Welcome to the first episode in our series, Soap Operas About Planning. I thought I’d try out something a little different to show how taking the time to prepare today can be a huge gift to your family and loved ones. Through a series of stories, I will compare and contrast the lives of families that have not adequately planned and those that have. Although thinking about one’s own demise is a scary and uncomfortable prospect, I hope you’ll find the stories (and my attempt at fiction!) interesting and educational. This post is also part of the blog carnival being hosted by Triangle TRACKS, a website full of resources and ideas for parents in the Triangle area. Finally, be sure to see our raffle details at the bottom.

Rain splatters heavily on the windshield as Casey turns the wipers to high. “I hope this storm clears out by day break,” he thinks to himself, glancing in the rearview mirror at his two boys, Mark and David, sleeping in their car seats. Casey’s wife, Melanie, is in the passenger seat, flipping through a magazine. Casey turns his attention back to the road, only to see headlights coming at them. He tries to swerve to avoid collision, but it is too late. The cars collide head on…

Meanwhile, back in Pine Valley, Melanie and Casey’s neighbor, Courtney, is getting ready for a girls night out with her best friend, Amy. Courtney’s husband, Andrew, is out of the country on business, so Rachel has come over to babysit Ava, their 3-year-old daughter. Rachel has been babysitting Ava for over a year, and Ava just adores her to pieces. Running late, Courtney scribbles her cell phone number on a piece of paper, handing it to Rachel before rushing out the door.

Shortly after Courtney leaves the house, Amy calls to say that she is stuck working late on a project deadline and won’t be able to make it. Courtney considers heading home, but decides to take advantage of having a sitter by heading to the gym for a quick workout. Before closing the locker, Courtney calls home to check in with Rachel, but there is no answer. Courtney doesn’t think much of it though, remembering that Ava was begging Rachel to take her outside to play on the swing set when Courtney left the house. “I’m sure she’s fine,” Courtney says to herself as she turns off her phone and tosses it back in her purse. She shuts the locker and heads to the workout area. While jogging on the treadmill, Courtney collapses. The people exercising around her rush over to her aid, but she is unconscious and all forms of identification are in an anonymous locker. The gym calls the paramedics, but she has died before they even arrive.

Melanie and Casey moved to Pine Valley after Casey accepted a job as vice president of Pine Valley Bank. Accepting the job required the family to relocate to Pine Valley from Washington, but it was a great opportunity for advancement, and the couple wanted to escape to the suburbs so their boys could have a yard to play in.  Once they were settled into their new home, Casey still had a bit of time off before his first day at the bank, so they decided to take a short family road trip to the beach. Melanie and Casey loaded up the car, strapped the boys in their car seats and hit the open road. Unfortunately, they never reach their destination. On the way to the beach, a drunk driver swerves into their lane and strikes them head on.  Melanie dies instantaneously, while Casey and the boys are rushed to the hospital. Unfortunately, Casey is pronounced dead on arrival.

The police try calling Melanie and Casey’s home back in Pine Valley, but, of course, no one is there. Having no idea who the next of kin is, the police have no choice but to call child protective services to take care of the boys until family can be located. The boys are in a complete state of fright, surrounded by bright lights and strangers.  They are crying and calling out for their mommy and daddy. The boys are placed in the care of strangers under temporary foster care by child protective services.  After a couple  days, family is located.  But Melanie and Casey haven’t executed wills or named guardians for the boys. Without any direction from Melanie and Casey, it is up to the courts to decide who will be appointed guardian for the boys.

Several family members appear at the hearing, each claiming that they would be the best guardians. Before long, a family feud erupts and hideous accusations are thrown back and forth. The case drags out, and nine lawyers, a thousand pages of court documents, tens of thousands of dollars in legal bills, and many, many tears later, the court finally decides that the boys will be best off living with their aunt. But by now, the family rift is so deep that she will not allow the boys to visit with their grandparents.  The boys’ money will be managed by a professional financial guardian who charges $125/hour. And during the court battle, a lawyer was appointed on behalf of the boys to the tune of nearly $25,000, with more – amount yet unknown – to come as they mature. Whatever’s left will be distributed to the kids in a lump sum when they turn 18.

Is that what Melanie and Casey would have wanted? We’ll never know what they would have wanted, but we can be sure they would have done everything they could have to avoid the pain their children and extended family have been through. If only they had known how easy it would have been! It doesn’t have to be this way.

Courtney and Andrew were thorough. When Ava was born, they prepared a comprehensive Children's Safeguard Plan, providing specific instructions to babysitters, day-care providers, teachers, and school administrators, with specific instructions detailing whom to call in the event of emergency.  Knowing that most of their family lived out of state, Courtney and Andrew appointed their close friends and neighbors, Bob and Barbara Kleinfeld, as short-term guardians of Ava, and they had provided the Kleinfelds with legal documentation giving them the authority to care for Ava in the event of an emergency.

When Courtney doesn’t arrive home, Rachel begins to worry, so she tries calling Courtney’s cell phone.  After a couple more hours and several unsuccessful attempts to reach Courtney, Rachel opens the emergency binder and finds instructions to call the Kleinfelds. Within minutes, Barbara is at the house, legal documents in hand. Together, Rachel and Barbara call the police. The police arrive and are relieved to find that Barbara has documented legal authority to care for the children. Barbara locates Andrew’s travel information and informs him of the situation. Weather prevents Andrew from getting a flight for almost forty-eight hours. In the meantime, although she asks for her mother, Ava is comforted and cared for by Barbara. Eventually, Andrew makes it home, and he and Ava begin the process of grieving together.

Careful planning doesn’t guarantee your family will never face tragedy.  But it can help your family be prepared for tragedy, so that if it does strike, your kids won’t fall victims of a great big legal mess when they’re at their most vulnerable.

Postcap & Raffle

If you found this episode engaging, I hope you’ll return for future episodes. The story of Melanie and Casey is loosely based on real life events that occurred in California. I also highly recommend reading Alexis Martin Neely’s book, Wear Clean Underwear. You can also read the first chapter online for free here.

And, if you want to WIN YOUR OWN COPY of Wear Clean Underwear, visit our website and sign up for our weekly email newsletter in the upper left corner by midnight, Saturday, September 5th to be entered into our drawing for a free copy. (If you’re already an email newsletter subscriber, simply reply directly to last week or this week’s ezine with the subject line “I want to win WCU”, and we’ll enter you in the drawing). We’ll be giving away copies to 5 lucky winners. Important: After entering your email address on our website, you will be emailed a confirmation link. You must confirm your subscription to be eligible for the drawing. North Carolina residents only, please.

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