Their mom died. Who will take care of our kids if I do too?
As a recent widower, I was worried sick. Would my children be covered if I wasn’t there?
The passing of my wife Mary filled me with grief – but gave me the impetus to ensure our three children would be financially protected.
January 15th, 2020. The day my life changed forever – because the love of my life lost hers.
Mary, my wife of 33 years, was gone. We married when I was 24, I was a 57-year-old widower with three children. (Well, not quite children – they were 17, 25 and 27 at the time, but any parent will know exactly what I mean.)
Here I was, a single parent. And not at all ready for it.
Now the term “single parent” can often mean one parent having the main responsibility while the second parent plays a background role… in a divorce, let’s say, one parent takes custody and the other sees their kids on alternate weekends.
But a widow or widower is a true single parent. You’re on your own; no backup, no sounding board, no partner.
When I became a widower, not only did I become a true single parent, I became something else… a constant worrywart. And then something worse, which I’ll get to in a second.
First, the worrying. I became obsessed with my own mortality. Who would take care of my kids if I died prematurely, like their mom did? Yes, they were adults (or nearly adults), but still…
From worrywart to hypochondriac
All this worry ultimately manifested itself in hypochondria. Every sniffle and headache set my anxiety into high gear. It didn’t help that Mary died in early 2020, just as the stark reality of COVID-19 was setting in.
And I just knew it would get me.
This wasn’t me, I’m not generally a hypochondriac. But for the first 12 months of the pandemic, I rarely went out. If I did, I covered myself head-to-toe with a baseball cap, KN95 mask, and as much hand sanitizer as I could squeeze from a dispenser. (I imagine the kind folks running my local grocery and pharmacy constantly replenished theirs’ just for me.) The moment I got home my clothes went into the washer. I disinfected the doorknobs.
I was taking zero chances.
I wasn’t worried about dying myself. I was sick to death thinking my kids would be parentless with nobody to take care of them. It wasn’t an entirely unreasonable thought.
A somewhat startling statistic: widowhood effects
As a financial advisor to many families, I know from experience that some widows/widowers die remarkably soon (often within three months) after their spouse’s death.
A Google search reveals this phenomenon to be: Widowhood Effects.
Studies have shown a link between the death of a spouse and an increased probability of death for the surviving spouse. Recent research concluded:
- The death of a spouse, for whatever reason, is a significant threat to health and poses a substantial risk of death by whatever cause.
- Widowhood increases the survivors’ risk of dying from almost all causes, including cancer, but increases the risk for some causes more than for others.
- It also increases survivors’ all-cause mortality in response to almost all causes of death of the predeceased spouse, but the actual cause of death of the precedent spouse makes a difference.
How I set out to protect my children
Yes, I was overly anxious about COVID and knowledge of the Widowhood Effect didn’t help. But my concern was always my kids, first and foremost, especially my 17-year-old daughter.
I had to get my house in order… for them.
That meant my Will and guardianship considerations, and life insurance.
Wills are complicated legal documents, but for the sake of this blog I want to focus on the appointment of a guardian for children under the age of 19.
A guardian for minor children is the person legally appointed with the responsibility of raising your kids in the event of your death. Usually, spouse A appoints spouse B and vice versa. But since I no longer had spouse B, selecting a guardian became a more difficult decision.
Many people select godparents for each child when they’re born. But is it practical should the unthinkable occur? A number of considerations have to be factored in when determining a suitable guardian:
- Are the prospective guardians willing? Have you discussed the idea with them?
- Do they share your values and beliefs?
- Where do they live (same neighbourhood, city)?
- Do they have the ability and means to care for your kids, in addition to their own?
I redid my Will six months after Mary’s passing, choosing my oldest son to be my daughter’s guardian. Responsible. Willing. Loving. Stable in his home and professional life. All I could ask for.
If you don’t have an adult child to fill this role, you may want to discuss guardianship with grandparents, aunts and/or uncles, or a close friend.
Note, if you die without appointing a guardian in the province of Ontario, the courts will appoint a guardian, but the process may take several weeks. In the meantime, your children will be in the care of Children’s Aid (foster care). That’s why it’s so important to have a Will prepared and a well researched guardian appointed.
2. Life insurance
While selecting an executor for my estate I asked myself, should I die tomorrow (God forbid), how would my death affect the financial lives of my three kids?
Given that two of them were already financially independent, I was mostly concerned about my youngest and her education costs. Fortunately (and wisely), Mary and I had a healthy RESP that would cover her undergrad tuition, so I didn’t see the need for any additional insurance.
I also reasoned that my children would sell some or all of my investments and use the funds equally as a “start in life” fund.
That said, I’ve maintained my existing life insurance policies, consisting of one permanent life insurance policy (which I will keep for life) and two term-life policies that will lapse when my youngest turns 21.
My own insurance review was relatively easy, but other widows/widowers may find that if they died, there might not be enough money to properly raise and educate their children. If this is the case, term life should be considered.
Today I worry less — and live more
The fretting has abated. I’m fairly confident I’ll be in my kids’ lives for many, many years to come.
It’s been a journey, though. I work hard to stay healthy and avoid depression. I exercise physically and emotionally. I spent hours with a grief therapist. I stay busy at work (I was back about a month after Mary’s death) and engage with family. I have purpose and a reason to get up in the morning.
I want to be alive on the day scientists find a cure for Cancer.
But if I don’t? I take solace in knowing my children will have the resources for a reasonable start in life and to thrive, always knowing their parents were looking out for them.