Financial Health for Widows

Who Will Raise Your Children If You Die?

Carolyn Moor

Did you know that the only way to formally designate who will raise your children after you pass away is by designating it in your Will or Trust? For most of us, when our spouse died, this amazing responsibility of raising our minor children became ours and ours alone by a phenomenon called, “operation of law.” A natural parent, unless his or her rights have been terminated or he or she chooses not to, is the default person to raise a minor child upon the death of one parent. But there is no such default provision in place if a child loses both parents.

If you do not designate who you want to raise your minor children while you’re alive, any person can petition the court to be appointed as their legal guardian. Evidence would be presented to the Court by all interested parties and the Court would decide who will raise your children.

If you designate someone in your will or trust, this selection is presented to the Court as the strongest possible evidence of your intentions as to the best interest of your children. Because you can no longer speak to the Court, your will or trust document does so for you.

Many people choose not to make a will or a trust because they can’t decide who they’d want to raise their minor children. But if you can’t decide, how on earth will the Court be able to? Make the best decision you can right now with the information you have and designate someone. You can always change it down the road as life circumstances change. Doing something is so much better than leaving this hugely important decision up to the Court.

Choose someone who shares your values about parenting. It doesn’t have to be a relative. I’ve drafted plenty of plans in which clients have designated close friends. Don’t choose someone who already has several children because odds are they couldn’t handle the additional responsibility. Think about where they live. Do you want your children to have to move? At the end of the day, no one will raise your children as well as you can. But designate someone who would do the best job possible in your absence.

What should you do next?

1. Act! Make it your goal to set up your will or trust within the next 90 days.

2. Start by making a list of who you might consider for the various responsibilities. If you need a form to help you get organized, just send me an e-mail and I can send one to you.

3. Talk to the people you’re considering naming as your children’s guardian to make sure they’re willing to do so.

4. Find an attorney near you to help put your wishes into motion. Many of them will schedule a free consultation with you. If you need help locating one in your area, send me an e-mail and I can help with that too.

5. If you have any questions along the way, feel free to contact me. I’m happy to help my fellow sisters get their affairs in order!

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Knowing there are women who have not only survived what I was going through, but were also thriving and moving forward in their lives.
— MSC Wister® (Widow + Sister)