She Says… Things I Don’t Want to Think About

A few months ago I added a silly Katherine Heigl movie, Life As We Know It, to our Netflix queue. (Confession: despite our best efforts to complain about how bad it is, we’ve seen 27 Dresses about a gagillion times.) Yes, I knew the premise of the movie is an unlikely couple inheriting their best friends’ baby and the inevitable hilarity that ensues. I glossed over the idea of the baby’s parents actually dying, and instead thought it would be a lighthearted, slightly funny, easy way to spend a Friday night in front of the tv with Benjamin.

Boy was I wrong.

Having a baby has changed us.

We turned on the movie and within the first ten minutes the baby’s parents were in a car crash (or something) and Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel were at their house taking care of their baby (because obviously the parents had given their names as guardians in their will, even though Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel had gone on one terrible blind date a long time ago and neither seemed fit to take care of a child). Instead of being the beginning to a sweet romantic comedy, it was a tragedy and horror movie in one for us. Benjamin and I were both blubbering idiots thinking about what would happen to Owen if something happened to us.

Needless to say, we turned off the movie, watched an episode of Modern Family to lighten the mood and went to bed.

But, also needless to say, we couldn’t get the thought out of our minds.

It’s an idea I tend to file under “Things I Don’t Want to Think About”. So I just… don’t. It stops my heart. It clenches my stomach like someone just stuck a knife into it. It takes my breath away. It stops me in my tracks. I just can’t do it. I absolutely can not fathom life without Owen. Or Owen’s life without us. Or our lives without Benjamin. Or Benjamin and Owen’s life without mine. Just. Can’t. Do. It.

But the reality is that while Benjamin and I may not have a mass of riches that we need to divvy up in a will, we have something far more precious. More important. And we need to be responsible. And that means thinking about That Thing I Don’t Want to Think About.

We probably should have done this the day that Owen was born. But we didn’t; because we just couldn’t think about it at that point. It’s time. We need to decide who would take care of Owen if something happened to us and draft a will.

Where do you even begin to think about that question? Sure, we have wonderful, loving families who would undoubtedly pitch in if something terrible ever happened. But our siblings either have their own kids or chose not to have kids. Our parents will be significantly older than our children such that they may not be in a position to take care of our children for the rest of their lives. We have to think about whose parenting philosophy aligns with ours; who we would want raising and teaching our children. Who will help them become the people we want them to be? Who could handle the burden of taking our child or children into their lives? Who would want to step up and parent in our absence? Heck, even who would put them to bed at the right time and feed them the healthy foods we have worked so hard to give them and still have time to go apple picking and read books and play outside? Who can do that?

And once you choose this person, you have to ask them, point blank, “Will you take care of my children if I die?”. Phew, that is a lot to ask someone. Talk about baggage. Will even asking that question impact your own relationship? What if they feel like that have to say yes, because you’re asking them something so powerful, but they really want to say no? What if they say no, would you feel like they slammed a door in your face?

I don’t know where to start. But I’m pretty sure we have to.

Do you have a living will? How did you draft it? Have you decided on a guardian for your child if something ever happened to you? How did you pick that person?


25 responses to “She Says… Things I Don’t Want to Think About

  1. We haven’t met with the lawyer yet to make it official, but we have filled out all the paperwork and answered all the tough questions that need answered. It was pretty easy for me, only because we really don’t have too many options, but they are good ones. We chose my brother and his wife. They are younger than my husband and I by a few years, but they are stable, have no kids yet, but want them and I know that when they become parents, they will make great ones. Second in line was our really close friends, who also would be a great choice, but we wanted to keep them in the family if at all possible. Yes, my husband and I also watched that movie and we cried through it. I almost turned it off because it was just too much. Too hard. I pray that my little girl has to take care of both of her parents when we are too old to care for ourselves, lol. I hope she never has to experience a loss of a parent or parents, but at least I know that in this uncertain world, I have taken care of my child in all areas.

  2. My husband and I had that asked of us three years ago. It was from two of our closest friends. We said “of course” without hesitation. I realize what a life-altering event that would be, but a) it’s so unlikely to happen, and b) we’d alter our lives for their son.

