In an Associated Press story reported today online at http://sphere.com, the reasons why parents of young children should have a Will become instantly apparent. The AP reports on an horrific vehicular accident that instantly killed the parents, Karl Heiss and Marisa Bauducco-Heiss and left their 10-year-old daughter with a catastrophic brain injury. Alden, the Heiss' 6-year-old son was more fortunate. A proper car safety seat left him injured, but he has recovered fully.
It was only after the accident that the Heiss' good friend, entrusted with their 7-sentence, 2 page holographic Will, brought it to the attention of the two sets of grandparents. The Heisses had decided that Marisa's parents, who reside in a village named Ushuaia, near Terra del Feugo at the tip of South America, should have custody eleven months of the year and that Karl's parents, who live in Malibu, California, should have the children one month of the year.
Disagreements about medical care were initially a problem. Language barriers made those even more difficult. A court battle ensued over the custody issues, and a California judge upheld the terms of the holographic Will. The two sets of grandparents reside nearly 8,000 miles apart.
The news story is compelling. If you're a parent reading this article, I urge you to read "After Crash, Kids Torn Between Nations." If you're a family law attorney, I urge you to send your clients (and perhaps your former clients) a link to the article. Once you've read it, I think you will agree that all young parents need to have a Will to spell out with clarity just who should have custody of their children if they predecease them. It is important that this document be readily accessible. In the Heiss case, grave medical decisions were required to be made immediately. Young parents will want to be sure that the person whom they have chosen to care for the children will legally be able to make those medical decisions. A Will would give them that authority.
As for parents themselves, a document designating a patient advocate to make health care decisions for them is also important. A very useful one called "5 Wishes," legally effective in most states, can often be obtained from your local hospital. Or you can preview it and order it online at http://www.agingwithdignity.org/forms/5wishes.pdf
One has to be 18 years of age to execute a living will, making transition to a guardian under a Will all the more important.