In general, I hate heavy topics, but this one is so important that I don't want to just mention it, I want to shout it out loud.
Thing is, multicultural families are vulnerable. When we start a family abroad, our children rely on us, but we don't have anyone to rely on. The family that we can rely on is countries, oceans, and continents away.
This is not a problem, typically. It is not even something that we discuss in depth with our partners because the probability of something happening to both of us is fairly slim, especially if they are both young and healthy. A likely conversation would be where they would like to retire and how they envision their lives together as they age. Super careful couples may discuss how they want to be handled when they die, but usually, the conversation changes right about there.
Then comes a pandemic with too many threatening unknowns that aims a spotlight exactly where this vulnerability is. What would happen to our children if we were both gone?
No one really wants to think of that let alone face it. My heart goes out to any family that has to live with this and prays no one else has to live it.
If we want to protect our children and loved ones abroad no matter what happens to us, the way to do this is to set up a will.
I reached out to Sandra Fava, Family Lawyer and Partner at Fox Rothschild LLP. Sandra magically simplified the legal process and answered my many questions with patience and knowledge. This is what I learned from our conversation. (full podcast episode releasing soon)
What is a will?
It is a plan for how to take care of things once we are gone. It is NOT only about money and assets, it also includes plans for children and anything else that we want cared for in our absence.
For example, if I want to make sure that no matter what, my children continue in their same school, keep getting their piano lessons, spend their summers with their grandparents, and finish their education, I can specify that in the will.
Basically, anything that I would have planned for my children to do while I am alive can be planned for them in a will. Here are some other ideas to discuss with your lawyer:
- Can I arrange for a family member who is not a citizen to be flown in to care for my children?
- Can I make sure that my parents receive __________ care?
- Can my child receive ______________ on their _____________th birthday.
- What about their health insurance?
- I've always dreamed of taking them on a world tour, can I arrange for that trip now?
- I have assets abroad, how can I make sure that they are handled the way I want?
- I want my children to live in their current home until they are off to college, after that, I want this house to be ________________.
What do you have planned for your children? Whatever it is, ask your lawyer if it can be arranged.
Why a will?
For 3 main reasons.
It minimizes the impact of the loss of a parent and keeps children as stable as possible.
It clarifies all plans, which in turn simplifies paperwork AND stops unnecessary family fighting.
It gives us peace of mind that our children will be cared for no matter what.
How to set up a will?
The best way to start is to find a lawyer that you are comfortable with.
A will may range from very simple to very complex. A good lawyer should be able to put all the necessary paperwork together to make sure it works.
Who has access to this will?
The lawyer will keep a copy for sure. However, you will want to keep a copy for yourself too.
For everyone involved in caring for your child, it might be safest to give them the lawyer's contact information in case they need it.
So many what-ifs, but the good news is that most of them are fairly common. Here are some that come to mind.
- What if my spouse/partner does not want to have a will?
You can make a will on your own. You don't need to set up a will as a couple.
- What if this happens in the middle of quarantine and my parents (or whomever you specify as the primary caretaker) can not make it to our children for a while?
It would be wise to name 2-3 local people who can take care of your children in the meantime. Start reaching out to friends and neighbors and have a list of 2-3 options to share with your lawyer. Make sure to also give these contacts your lawyer's number.
- What if I decide to not have a will and just take that risk?
It is a risk, for sure. What ends up happening, in this case, is that the children will enter the foster care system until the age of 18.
There are so many unanswered questions and none of them pleasant. But I hope you see now just how important it is to have these documents and how much they can impact our loved ones even no matter what happens to us.
I wish I had a magic pill to make this process easier. It is not, but it is important and it will maximize stability for our children in case such a scenario ever happens. I hope it doesn't.
Stay safe, and set up a will!
Connect with Sandra Fava directly at www.asksandrafava.com