    Please draft a will. I know the chances are small, but my husband and I are both attorneys (don’t worry, we’re of the honest variety), and there are so many bad stories about what happens when someone passes. Depending on your state, the default rules could significantly vary and complicate things even if just one spouse passes. Families, even the best ones, get nutto during times of grief, and if there’s a reliable transcript of what the deceased wanted, it makes things 100x easier. This all matters a lot less if there isn’t a child, but I think a child changes the trust/wills/estate process and moreso necessitates you having one.

    Most trust/estate attorneys will give a free initial consultation to go over what your options are and what doing various options will cost. Yes, you can go online and try to figure it out yourself… but let me put it this way: Even with both my husband and I having significant legal training? We’ll go to a trust and estates attorney someday. It’s too important to risk screwing it up. Plus, it’s a third-party who will someday come into play if something happens, which is a comforting thought.

    Anyway, sorry for the long post- just my two cents worth!

  3. PS: I think your closest friends (or relatives) will agree to care for Owen in case the worst happens. Yes, it’s a lot to ask, but it’s also the most trusting, admirable request you can ask of someone and shows very deeply that you greatly love and respect the person you’re asking.

  4. It’s interesting you post this today, because I’m currently working on a post about life insurance. It must be “morbid thoughts” day. Ugh!

    We have not yet formally asked or made up a will for what will happen to our daughter if something happens to us, either. We need to do it, but like you say, it’s tough to think about and just one of those things that no one is really chomping at the bit to do. It’s a tough decision for us, because we have a number of siblings who I think would step up should the unthinkable happen. I honestly feel bad choosing just one of them.

    Also, I think your family/friends will be more willing to agree to take Owen than you maybe think they will. My husband’s sister and her husband asked us to take their boys if something ever happens to them–we did not hesitate to say yes. If those poor boys lost their parents, we would do everything in our power to make sure that they were taken care of, even if that meant adding two more kids to our own family. Good luck making your decisions!

    P.S. I totally sobbed during “Life As We Know It,” too. That scene where the baby is screaming crying with Katherine Heigl just after her parents die? OMG RIP OUT MY HEART AND STOMP ON IT. So, so heartbreakingly terrible. I still can’t even really think about that scene without getting all choked up.

  5. We have picked a guardian, but we have earmarked a date to change that (due to the guardian getting old). We haven’t told anyone yet because there is already fighting over who gets to hold the baby the most, so I’m not going to open that can of worms. My husband wants his brother to be the guardian, and I like that idea too…except his new wife has, uh, issues. It’s a complicated issue!

    I want to be able to stipulate that the person raising Faith in my absence has to be a better mother than me, but always tell Faith that I was above reproach. Is that too much to ask? 🙂

  6. I’m glad I watched that movie before my son was born. We chose my husbands brother and his wife. We are in the process of drafting a will now, but told all of our immediate family about our decision, just in case. We chose them because they are the most like us. My husband and his brother are very close and my SIL and I always talk about the funny things they do and comment on how much alike they are in so many ways. My SIL is one of my closest friends and she has the same values and priorities that I have, as well as many of the same hobbies and interests. I know my parents and my husbands parents would both step up, but I am concerned about their age and health, as well as the environments they’d provide. My MIL and FIL are very conservative and can be judgemental, and I’d be concerned about how they would relate to my son as teenager. For example, I’m not certain that they would accept my son if he was gay. I’m hopeful that they would be able to, but I want him to be raised in a more open minded home. Also my father has a temper and I don’t agree with some of the choices my step mother has made with her kids (who are in high school/starting college right now). My brother is single and bouncing around, and my sister lives in Chicago (we’re in NY) and I’d be very concerned that my son would not have a relationship with my in laws if he lived with them. Not only are my brother in law and his wife wonderful people that we spend a great deal of time with, but I know without a doubt that they would (my SIL especially) make sure that my son had a close relationship with my family. It was a very hard and very easy decision to make, and we were relieved when they accepted. They are also his god parents, so I’m hoping that will reinforce our decision if something happens before we get our will made up and someone doesn’t believe or wants to dispute our decision.

  7. I agree about that movie. So not something I enjoy thinking about!
    We haven’t formalized our guardian yet either with a will, but that is on our list of things to do!

