Where do our kids go if we die?

If anything should happen to us, we want our two young children to be well taken care of

By Cary Tennis

Published May 24, 2010 1:01PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My husband and I live in California and we have two small boys -- a 4-year-old and a 7-month-old. We would like to have something in writing to state where we want our boys to go in the event of our deaths but we are not sure what to do or how to go about it. I've looked online and talked to a few different people who weren't much help.

We are currently living on one income and we cannot afford to hire an attorney. Any advice you can give to set us in the right direction? We just want the best for our boys.

Thank you for your help.

 Concerned Mom

Dear Concerned Mom,

I'm not a lawyer, and every time I get close to pretending to be a lawyer, actual lawyers who are not pretending write to me in that very serious way they have. They say blah blah blah this and blah blah blah that.

It's gotten so that if anybody asks a question as simple as, like, is it against the law to murder my roommate because he left a plate of dogfood in the refrigerator with ketchup on it and I ate it and thought it was really good until he told me what it was? and I say something as simple as, maybe, but if you can get away with it, it might be worth looking into, which should not qualify as a legal opinion but just as an opinion opinion, I get letters from lawyers, which leads me to speculate that lawyers may not have enough to do in this country and maybe some of them should be cleaning the fridge instead of sending me e-mails.

Now that I am in some respects operating at a reduced capacity (has this been noted in the record, Your Honor?) I have Stephannie the Research Associate, sometimes referred to as Stephipedia, to research those areas where my common-sense approach might conceivably be encroaching upon the exclusive preserve of lawyerly advice.

Stephannie, if I heard her correctly, basically said you should just get a will made. She's not a lawyer either, as she goes to some length to make clear.

Also, maybe you could take a look at this book, which comes recommended by a personal connection of unimpeachable credentials.

And if this doesn't work, doing it yourself, I mean, then for heaven's sake, just contact a lawyer. Tell the lawyer upfront you don't have much money. Some lawyers will talk to you for free and tell you things like, Go to Legal Aid. Or they'll at least tell you where you might find some free legal advice.

Now here's something else, too, that might be useful to you that a lawyer might not tell you: Act like you're worth it. I could be wrong but I detect somewhere in the back of your prose the niggling suspicion that maybe you don't deserve a lawyer, or that it would be wrong to just ask for proper adult-size legal help without having a big bank wad ready. So: Pretend that you matter. I am a big proponent of pretending that you matter. That is how we get around in the world.

One final thing: If you already know who you would like to take care of your kids, you might start by asking that person if he or she will take care of your kids if you should suddenly die. Then, it  then ask a lawyer: Hey, I've asked these people to take care of our kids if anything happens to us, and now I'd like something official that says that, and I'd like it entered into the record in such a way that even if we die and everything we own burns up, this document can be dug up and people can read it and ascertain what we wanted. That's the general idea.

Good luck!

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Cary Tennis

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