If I die, I want my friends to raise my children

My parents are too old and my siblings are too mired in difficulties. But I'm hesitant to bring up the idea with friends.


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Cary Tennis
May 16, 2008 2:20PM (UTC)

Dear Cary:

My husband and I are the parents of three young children and we have written a will with legal assistance to prepare for our unexpected deaths. We are very well off financially and could provide easily for them even if we died today.

Our problem is that we have no relatives that we feel comfortable in appointing guardianship to for the care of our children. Our siblings are all mired in deep emotional or psychological problems. Our parents are too old to take on the task of guardianship. That leaves our friends who are raising families of their own. I do not feel comfortable bringing the topic up with the few friends who I could truly envision raising our children. I do not want to strain the relationship by asking them this question. I feel like it would cause too much stress in having to say no, or feeling like they have to say yes.

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Can I appoint guardianship to someone without notifying them now? Would that be very wrong? If I created a wish list of guardians, and if the first choice did not want the job, could the appointment go down the list and onward?

This is such a depressing thought for me, wondering who will take care of my children in the way that I wish for them to be raised if something horrible were to happen to us.

Sad Mom

Dear Sad Mom,

Thinking about mortality takes courage. Discussing it with others is difficult. Even to say to someone, when I die, or if I should die, or if my husband and I should both die strips one bare for an instant of the usual defenses we muster against the unthinkable. Of course one does not want to strip bare in front of one's friends. So often these matters are not attended to until it is too late.

You have shown courage and foresight in expressing your thoughts, and you seem to have identified the pitfalls. You know what is holding you back. That is all to the good. The mechanics of the guardianship appointment are best handled by a competent and sympathetic attorney -- perhaps the one who helped you draft the will. I could not even speculate about the legal effect of assigning guardianship to someone without his or her knowledge. But perhaps I can help you move forward, personally, so this does not weigh on your mind for months or years without being resolved, as sometimes happens with things that are difficult to discuss.

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Writing a letter is traditionally the best way to broach a sensitive topic. It gives you the chance to consider your words carefully. It can be read by the recipient in private, so he or she is under no pressure to respond immediately. You are not standing there needing to be reassured. The recipient has time to craft a response.

A letter in this case would touch on matters of profound import both legal and personal. So I suggest that you meet with the attorney who prepared your will. Ask for help drafting a letter asking someone to be appointed guardian.

Go over it with your attorney to make sure all the legal points are covered. Then turn your attention to the important emotional and personal points you want to make. Among them might be that you admire the way your friends are raising their own children; that your children like them and you would feel good knowing their children were with them, should something happen to you; that your own siblings and parents are unable, for various reasons, to undertake the responsibility; that you do not want to impose on your friendship but are trying to face the facts and plan for the future; that fortunately there is money in your estate to provide for the children and for their guardians; and that you know what a difficult thing you are asking of them, and so will remain their steadfast friend regardless of what they decide.

Writing the letter will clarify your thoughts. Having written it, you may find in the end that you want to handle it personally. That is fine. Having gone through the process, you would know what you want to say. You might keep the letter handy as an outline, so you say all that you have to say. You could invite your friends over to your house to discuss it. Or you could invite your friends to join you in a conference with your attorney so the attorney can answer any questions that might arise. There is nothing quite like an attorney's office to signal seriousness and formality, and thus to open the door to consideration of serious issues.

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I hope this helps you move forward on this important matter.


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