiest parenting decisions you will make but it is one of the most necessary.
If I have persuaded you and made my case please contact me or another trustworthy attorney to draft your will/estate plan. If not, look for next week's argument.