September 8, 2013

Reading the news makes me want to quarantine my child in a hazmat bubble, within a fortified compound. Witnessing tragedies like Newtown and monsters like Ariel Castro make it impossible to plan for every threat. However, there are things we can control and there are things that we can’t control, and maintaining sanity requires focusing only on the former. Regardless, it is our responsibility to protect and to provide for our children, whether we are alive or dead.

1. Stranger Danger

As a living parent, protecting our children from evil people is an unfortunate reality, but how do we do so without horrifying them? Keep it simple, it doesn’t take a lot of details when communicating to children. For example, when explaining that the areas covered by our swim suits are our private areas to be respected by everyone, they get it pretty quickly. Explaining there are inappropriate people in the world who do not respect our body’s privacy is about all the detail that children need or want to know. What is important is equipping our children with courses of action to take. When properly instructed, children can be very assertive and need to know when they are supposed to scream. Additionally, have a plan for getting separated in public that includes finding law enforcement, or other mommies, and providing them your phone number to call. Create a family code word that makes it OK for children to get into a car, and since 75 percent of abductions are by adults whom the child already knows, no code word, no ride.

A terrible threat that has arisen is the presence of predators in online gaming chat rooms. Today, it may be more important to speak to our kids about online predators than on-the-street predators. Explain to your children that those inappropriate people can be very sneaky and are often not who they pretend to be online. The main goal of the online predator is to arrange for a meeting with the child. Under no circumstance should a child meet in person an online acquaintance! Every home with minor children should have a written and signed Internet behavior agreement, including complete transparency for web surfing and email.

2. Life Insurance

There are differing philosophies about the use of life insurance, but as parents, it is our responsibility to financially care for our child whether we are alive or dead. If you’re the parent of a minor child, the rule regarding life insurance is simple: have it. Whether it’s the replacement of breadwinner income for 10 years, or just paying off the mortgage, term life insurance is affordable and easy to secure.

3. Appointing a Legal Guardian

Carl Jung said it best: “Children are educated by what the grown-up is and not by his talk.” The biggest mistake most people make when nominating a legal guardian is placing too much emphasis on the financial resources of the potential guardians. Again, if we have taken care of our responsibilities, then there should be life insurance proceeds available for the financial care of our children. Instead, nominate a guardian who best shares your spiritual and philosophical values. The best legal guardians will have the integrity to honor your wishes, be firm on your demands, love very deeply, and forgive very quickly.

4. Protecting your kids’ inheritance

So how do we protect against the guardian blowing the money that you leave behind? Appoint one person or couple to raise the children, and a separate person to manage and allocate the money. Properly drafted trusts create a system of checks and balances preventing a single person from wielding too much financial autonomy.

Name the trust as the beneficiary of your life insurance and retirement accounts. Create a set of instructions allocating a parenting stipend for the guardian and create some discretionary guidelines so the trustee can approve unexpected expenses such as health and educational needs. While you’re at it, go ahead and specify when money may be awarded for special events like graduations, weddings, childbirth or first home down payments. These powers are why trusts are said to allow you to parent from the grave.

There is so much more to protecting our children than the scope of this column can cover, but suffice it to say that the most important part of a child protection plan, is having one. And with a little estate planning today, we can continue to protect, nurture and love our children even in our absence.