Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Atheist wills/guadianship

So... this is a bit personal, but...stick with me on it, please? I promise there will be a point in the end. *smile*

Mr. Possum and I are "planners". I'm kind of a control freak and would rather have everything laid out, in black and white, so that - should something happen to one, or both of us- the arrangements are ready to go and there's no ambiguity about what our wishes are. Mr. Possum isn't really like that about "life", but is like that about finances. So, we had a will/trust in place as of like an hour after we got married. LOL Well, not really...but, close. Then, we adjusted when we added P#1 and P#2, ... and, we figured we probably ought to do some thinking and revisit our wishes and finances because of P#3 and P#4. We were advised, by our wonderful attorney, to write out a "parenting plan". Holy mother of fuck... that was HARD. It took us about a year to get it to a point where we were comfortable,...not "happy", mind you, but comfortable. Because, in the end, there's no one who can do this like WE want it done. There's no one who can parent our children better than us...and that's not a cocky, boastful statement...it just is what it is. I love our family. To imagine our children being raised by someone else is/was enough to make me sob. So...yeah... it's done now, though. We entered the attorney's office at 1:15 and didn't emerge until well after 3pm. I'm freakin' exhausted. But, we're lawyered up and can die now (ha!). Wills, trusts, power of attorneys, advanced directives, burial issues... lions, tigers, bears...it's all there.
Anyway... why is this on this blog? Well, when you're Catholic and you die, your kids go to relatives who are probably Catholic. If you're Christian, they probably go to another Christian. If you're Jewish, ... Jewish, etc.,. When you're an atheist parent... how do you know if your kids are going to be raised atheist? It's not like there's a centralized institution that helps families do this. It's not like you can write, in your will, "I want the kids to go to Atheist School (ala, Hebrew School) and think critically and independently." Nope. As an atheist, I'm pretty much going to have to depend on the foundations that I've laid and hope that the person/people we've in trusted our kids to has the open-mindedness to continue to raise them as we are raising them now. And, when you know that guardian(s) have a child(ren)... you wonder if you might be imposing your requests upon their family and if that's right? Like, how awkward would it be to say,..."these four are atheists,... but, you guys go to Church."

Anyone else considered this? How did you solve it?

20 comments:

Gramomster said...

Oh man... that's some intense stuff to have to consider! My husband and I are very seat-of-the-pants winging-it types, but we have discussed such things. Fortunately, we're close enough to the end of 'legal' parenthood that it probably won't be an issue. Girl is almost 18, Boy is 15... they can manage. She can take him in just a few months time, and would, for sure.

Also, fortunately, the vast majority of our friends parent along veeeeery similar lines to us, and my mom is, tho rather nuts (but what mother isn't?), very non-religious, intellectual, and I would be just fine with the kids going to her. In all actuality, they'd likely end up with my youngest sister, who is 24 next week, and is the most level-headed, non-supernatural-thinking person that exists in my life. I really am very very very lucky in the family I have, and the friends I have.

Those are really hard questions... I would think, though, that those whom you have chosen to step in in the event of the unspeakable would be honored to be the chosen ones, given your obvious investment in your kids. Thus, I'm sure the choices you and PDaddy made in this area are solid and good, and the absolute best you could provide.

Now, let's just assume they'll never be needed! You'll likely live to be a greatPgramma! If for no other reason than sheer stubbornness, and a desire to watch your children find their way through the parenting struggles. It's fucking grand to be able to laugh knowingly when your grandkid does the EXACT thing that used to make you nuts when their parent was that age... my daughter hears that knowing laugh amazingly often!

Mwahahahaha

Humanist Mama said...

I like this post. It is something we've thought about and wondered how other people deal with this issue. Unfortunately, we have come to no conclusions of our own yet.

Our main problem is that both of our families are fundamental Christians. Through conversations we've had with them, we know that they would not respect our wishes regarding our children. Therein lies the problem.

We have friends we would feel comfortable leaving our kids with, but we don't want to impose. We also want to make sure that whomever we choose is someone our kids would feel comfortable with. AHHHH! This is something that just looms over us and we keep hoping it will solve itself :)

Atheist in a mini van. said...

Oh man... that's some intense stuff to have to consider!
Word. Hence the sobbing. ;)

Fortunately, we're close enough to the end of 'legal' parenthood that it probably won't be an issue.
We've got an odd situation where two of our kids are short-term commitments for the guardian, but the other two are long-term. So, we had to weigh the needs of both sets of kids, KWIM? Like...so-and-so would be great for P#1 and P#2, but maybe not so much for P#3 and P#4 because of age issues or other kids...blah, blah, blah. I think we went back and forth between two equally wonderful choices (family wise) for a year...honestly. Finally, I just said, "We have to pick one!" and we did. Ugh.

