Some families collapse after the death of the patriarch or matriarch. The one that was the heart and soul of the family. While it’s nice to be that person, think about what will happen to your family after you’re gone. Your family collapses. You didn’t do your job. You didn’t prepare your family for life without you. You want to win as a dad? Raise your kids in a way that makes you irrelevant in their day to day lives, BUT at the same time very much loved and respected.
1. Raise your kids to be independent and strong.
The goal of any parent is to raise those helpless, cute, little blobs into fully functioning members of society. It’s not easy and it’s not always fun, but it is very important. Teaching them independence is key for them to function in the real world. Mom and dad can not and should not be doing their laundry, setting up their insurance, finding them places to rent, or otherwise doing “grownup” things for them when they become adults. It absolutely blows my mind when I hear the stories of parents treating the 20-something or 30-something kid as if they were still a teenager. I will give a few exceptions here and there for college. Maybe a few months post-college. But even then, they need to take care of themselves AND IT’S YOUR JOB TO TEACH THEM HOW!!
Now, in reality, a good mom and dad will teach and show these skills slowly over time. As they age we teach them more and more responsibility. First how to clean up their room, then the house, then dishes, then the car. Teach them how to budget, how to grocery shop and cook, how to do laundry. You know… basic skills needed to live. In those teenage years, we can introduce them to the less fun realities of registering their car, paying taxes, getting insurance, having a job, setting up bank accounts, and maybe some investing. Even the more fun things like mechanic skills, home repair and maintenance, and trips to the gun range!
We need to make sure they can wake up on time to get dressed and clean for work. Basically just how to plan ahead. We all know how to live (I hope). Teach those skills so the world doesn’t hit them like a ton of bricks if you no longer can do it for them.
2A. Have a will, a living will, and POA in place.
Get a will. Once you’re an independent adult go get a will. It is super easy, and it makes everyone’s life easier if you die. If you’re a mom or dad it is not even an option. You must have a will. You NEED one now. Here is a link to an inexpensive way to get one US Legal Forms. Let me tell you what happens if you die without a will. The government, BY LAW, must decide what happens to your assets and kids. Even if your family knows what you want, a probate judge is the only authority that gets to decide. All because you did not take an hour out of your day to print a state-specific will, fill in some blanks, and get it notarized.
Once that will is notarized then the probate judge does exactly what the will says. It should say your assets go to your wife and so does the care of your children. Boom. Done. Easy. You would think that would happen even if you do not have a will. Most times it will… months down the road. Meanwhile, you wreak havoc on your spouse as she tries to figure out financial information, asset ownership, and all sorts of other legal hang-ups caused by the delay in probate months after you’re in the ground. A will prevents all these problems. A will is going to make your family’s life much easier so they can grieve your death. They will be cursing your name if you don’t have a will. I hope I am being clear. And in more complex situations it will keep everyone from fighting over assets that they think you wanted them to have. Write it down and have it notarized. Then there is no dispute.
While we are avoiding creating a situation where family will be fighting each other, go ahead and do your living will. Write down when or if you want your spouse to “pull the plug”. The last thing I want my wife dealing with is another family member taking her to court while she is dealing with the toughest decision of her life. I made it for her. So she can have peace and avoid a legal fight with some family member that thinks they knew me better than my wife.
Go ahead and give your wife Power of Attorney. So those legal hang-ups can all be avoided. Now to be clear. POA means she can sign as you and it is legally binding. It is a powerful authority. It’s also a pain to use. But if you’re dead she can do things in your name like move deeds and titles without waiting for probate courts. You should have POA for her as well for the same reasons. POA is powerful so I would not recommend you give it to anyone other than your wife. You don’t want your cousin to sign all your assets over to him and disappear.
In case you were wondering. In my will, if I die, my wife basically gets everything.
If we both die at the same time, then our assets go into a trust and we have rules created for the trust. How those assets are to be managed and distributed. There is a trustee to manage the trust and there is a guardian to take care of the kids. The guardian receives money from the trust to raise the kids until they are 18. Their college tuition gets paid for by the trust and if the kids are living according to the rules of the trust they will get payouts at certain age points. These rules are meant to keep my kids and future generations from becoming lazy jerks living off a trust fund. It’s also meant to make sure they don’t OD on their inheritance among other things. Again, fully-productive, HEALTHY adults is the goal.
2B. Discuss your will and intentions with your family (no surprises).
This is so important and so few people will do it. Tell everyone your intentions before you die. Since you don’t know when you are going to die tell them the day you sign your will. The executor of the will needs to know ahead of time. Who gets custody should be told ahead of time. Who gets what assets and who doesn’t anything needs to be discussed ahead of time. Otherwise you risk big family fights. Don’t make your legacy tainted with stupid squabbles. Grow a pair and tell everyone the truth.
The reading of the will should not be a dramatic event like Hollywood portrays. It should be boring because everyone knows what’s happening. I don’t personally tell everyone the exact dollars involved, but they know the big picture. If you are named in my will I sit down with you and tell you. Your death should be the only surprise. Everything else should be scripted by you.
3. Have Life Insurance in place
Do not leave your family in a financial bind. Again—I keep saying this–can we just assume you death is unpredicted and very sad and traumatic. Don’t compound that tragedy with the terror of not knowing how to keep a roof over our heads and food in our bellies, much less how to pay for a funeral. This is a Dad site. Most of the time Dad is a or the breadwinner for the family. Life insurance IS NOT hitting the lottery. Life insurance is Income replacement and covering some immediate expenses. Life insurance money is to be invested and not spent. Because we need that money to create money every year for the rest of time. That brings up 2 important points.
1.) Your family needs to know what to do with the life insurance money.
2.) You need to know how much life insurance to have.
So once again, Talk with your family and communicate what life insurance is for and who will handle it.
Get at least 10 times your annual income. And more if you can afford it. Always TERM life insurance. The whole life and cash value policies are insane in price, provide less support and are TERRIBLE investment vehicles. Term insurance is cheap and protects your family if you die. That’s what we want. Depending on how well you invest you can reasonably expect a 8-12% return. So a 500K life insurance policy could reasonably kick out $50K a year for the rest of their lives. There are bad years and good years so having a better cushion if you can afford it is certainly recommended.
4. Make sure you’re not the glue that bonds the family.
Sure it feels good to be that important and that loved. For the sake of our loved ones we want there to be continuity in the family long after we are gone. For me I want my family, my kids specifically, to have relationships with each other outside of me. I want to raise kids that encourage each other and build each other up in their lives. I see a lot of criticism and tearing each other down. And before you ask HOW to teach that, know that it’s a culture you create in your family. It means you model that behavior. You reward and encourage that behavior. You call out contrasting behavior. These things aren’t done once. It’s a lifestyle. A consistent culture.
I want my family to be strong long after I’m gone. I don’t want to leave them broken and dysfunctional.
5. Make sure you are not a crutch. Financially or emotionally.
This goes back to independence. At the end of our 18 years of heavy influence our babies need to be able to fly on their own. Hunt and gather on their own. Provide for themselves. It is crippling to be the person that can’t survive adulthood without mom and dad. It doesn’t feel good to be that person to have to be dependent on mom and dad’s support to get them through life. And if I am being honest, they feel like a failure because you failed to teach them how to be independent. And your death—especially when it’s sudden—is going to yank that crutch out from under them and leave them in a bad place.
Measure your success as a parent by these two things:
Love is super important. So is independence.