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planned giving & trust se r vices Where Will I Go Now? IT WAS A TYPICAL FEBRUARY EVENING IN ONTARIO— clear, starry, and subzero. Exiting the airport terminal, Jenn and Mike gasped as the icy air entered their lungs and slammed against their skin. After they spent 10 days in Hawaii to celebrate their 10 th anniversary, the frigid Ontario air, although expected and familiar, was still shocking to them. They scurried to the car, loaded up their bags, and headed for home. Hawaii had been magical, but Jenn and Mike were anxious to see their two beautiful kids—Max, 8, and Chloe, 5—at the other end of the 45-minute stretch of highway. Then suddenly, there was black ice; brake lights; careening transports; skidding, skating vehicles. Then, the piercing bellow of car horns, the screeching of metal on metal, the shattering of glass—and the lives of six people, among them this young couple, lost in the wreckage. While losing their parents was heartbreaking beyond words for Max and Chloe, what happened to the children in the months and years following the tragic deaths of their parents was a heartbreak of a different kind. And it is one that could have been avoided. Jenn and Mike were like many couples and parents their age: in their late 30s with children, a modest suburban home, and a family pet. Some family relationships were strained, mostly because of Jenn and Mike’s decision to join a faith that was different from their respective Catholic and Presbyterian upbringings. Even though their families were loving and well intentioned, Jenn and Mike had faced harsh criticism for joining the Seventh-day Adventist Church and for sending their children to a private Seventh-day Adventist school. This made choosing a guardian to be named in the will for their children a difficult, emotionally loaded issue—and one that Jenn and Mike had put off for too long. Firstly, no one really believes he/she will die young. Secondly, you do not want to offend or hurt the feelings of family members and/or close friends by choosing one over another. Thirdly, placing the burden of raising your children on someone else is of great concern. There is no one who will look after your kids the way you do, so ask yourself, who is the next-best person? One of the hardest things for your remaining family to do is to pick someone to raise your children after you have died. Make sure that the person you choose as a guardian is willing to accept this appointment permanently. 1 Write down the reasons for your choice of who you want to take care of your children and detail any specific wishes regarding the raising of your children, such as those related to cultural and religious beliefs and education. If there is no will at the time of death, guardianship of children is left up to the courts. Friends and family can step forward and try to obtain custody; however, a judge decides who is best suited. For reasons you couldn’t anticipate, your children could end up in foster care. Had Jenn and Mike known that the tensions among their family members would lead to many years of expensive litigation and their kids being shuttled from one home to another, surely Jenn and Mike would have taken the time to make a will that named a guardian for their precious, beloved young children. Choosing a guardian is not easy, but it is very important and necessary. Although we live as if it is not, life can be fleeting and cut short. You do not want your children to wonder, Where will I go now? The care, as well as the religious and cultural upbringing and education of your children, is up to you in life—and, if you have a will naming a guardian, it can continue to be up to you even if you’re gone. n Leah Keys writes from Newcastle, Ont. 1 It is a good idea to name a single individual as a guardian, not a couple. If a named couple divorces, for example, this will create legal issues regarding the guardianship of your children. It is also advisable to choose a second and completely separate guardian, in case something happens to your first choice that makes it impossible for him/her to act as guardian for your child/children. M D e ce mb er 2 015 13