Many parents put off their estate planning for a variety of reasons—maybe they are having a hard time agreeing on who to name as guardians or maybe they’re “too busy” and will get to it “soon.”  Unfortunately, this can potentially have devastating consequences.

One of the most heart-breaking examples of why it’s critical not to procrastinate comes from the Barber family.  In 2006, Melanie and Casey Barber, a couple from California, and their three sons, ages 3, 5, and 8, were on vacation in Arizona when a defect in their car tire caused the vehicle to lose control in a horrific accident.  Melanie and Casey both died in the accident, but their three sons survived.

Not only was there confusion as to who should care for the children, but because this had happened across state lines, there was also confusion as to which court had jurisdiction to decide the boys future.

The Barbers had never legally documented who they wished to be guardian for their children and a contentious court battle ensued as multiple family members came forward claiming they were best suited to care for the Barber’s sons. So much mud-slinging ensued that the boys were temporarily placed in foster care while the courts tried to sort things out.

Ultimately over one thousand pages for documents were filed, nine lawyers were involved, tens of thousands of dollars were spent trying to sort out who the guardians for the children should be.

Some of the court documents indicated that the Barbers had talked to certain family members about naming guardians for their sons, but since nothing had ever been legally documented, there was no clear guidance for the judge. To this day, we still don’t know what the Barber’s wishes were.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.  By taking the time to legally document your wishes for your children, you can avoid this nightmare for your family.

Free Guide for Parents with Minor Children:

If you have minor children, make sure you check out our free guide, on Children's Safeguard Planning, that covers the unique issues involved in estate planning when you have minor children, including naming guardians and protecting their future. Or, contact us to discuss the best way to get started at 919-443-3035 or via our contact form.

Jackie Bedard
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Attorney, Author, and Founder of Carolina Family Estate Planning