I can’t imagine dying and leaving my family behind, especially the kids. What would happen to them? How would they cope? Would they miss me at college graduation? Would they long for words of wisdom from me on their wedding day? Would they even remember me? Most days it’s much easier for me to put these terrible worries aside and ignore them. Afterall, whose teeth got brushed and who got breakfast are a little more pressing, or so it seems.
With the tragic and sudden death of actress Natasha Richardson last week, it became much harder for me to ignore those nagging feelings I usually push aside. As the mother of young children and an avid skiier, I couldn’t stop thinking about this tragedy and the lives that have been forever changed in a fleeting moment. It could have easily been me. As I imagined my own family in the same situation, I felt terrible because I know that I’m not thoroughly prepared. None of us ever really are, but there are certainly steps we can take to help those left behind if the unthinkable happens.
I talked with my friend and estate planning attorney, David Edwards, about the most important steps to take in case your worst case scenario becomes reality. He gave me a lot of great advice, too much to fit right here, so over the course of the next week, I’ve decided to do a three part series. Here are the first couple of steps to tackle:
- Focus on the immediate. If something happens to you when you are away from your kids, would people know who to contact? Put emergency contact information on the fridge, in your purse or wallet, and be sure to give the same information to any schools, daycares, or churches your child may attend. Put emergency numbers in your cell phone under “ICE” meaning “in case of emergency.” You can even program more than one number (ICE 1, ICE 2, etc.).
- Get your finances organized. List your life insurance, banking, and other information. Do you have adequate life insurance (on both spouses) to raise your kids and provide a college education? Don’t forget the stay-at-home mom. How much would it cost to hire her replacement?
- Brainstorm guardians. This is often the most difficult step in the process for couples. At first don’t try to prioritize, just make two lists: (1) Write down who you would be OK with raising your kids, and (2) who you would NOT want to raise your kids under any circumstances. To dig in deeper, make a list of issues that could impact your choice (faith, location, age, relationship with your kids, etc.). Be sure to consider good family friends as well as relatives.
While many of us still have an adolescent view of mortality, thinking it will never happen to us, the fact of the matter is car accidents and other accidents like the one we all watched unfold this week are the leading cause of death for parents of young children. Compounding these tragedies is the fact that the majority of them occur without warning – without a chance to prepare. That’s why it is so crucial to make the time now.
By taking a few uncomfortable moments to prepare for the future, you can minimize the lifetime of pain your family may feel. Be sure to look for Part 2 in this series as we continue an honest look at ways to protect our children and family if the unthinkable should happen.