  8. We formalized our guardian (for us, it was a relatively easy choice), but are still staring at the software “Will Maker” that someone recommended. I heard it is a pretty good program. We did to our life insurance, but it’s just that darn “Will” that gets us stopped up!

  9. Minor stickler detail here. Your “living will” deals with your personal healthcare decisions (like discontinuing treatment, no life support etc). Your “will” deals with your property and estate. Most wills also include the details for guardianship of minor children. Most attorneys who do wills and estate work will also draft your durable powers of attorney and healthcare decisions/living will as part of the package, but these are separate documents.

  10. @Anonymous, Thank you! I didn’t know that. Will change that in the post now.

  11. We chose some very dear friends. My mother is offended, but I felt that added to the age of our parents, they would coddle the children, as they should be able to as grandparents, not raising them to be strong, disciplined young people. My sister didn’t want children and my husband is an only child.

    Our friends believe in raising children as closely to our philosophy as any two families can be in-line. They believe children are a gift. When we asked, each family had one child. Now there are six children, none over the age of 6! But, you know what, I still think they are the best. And I am grateful that if we die, there will be insurance money to provide them the ability to take on our children to raise them as we would want them raised, with joy and discipline and a lot love.

  12. In some states, you and Benjamin just need to sign a letter stating your wishes about what would happen to Owen if something happened to you (It’s true where I live in Indiana). While I don’t think that’s an ideal long term solution, it is at least something you can do quickly and for free and have as a sort of safety net before you get the legal documents drafted.

  13. We need to do this as well, and I think the main reason we haven’t is that I feel weird in a way picking one of my brothers or sister over another. My husband’s an only child and I just don’t think Grandparents should raise their grandchildren unless they have to but I worry about hurting someone’s feelings. So silly when we’re talking about the well being of our children.

    I really wanted to enjoy that move too but I honestly felt so sick the whole time I was watching it for the exact same reason. And every time the baby did something new (like walking), I just felt sad that the Mom and Dad were not there to see it.

  14. My brother-in-law is a lawyer, so he drafted us a very basic will soon after Elle’s birth, in which we specify who would take guardanianship of our daughter (family members who readily agreed). Basically, BIL told us that we don’t need anything super fancy to establish our wishes (similar to what Jaimie said), but I definitely wanted something on paper so there would be no question.

  15. We actually made this decision while TTC and talked to DH’s step brother. It’s weird to ask someone while trying not to offend others. My family was out of the question because I didn’t want my kids in an abusive household like what I had and my brother has 4 kids and makes some of the dumbest decisions. DH’s bio brother is anal and seriously told us to never have kids because if he knew what he knew now, he wouldn’t have (his kids are 8 and 10…). So we went with the sibling that had several kids close to our baby’s age, they wanted to adopt kids as well as have bio kids, are excellent with money so our insurance $$ will go where it should, and they are normal!!

  16. Very difficult decisions to make and conversations to have! We completed our estate planning documents within the first three months of our daughters birth. We had meant to complete prior but of course didn’t get to it. Like previous commentors have said there are various documents to draft and varying levels of complexity…we chose to draft our wills, durable and general powers of attorney and also chose to draft a revocable trust. To ensure both families were included and for some checks/balances, we chose my brother as guardian and my husbands brother as trustee for our money. So ideally they would work together and ensure that both families would stay actively involved in our daughters life. Good luck!

  17. I’m glad Anonymous corrected you – the Will is very different from the living will. And as an elder law attorney who deals every day with people who have lost capacity to make their own decisions, I urge all of you to put your wishes down on paper. It may not seem like much, but should anything happen, the fact that there are clear directives will ease a tremendous burden on your family members. Similarly, choosing not to set up advanced directives (will, living will, health care proxy, power of attorney) can be unbelievably burdensome to other family members. I know it’s not something any of us wants to think about but I can’t stress enough how much it will help having those documents in place.

