(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
Columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

My husband and I are sorting out our will and we have come to the part where we have to decide what happens to our kids (ages 4 and 1) if we both die. We live close to my husband’s family and I know his brother and wife would fully expect to get the kids (they have a 1-year-old, too, and have been very involved).

But, my husband and I have decided we would want our kids to go to my brother and his family, who live in another city, a 10-hour drive away. We think my brother and his wife would raise them more how we would want them to be raised, especially when it comes to the big decisions.

What can we say to my husband’s brother and his wife that won’t hurt their feelings? Do we even have to say anything?

Who Gets the Kids?

Don’t say anything. The will is for the possibility that you might both die before your kids reach adulthood, and the silence about the will is for the high improbability that you will both die before your kids reach adulthood. Your decision will hurt them, no magic words can prevent that; not telling means they will get hurt only on a need-to-hurt basis.

Don’t be afraid to revisit your decision, either, as your kids get older. Right now, as littles, their moving far away won’t be significant compared with losing their parents. As they get older, however, you might decide that your brother’s values no longer tip the scale in his favor with the weight of their local roots on the other side.

Re: Guardianship:

Wrong answer on the will. If the husband’s relatives fully expect to be guardians, then having that refusal sprung on them at a stressful time will make thing much worse for the husband’s relatives and the orphaned children.

Also, those relatives may be planning to ask the reader to be guardian to their children soon; what is the reader planning to say? Misleading anyone in such a significant way is unfair and will cause irreparable damage to the relationship. Better to have the conversation now.

Anonymous

I disagree, but I am putting this out there as a counterpoint, thanks.

Re: Guardianship Counter-Counterpoint:

I’m an attorney with experience in estate planning and I think your answer was spot on, and the counterpoint was off-base. The relatives you should talk to are those whom you plan to designate, to make sure they’re willing to take it on.

If the husband’s relatives ask the poster and her husband to be their guardian-designates, they can agree (if they agree) without mentioning anything about their own plans — it doesn’t have to be reciprocal. And remember that these relatives only find out they were “misled” if both poster and her husband are dead. Being dead is what really tends to cause irreparable damage to a relationship.

Anonymous Attorney

I include this not just because you agree with me, but because of the last sentence, over which I weep with delight. Thank you.

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