Finding Stability

What Happens to My Child If I Die? Answers for an Unthinkable Situation

What happens to my child if I die? Cancer makes this decision more acute, but it's important for parents to create a will and appoint a guardian for their children.
What happens to my child if I die? Cancer makes this decision more acute, but it's important for parents to create a will and appoint a guardian for their children.

As a parent, you’ve asked yourself this question at least once: what happens to my child if I die? For people with cancer and children under 18 at home, you probably feel a more urgent need to answer this question. The answer may be easy; maybe you have a sibling or cousin that you feel comfortable raising your children should you and your co-parent not be able to. For others, this question has no easy answer. Without a will, though, the decision is left in the hands of a court.

When asking yourself “what happens to my child if I die,” the answer is more than just where your kids will live. No matter where you stand, it seems impossible to begin appointing a guardian and preparing your estate should the worst happen. A lawyer can offer you the most comprehensive options and advice for writing a will, but you can buy a software program to create a basic one.

Appointing a Guardian

Will the people you choose to raise your kids do so at least similarly to the way in which you want them to grow? Can they handle the responsibility, personally and financially, of having more people under their care? How far will your children have to move to live with that family? There’s a lot to consider when it comes to choosing a guardian. Once you decide, you need to make sure your will includes a few key points:

  • Name a guardian. Talk to the person you choose to make sure he or she is comfortable with the decision. Share with her or him how you would like your kids to be raised.
  • Choose a secondary guardian. It’s always good to have a backup in case your first choice is unable to take on the responsibility.
  • State who you don’t want as guardian. If you don’t want your child in the custody of the other parent or an aunt or uncle, clearly state in writing whom you don’t want as a guardian. You can provide a letter to the lawyer that will only be read if this person makes a claim for custody.
  • Figure out logistics. Specify whether you want your kids to stay together.
  • Include co-guardians. If you want your child in a two-parent home, name both people in your will.

Managing Your Money

While you may trust your sister to raise your kids, you may not trust her to manage your money. You can give a different person or a bank the authority to manage the money you leave your kids.

A living trust can give you more flexibility and greater definition of how and when your assets will be passed down to your kids. A trust may also avoid probate (court), which may give your kids and their guardian faster access to resources, according to the Motley Fool. Certain types of trusts can also help your kids avoid or lessen estate taxes. (You can do a trust even if you don’t have a large estate.) Talk to a lawyer about your options for managing your assets.

No one will raise your children the way you do, which is what makes the decision of appointing a guardian so much more difficult. It’s especially hard if you have young children. Despite how hard it is, should the worst happen, having an appointed guardian in place provides some level of stability and security for your family.

Unexpected lifestyle and monetary issues arise when you're diagnosed with cancer. UVA Cancer Center offers financial assistance to patients and their families.

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Patricia Chaney
Patricia Chaney