  18. We do not have a will, yet. We have been meaning to do it ever since Juliet was a couple of months old and we just…haven’t. I know we are dragging our heels because we just cannot bear to think about it. We have our life insurance policy arranged, so we know that the children will be taken care of financially. We just need to formally dictate where they go. It is hard to pick someone when you have two children. We asked my best friend, and Jules’ Godmother, to be our “person” when we just had Juliet. She and her fiance are both almost finished with their PhDs, they want to move back to our area, and they want children (and will be great parents). She was more than happy to say yes. Now it is hard to think about saddling someone with TWO children. I am not sure who we would pick. I guess my parents? My dad is almost 71, though, and I just think it would be too much for them. Now I am word-vomiting, because I hadn’t really thought about how hard it would be to force two children upon someone. We each have (much) older half-siblings, but J only has one full brother. He is a year younger than us, a total free spirit, and is currently traveling in Australia for a year. Giving him guardianship would make a great Kate Hudson movie, but not so much fun for real life… I guess we need to find a lawyer ASAP!


    You should considering watching the rest of the movie – it is quite uplifting and has some fun observations about the joys of parenthood.

  20. We have picked a guardian for our three. But we still argue about it. Should it be the already-large family, where our three would disappear into the mayhem and chaotic routine of family-life, and perhaps adjust a little more quickly and cope a little more easily with the trauma of losing their parents? Or should it be to the single, wealthy, no-kids uncle they know better, and adore, knowing he would drop everything for them and make whatever adjustments needed to his own lifestyle to focus on them? The only consolation in this terrible debate is knowing that (dreadful as it is to accept) our children are still young enough that they will actually be just fine without us. In one of the strange ironies of life, we have worked very hard to try and ensure that our children are independent, confident people, who do not need us as much as we like to think they do. And we have to have to find the strength to actually rejoice in the fact that our children will be just fine without us!

  21. We’ve been having this discussion since I got pregnant a year ago. Now with a 3 month old we still don’t have a will. We just feel like there are no good options. None of our siblings are currently in a position to take on a child, and while I know this will change and we could change our plans accordingly, we are left with our parents. My mother is the best choice from an “able to take care of and support a child” perspective but she and my dad recently went through a messy divorce, and I worry that if she were raising our son then he would have no relationship with his grandfather. She was also kind of offended when I made the comment we didn’t have a will yet because we didn’t know who we’d make the guardian – she just assumes it would be her. We have one close friend couple, but they live in another state several hundred miles away and we only see them once or twice a year, it just seems strange to ask them. And if we go the friend route, I’d refer it be closer to where we live, so that our son doesn’t get uprooted geographically from what would already be devastating. And then I realize I am thinking about the unlikely death of my husband and myself. Yeah, we need to take care of this too.

  22. We haven’t talked about it. I brought it up last night with my husband and we both had a hard time even thinking about it. At least the seed is planted… like you said, it’s just something you don’t want to have to think about. Thanks for posting this though. I also agree with an earlier commenter–after you get through the first ten minutes or so, it’s a pretty entertaining movie. We watched it before we had William.

  23. We did this before Ryan was born, and honestly, I think that made it easier. It was a chore to be checked off a to-do list. We loved Ryan already, obviously, but we hadn’t met him yet, so it wasn’t quite the same as knowing him and thinking about the possibility of leaving him. Our decision on guardians was actually fairly easy and we knew our people would jump up and say yes. But I can see why it would be stressful if the answer isn’t as clear.

    Good luck with your choice. As hard (and sort of morbid) as it is, you are absolutely doing the best thing for him to be thinking about this. This is a decision that should be yours, not a decision that should be made for you should the unthinkable happen.

  24. We do have a will/estate plan. We drafted it just after Eli was born. We have a good friend who is an attorney and he did all the work for us for a few hundred dollars. It was totally worth it for the peace of mind.

    If something were to happen to us, Eli would legally be under the care of my parents, but we have asked our families that they share the responsibility & love that comes with raising him. (My parents & my in-laws live in the same town as us.) We have also asked that once one of my husband’s siblings settles down and is ready to take on the responsibility, Eli’s care would be legally transferred to them. All of our estate is willed to Eli… not there is much to speak of right now.

    The whole idea of planning for this seemed really morbid to my husband, but it seemed normal & logical to me. See, from the time I was in high school, any time my parents went out of town without me, they sat me down and went through their will and what needed to happen if something were to happen to them. Where the animals go, etc. They still do this. I find it important now, because I work for them, and we discuss what to do with the business and their home and whatnot. I know it is scary to think of Owen being without you. It makes me cry any time I think about Eli being without us. However, it is good for him to know that everything is taken care of an accounted for should something happen!


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