Thus, I'm sure the choices you and PDaddy made in this area are solid and good, and the absolute best you could provide.

I hope so...otherwise we just spent a good chunk of money for a really bad idea. LOL

==================
I like this post. It is something we've thought about and wondered how other people deal with this issue.
I think it's an important issue that doesn't get much attention. Even in the general population, you just don't see people making plans for this sort of thing. For atheist families, it's a bit more difficult.


Our main problem is that both of our families are fundamental Christians. Through conversations we've had with them, we know that they would not respect our wishes regarding our children. Therein lies the problem.

*nods* Yeah. That's what bothers me, too. Not that our guardian choices are fundy fams or anything, but... they're theists. And, especially with our little ones, I wonder if they'll get dragged into a religion because their cousins will (or something). In the end, it's really out of my hands, but it's unfortunate that you can't say, "They'll be raised secular humanists." and have that stick in court.


We have friends we would feel comfortable leaving our kids with, but we don't want to impose. We also want to make sure that whomever we choose is someone our kids would feel comfortable with.
See...we really don't have any friends who like us enough to take all four kids. LOL
And, in fact, most of our long time friends are childless by choice. Talk about an imposition...ha! Congratulations! It's a girl. And a boy. Oh, and another girl. And,... can you just squeeze in this little one? He doesn't eat much, really!"

;)

And, see...when you have four kids, you have to think about things like, "Can the trustee use some money to enlarge their domicile? Does that money give the child(ren) ownership in the home? (as the law has it, it does...but, we didn't know that before today). Or, so...the trust is untouchable until the last one finishes a four year degree...BUT, that means P#1 will be in her thirties before the money would be distributed. Discuss. *mind explodes* Just soooooo many things to think about.

Oh! And, for atheists - did you know that you CAN write in a line that says you don't want any of your trust going to a religion/church? BUT, but, but, but...that means that schools like Notre Dame, Pepperdine, Creighton, BYU (as if!), Liberty (LOL...like they'd let my kids in the freakin' door), or even OXFORD Graduate School are out!! So, we had to do a line item exception for educational expenses to be paid out on the off chance that one of the kids wants to/needs to do a religiously backed uni for a special program.

Gramomster said...

Yeah, he doesn't eat much NOW...


My 22 year old just returned to my residence after an extended absence (his whole life! jerk dad took off with him when he was 6... saw him 3 times between then and now) and lemme just tellya... add one 22 year old dude, and the food consumption doubles!

So, what happens if, say, one doesn't finish a four year degree? Does the trust never disperse? I mean, I don't like to suggest such things, but you never know, right? There wasn't a person in the world who would've believed I didn't finish high school and go straight to college. But, hey, shit happens, and I dropped out for 9 years before starting college at 25, graduating at 30. Which, if such a thing were to happen to P#4, say, P#1 would be in her 40s?! Yikes!

Gramomster said...

PS Man, I love your blog!

Atheist in a mini van. said...

So, what happens if, say, one doesn't finish a four year degree? Does the trust never disperse?
Welcome to what was our dilemma. LOL
Basically, the trust is worded as such that; IF one or more children does not choose to attend a four year institution (or pursue a degree, period), then they receive nothing until the youngest is finished. At which point, an average amount of what the others received for education will be rolled into a trust for our grandchildren's education. That trust is an education trust.
Example:
1 child uses $46,000
1 child uses $72,000
1 child uses $5,000 on a tech school.
1 child uses nothing.
The average is $30,750.
So, 5G child receives roughly $25,000 for their children's education.
The child who chose not to pursue a degree has $30,000 placed in a trust for their children's education.
The remainder is divied up between the four and is there's to use as they desire.
If they have no children, then the trust is dissolved and the money becomes theres at age 50.

Also, we've allowed for the possibility of some sort of technical training program or other possibilities. Our goal is to allow them to reach their goal, whatever that is...but, we're also not just going to hand them a blank check at 18 and say, "Go forth and party." The remainder of the trust/will, that is not in the specified educational fund (yes...we have multiple funds) will be dispersed upon the following criteria:
At the completion of a masters degree OR age 32.
At the completion of a PhD or age 40.
We figure that, at those ages, they may be considering expanding their portfolios or putting their own children through school. It's a bit bizarre (controlling their lives from beyond the grave and encouraging more education by dangling that carrot of getting their money earlier, but... I'm okay with that. Eventually, they will all get the same share out of that second trust). Since P#1 and P#2's educations will be paid for immediately, as needed, out of the trust, there's no penalty to them... the remainder is the only thing they would have to wait for. Does that make sense?

