It’s not the morbid thought of death that causes it. And it’s not the expense of drafting the document, because that’s virtually negligible. Instead, the most common excuse parents give for putting off writing a will is trying to decide who will raise the children. This decision is what brings the process to a screeching halt.
Writing a will is easy for young parents, because most people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s still see themselves as immortal. Parents of grown children know they aren’t. If you’ve recently become a grandparent, this topic still has relevance, because you may need to talk about this subject with your kids.
Deciding on a guardian and how to provide for their kids’ financial needs is difficult. As a result, a lot of parents do the worst thing of all: nothing. This means the decision, if one becomes necessary, will be made by a judge or county official.
It’s important not to let that happen. Don’t let a stranger decide who will raise your kids. But, if you’re stuck on how to proceed, the following steps may help you.
Sit down with pen and paper and answer the following questions, providing as much detail as possible. If you’re deciding as a couple, answer the questions separately and then compare your answers. Some of the questions will take some thought, so you might not be able to answer them right away. That’s okay. Answer what you can at the first sitting and set a deadline to finish the rest.
- List your candidates for guardian. Listen to your gut instinct and answer the following questions with these people in mind.
- Is it likely that the candidate(s) will live for many years? Remember, you’re planning for someone to take care of your kids if you die ... losing a guardian can also be devastating for a child. A lot of people want to name grandparents, but they aren’t always the best choice because of their age.
- How good is the health of the candidate(s)? Are they physically and mentally able to accept the responsibility? Do they have the energy? Another caveat for grandparents is they may be great as weekend baby-sitters, but having your kids permanently requires something more. Are they up to it?
- Do the candidates have kids of their own? If so, would adding yours to their household be too much for them to handle? Raising a family is expensive and hectic, particularly for many two-income families. Your proposed guardians already may feel that their plate is full (or even overflowing). Conversely, if they don’t have kids, are you confident they know how to raise children?
- Do the candidates have time to raise your kids? Are they a two-career family, or does one parent stay home? Would the candidate be likely to rely on daycare? Do you have strong feelings about whether your kids are raised in one environment or the other? You’ll want to consider a guardian who shares your beliefs.
- What are the candidates’ views on education and religion? Do you insist on home-schooling or private education? Do they share your religious beliefs? Will the candidates raise your children with the same values and cultural traditions you would have provided?
- Where do the candidates live? Moving your kids to some far-away place after losing their parents can make a difficult transition for them even harder because they will have lost not only their parents, but literally everything they are familiar with -- school, friends, nearby relatives, and favorite places and pastimes. You want to try to avoid this problem, but sometimes the best candidate for the job doesn’t live nearby. In such cases, perhaps the transition can be eased. For example, if possible, let the kids finish the school year where they are, or provide money for them to visit friends for extended periods.
- What if the candidates divorce? You might want to consider adding a statement about who gets your kids if they ever divorce. And, if one of them dies, would you feel comfortable letting the survivor raise your kids alone?
- Are the candidates financially secure? While you shouldn’t let wealth (or lack of it) be the sole basis for choosing one candidate over another, you do want to know your kids will be in a financially stable and safe environment. While you probably want to leave all your money to your kids, be realistic about the financial impact that raising them will have on their guardian. Indeed, the guardian is sure to incur expenses associated with raising them, such as adding a room onto the house or buying a bigger car, so you should make your assets available to help them. Otherwise, the guardian (or the guardian’s spouse or children) could become frustrated. Several issues must be balanced carefully here: You want your money to be used for the benefit and welfare of your kids, and the assets to be available to help the guardian as needed, but at the same time you want to protect against the assets being squandered by the guardian or others (maybe even your kids!). A good estate planning attorney can help you achieve these goals.
As you consider these questions, feel free to change your mind. You also may find that you prefer certain people for some issues but not for others. That’s okay, too: This process is all about identifying the strengths and weaknesses of potential guardians, not just blurting out an answer based on emotion alone. Often the most appropriate person is the best all-around candidate rather than one whom you prefer in some areas, but not in others.
Only after you’ve decided (if you are deciding as a couple) should the two of you compare notes. By writing down the reasons for your preferences beside each question (not just the names), each of you can better understand where the other is coming from. Perhaps you’ll find that your partner’s reasoning is more sound than yours.
Pick a guardian you both agree on, even if that means you each accept someone who is not necessarily a favorite. After choosing, be sure to ask your candidate if he or she is willing. Have the person sleep on it, and be sure the person’s partner, if any, concurs.
Above all, remember: If you fail to make a choice, you are leaving the decision up to the probate court, where all of the people you considered above (and possibly others) will fight over the decision, with the judge acting as referee. It’s a difficult task for a judge, since he or she has never met you and will have no idea what you would have wanted.