Atheist in a mini van. said...

Also, each child has their own portfolio of investments that are theirs. They are being taught about investments and economics as we speak and shown how their money can make them money while they do nothing but sit. It's out hope that they'll never have to use that money, but that they could use it for down on a home or emergencies.

I fully believe in teaching chidlren fiscal responsibility and money management very early. Even P#3 knows how banks work and makes her own deposits. She also understands dividends and shares. :) P#1 and P#2 have the dividend dates freakin' memorized. It's pretty funny. We emphasize that such holdings are safety nets and should be considered 'untouchable', for the most part. We've also done some front work for making sure that that money is THEIRS and not subject to community property laws. We have an accounting PhD, a business PhD, and two MBAs in the immediate fam. ;)

aimee said...

Thank you for bringing up the subject. To this day, my parents don't even have a living will or power of attorney, anyway...

My husband and I are in this dilema now about who the kids should go to and actually haven't touched the subject in awhile. While my parents don't go to church, they are older than my in-laws. My in-laws are avid church goers, and well, they are avid church goers, along with pretty much the rest of the family. We don't know who they should go to. Right now our kids are 10, 8 and 2.

Not only that, my husband is worried about the type of service he would have if he were to die. He doesn't want it done in a church, doesn't even want god mentioned (can't say I blame him). I keep telling him that he needs to get it written down so that his wishes will be known.

It is all hard stuff to talk about. I had a hard time doing our living wills and power of attorney w/out getting emotional.

mama_nomad said...

we had hoped to pay for all of this to be done when our house sold, but the stupid real estate market...totally of topic!

yes we have discussed this (our kids are 5 and 3) and we are SO SO stoked to have our choice be pretty easy. my sister and her husband enjoy a very good life in LA (modest but they love good food, wine, surfing--he's a chef, she's a nurse) and they are very happy being childless, but absolutely love being an aunt and uncle. they are atheists, and we are in many ways very similar. my sis and i have the same voice, mannerisms, sense of humor, and taste....her hubby has many similarities to my husband--raised but non-practicing jewish, creative, passionate, serious, and a little arrogant (that can be a good thing!:-) )
they have discussed it with us and have agreeed that yes, they are happy, but if my husband and i were to pass away, the death itself would be life-changing and they would be hononed to raise our kids! given their jobs are flexible, they are even willing to come pdx and live and raise the kids in our home--hopefully it would allow a horrible situation to have the smotthest transition. we are SO relieved to have this arrangement! it only took a little convincing with my husband at first, but considering the options it didn't take long. i mean grandparents should be grandparents in my opinion. but asking someone who is not blood to raise your kids does seem like huge huge burden to ask. yikes! a very very hard decison for any family but yes, particulary for an atheist fam. i commend you for putting in the work to making your decision legit, since if it is not on paper legally, the courts make the call and that is a scary scary thought!!


i just want to add that i felt somewhat obligated to ask my sister how she felt if we had more kids, since she technically could be raising them one day! just a thought...she gave us the go-ahead!lol

Atheist in a mini van. said...

very very hard decison for any family but yes, particulary for an atheist fam. i commend you for putting in the work to making your decision legit, since if it is not on paper legally, the courts make the call and that is a scary scary thought!!

See,...I was unaware, before today, that the courts will step in even IF you leave a will and guardianship rights!! I asked, very plainly, how "the day" would go down if DH and I died at the same time and our attorney said that, technically, the county/state assumes guardianship until the will is proclaimed valid and a judge assigns guardianship accordingly. Now, somehow I doubt that anyone would try and take the kids into custody, but this *was* explained to us because our chosen guardians live in another state and it would take them a day to get here and put things in order. So, we actually had to put in a list of four people who the authorities could give temporary rights and medical power of attorney to for the immediacy post demise. Otherwise, say the family was in an accident and the parents die... the state takes the helm and directs the care your children receive. So, we chose a few really close friends (doctors) to be the immediate guardians and hold medical power of attorney until the real guardians arrive. We are giving them a copy of the docs tomorrow so that, if the unthinkable happens, they won't get hassled. And, so that the kids will have the least amount of worry and/or stress possible in that situation. I just always assumed that no one would intervene and the kids could go with whoever (family, friends, whatever) until their Aunt and Uncle came. Nope. And, the court still has to approve the placement. Soooo much I didn't know.

Maggie Rosethorn said...

We did wills many years ago, because we, too, live in a state with no family members nearby. However, since child#2 is 17+, we will be out of most of the mess in about 6 months. Most of the money is in trusts anyway, so that part is covered for schooling.

We didn't think about the atheist stuff then, since we were both churchgoers. Since the kids are almost independent, it would be a moot point now (and they are at least agnostic, if not atheist. My husband is the only one who still believes).

Thranil said...

We have the same issue (except that my family is more of the southern baptist type). We just had to pick family members that are the best 'parents' and hope for the best. I will be revisiting our will in the advent that we can find some rational folks who would be willing to step up, but until then, we can only work with what we have...

Janet said...

Oh, FSM, I feel your pain. My MIL is too old, my SIL has some mental issues (and can barely keep up with her own 4 kids), and MY family doesn't even speak to me, (they're all Jehovah's Witnesses, and I'll be damned if my kids have to grow up in a cult like I did).

Fortunately for me, I have a sister-by-choice who is willing to take our kids if anything happens to us. Her and her hubby have similar beliefs to us, and would raise our kids the closest anyone could like we would.

We don't have it on paper (yet, working on it), but everyone but my family knows our wishes, and everyone will fight to the last penny to keep my kids away from my parents and brothers.

aimee said...

I never even thought about one of my brothers taking the kids. This might be something my husband and I should look into.

ShadesOfGrey said...

This is, indeed, an excellent topic. We re-did our will a couple of years ago, changing guardianship for the kids. My atheist sister and her (slightly wacky, but, thankfully, NOT religious) husband now will get the kids if need be. But, even the previous guardians, dh's bro and his (even more wacky, and we hope will soon be divorced by my BIL) wife, were non-religious. We can count on them to not send our kids to be brainwashed.

Would it be upheld by the courts if one stipulates in the will that one does not wish the children to be brought up in religion, regardless of the affiliation of the guardian(s)?

ShadesOfGrey said...

Re: my last comment/question - I am not referring to what you mentioned: did you know that you CAN write in a line that says you don't want any of your trust going to a religion/church? BUT, but, but, but...that means that schools like Notre Dame, Pepperdine, Creighton, BYU (as if!), Liberty (LOL...like they'd let my kids in the freakin' door), or even OXFORD Graduate School are out!! I meant solely the church on Sunday (or synagogue/mosque on whatever other day) thing.

geetha said...

hello possummomma
chanced on ur website. i am from chennai (madras) india. an atheist, mother of a 4 year old, struggling to bring her up without suffocating religious inputs and hoping to bring her up as a rational individual. reassuring to see ur blog. will stop by often.
keep up ur good work. and ur post on planning for children in the eventuality of our sudden demise has set me thinking. i cannot think of one person whom i can rely on bringing up my daughter without stuffing her with religious nonsense.
geetha

D Kitty said...

As a soon-to-be-mom, this has been on my mind for most of my pregnancy. Fortunately my best friend and her husband have already agreed to be our son's "godparents." No religousness intended. They are agnostic. I love my family very much but theres really no one that has the same or nearly same parenting views as my Hubby and I. And my Hubby has several issues with either of our families raising our son. My best friend and her husband don't have children by choice. They do however have plenty of "fur-babies." But anyway, I know their views on parenting and they match closely to ours.
So once the little guy's here, we will get everything all legalized.

dk

GinaCA said...

We had only one choice--my atheist sister and brother in law--but with all of husband's family ultra-religious Mormons, we do expect there to be a custody issue. It was explained to us that no matter what we wrote regarding custody in our will, anyone can come to court and challenge it. We just have to hope that the mature adults with good jobs win over the farmers with a hundred kids (ok, I'm exaggerating a little bit). At one point in the lengthy discussion, we just had to realize that we can't control things from beyond the grave, and that's that.

Also, we opted NOT to put any lines in about raising the kids without religion, because in a lot of states you can end up with a conservative judge who will use that to give the kids away to the most religious relatives. We didn't want to encourage that. We also didn't specifically mention it to my sister and her husband (although we know they won't take the kids to church) because we feel strongly that we're saying they're the best replacement parents and we can't control them from beyond the grave either. We're gone and since we can't say we're looking down from heaven (ha ha ha), that's the end of it.

skeptic said...

I am in the same situation. Two daughters 3.5 and 8 months. Oldest one was christened, likely due to unmentioned pressure from my wifes parents. The second one will not be christened. I learn from mistakes.

Our problem is her family is more the type we would leave our kids with but too catholic for me. My side just a little to flakey(not bad mind you), hard to explain. I really like my sister in law but the whole making her kids lead the prayer at Christmas dinner followed by a snide comment directed my way about how "Sarah" doesn't ever lead the prayer. Well, I am in a pickle, and so almost 4 years have passed and no will.

How about you and I get together and just give each other our kids?:)