If the thought of making a choice sends you into a panic, remember that you can always change your mind. I’ve seen clients change their minds every other year, as their family circumstances change. If your parents seem the best option today, pick them. In a few years, when they’re older or have become ill, you can change your mind. Or maybe your choice marries someone you don’t like, or suffers a setback of some kind. No problem. Just base your decision on the facts as they are today, and rest assured that as times change and people change, your mind can change, as well.
Reasons Why You Procrastinate
Have you ever found yourself putting things off without knowing why? Everyone does this to a certain degree, but it can be frustrating when you keep doing it without a clear reason. Ignoring the problem will only make matters worse because it becomes more and more difficult to move forward.
There are many causes of procrastination, but here are three of the most common:
- Feeling overwhelmed
Many people procrastinate because they feel overwhelmed at the thought of tackling specific tasks or chores. For example, you may want to lose weight and get in shape, but it seems too difficult to begin an exercise program and change your eating habits. Or you may want to ask your boss for a raise but feel intimidated about his or her response, so you keep avoiding the issue. The problem with avoidance is that the situations only tend to get worse the longer you ignore them. What starts out as a minor annoyance can quickly turn into a major aggravation.
The best way to tackle this type of procrastination is to simply push yourself to do something about it. If it helps you to feel less intimidated, try breaking down a bigger task into smaller pieces. For example, rather than starting a whole new health regime, try committing to exercising for 30 minutes each day. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with that, begin making modest changes to your diet, and continue to make other changes in the same gradual way.
If a task can’t be broken down (like asking your boss for a raise), you might reach a point where you feel you have nothing to lose by going for it, and push yourself to take action anyway. Simply by taking action you can ease that feeling of pressure and fear that procrastination often creates.
Another reason you may procrastinate is because you’re afraid you won’t be able to complete a task well enough, or that the conditions aren’t yet right to move forward. You’re waiting for everything to be just perfect (or your own capability to be greater than it is now), so you keep holding back. Unfortunately, the “perfect time” or conditions never arrive, so you can end up holding back for years!
The best way to get around this procrastination habit is to keep affirming that things don’t have to be perfect for you to proceed. You don’t have to be perfect in your actions or capabilities, and the conditions don’t have to be perfect in order for you to make progress. When you let go of your need to have everything “just so,” you free yourself up to better enjoy the journey and leave procrastination in the dust.
- Lack of discipline
Finally, a lack of self-discipline can also cause procrastination because you simply won’t put forth the effort to make positive changes in your life. Let’s face it; anything worthwhile will require some effort to achieve!
You may have to simply push yourself to do the things you know must be done, even if you don’t exactly enjoy them. When you keep in mind the alternative – problems and stagnation that result from procrastination, you just might find the motivation and discipline to keep moving forward.
Overcoming Procrastination Tips for Parents of Teens
Procrastination is a regular problem many teens face, sometimes daily. Often parents try to fix this behavior through reward or punishment. As procrastination has underlying reasons, these fixes don't work as well as parents would hope, leaving us and our teens frustrated. Here are some tips to help your teen overcome procrastination:
Clearly define what needs to be done to your teen. When a task is not clearly laid out, your teen may procrastinate, as they are unsure of exactly what you expect. Ask your teen if they understand what is required. If not, explain it to them. If they think so, have them explain to you what they think they should be doing. Clarify any confusion.
Help your teen find their motivation. Motivation comes easily when doing something is important to the person doing it. Otherwise, it is very slow to show up and your teen will procrastinate. If your teen's teacher hasn't motivated their class about their latest algebra assignment, your teen might need another incentive to get them to the homework and do it well. Setting up a 'privileges based on completed responsibilities' can help you motivate your teen if this is the problem.
Encourage your teen to get extra help for things like school work, where your ability to help is limited. The inability to do something can cause your teen to procrastinate. Tell your teen: 'School is about learning, not knowing. If someone already knows everything, they don't need to go learn it, do they? Sometimes learning is fast, sometimes it's harder. The good thing is that there are teachers there to help you if you are up against learning a tougher topic for you.' The good thing about this strategy is that once it works for your teen, they will begin to do it more independently. If your teen is dealing with a difficult teacher and is unable to get the extra help they need, call the school and see if there are other tutor options.
Help your teen set goals. Make sure their goals are clear and come from the teen. Teens need to feel ownership of their goals in order not to procrastination and want to get the work done that is needed to achieve the goal.
Use preventative measures and address problems before they happen. Problems like perfectionism and anxiety can cause a teen to become stressed and procrastinate. Remind teens that they do not have to be perfect, that no one is. While they may be judged on their effort, doing their best is the purpose and they are always capable of doing their best.
Be understanding and supportive. Being afraid of what could happen is another reason teens procrastinate. Going out into the world and dealing with things that have outcomes you cannot control can be scary for everyone. Talk to your teen about this and role play if necessary.
Why Don't You Understand?: Improve Family Communication with the Four Thinking Styles
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