I like to think of myself as a very organized person. Well perhaps not organized exactly. More like I get the really critical things done. I can fish out important documents in an instant even if I can’t find my sunglasses for the umpteenth time. (And yes they were on my head)
When it came to having kids, I fit the urban upper middle class cliché. I researched nipple creams and organic mattresses, to vitamin K or not, what were the best BPA-free bottles for my freshly expressed milk. I am the one trudging through international airports with car seats in tow even though I don’t own a car or a driver’s license at that. You get the picture.
If you told me then that I would find myself living halfway around the world, with two children five and under, without a will, established guardians and life insurance, I would cry “sacre-bleu! How dare you accuse me of such neglect and irresponsibility!”
Yet here I am, without any of these papers in my waterproof emergency filing briefcase.
Apart from the fact that I can’t even believe it myself, the truth is that each time I try to tackle this, I am totally overwhelmed about how to handle the situation given the life we have chosen.
Starting with life insurance: I can’t figure out where I should take this out. Do I take it out here in South East Asia? Do I take out a policy in the US? What happens when we move again? And why didn’t I take it out before that bout of postpartum? Apparently taking anti-depressant are likely to drive up your premiums. Seriously, given that we pop these in the US like breath mints, I wonder how many folks would reconsider the severity of their condition. I definitely needed mine but had I taken out the policy earlier….sigh.
What about the kids? What happens if the grim reaper comes knocking earlier than expected?
I find I have to turn down my architect husband whenever he suggests I join him for a romantic escape to some exotic location he’s currently visiting on business. With my luck something would happen to the both of us and our precious mini-banshees would find themselves alone in Bangkok with no family for thousands of miles. And when that family showed up, they likely wouldn’t even recognize anyone.
Once upon a time, we had more sisters and brothers and aunts and uncles. Chances are, we lived closer and saw them more regularly. Now, under the guise of globalization and hyper efficiency, people must follow jobs where they can find them, often on the other side of the globe. Families are smaller, more scattered and lacking the close-knit ties that proximity often engenders.
My girls have never met their Mexican uncle and his family. They’ve seen their abuelita a few times on Skype but they can’t really communicate with her because their Spanish is limited to a few phrases. We left the states before our eldest could really create memories and since then, our girls have seen my elderly parents twice in the flesh. Once in 2011 and once in 2013. Hardly serious bonding time. They likely couldn’t recognize my brothers if they tried. The only life they’ve known or remember is life in Asia.
Without a will, the law leaves it up to the families to work out. Try as I might, I can’t imagine making the girls pack-up and move far from everyone and everything they have ever known. Taking them away from a familiar environment, culture and friends following the loss of their parents seems cruel. And even if we did subject them to that, most of our immediate relatives are ruled out due to mental illness, age, and health. The few that are left either already have large broods, don’t speak the same language as the girls, and are complete strangers to the girls. My lip starts quivering at the thought of putting the girls through such a situation.
So what to do when you are an expat with limited resources and a family that just can’t or wont travel to see you? For me, I’ve felt that we’ve developed a family of sorts with the friends we’ve made abroad. My eldest knows and loves several of my friends more than any of our family members. And I can’t help but wish that, should something come to pass, the girls could at least transition with them.
But I also can’t find the courage to ask them. It’s such a huge responsibility– albeit a hypothetical one– to put on people. And so another day passes, and our Will is left unwritten.
Are you living far from your family? How have you handled this? I’d love to hear from all of you.
I’m so glad I’m not the only one! I do have a will and guardianship sorted out but this post is a great reminder that I need to put the local details in order of what would happen immediately before family could arrive. Life insurance frustrates me so much – because of my husband’s work and where we live we can’t find a U.S. company that will insure us and I’m not comfortable taking out local insurance because of the instability of the currency.
Eek, the insurance situation sounds very frustrating. Have you checked out any plans through credit cards? Ok I realize that sounds crazy but I remember J showing me some offer like that. It might be a stop gap til you are living somewhere with a more stable currency. And hey, at least you have the will and guardians sorted out! Well done you!
Hilariously, you and I have the same waterproof ‘suitcase’, and despite the fact that I lavishly dole out “how to” articles on my own expat essentials (Wills, health records, financials etc), my own suitcase gathers dust.. In my defense, I do have a will, a funeral plan and a Health Care Directive (my sister is instructed to enter the room and do a Marx brothers type pratfall over the power cable, thus taking care of the whole ‘who pulls the plug’ dilemma), but I really, really need to put them all together.
If it helps at all on the guardianship front, I talked to my children – they had very clear (and sound) reasons for whom they wanted to take care of them. I have ended up with a team approach, which has immediate family flying out and handling the short term and then friends taking over. I am lucky that all the players have met and like one another, and would all be able to work together.. I hope!
You know I wondered when I posted that photo whether anyone would admit to owning it too. I find solace in the fact that i am not alone. Of course I’ve overstuffed mine so it isn’t even waterproof anymore buy at least colourful enough that I should spot it!
Of course, if I really want to make sure I grab it in an emergency, I ought to keep my iPhone in there. Or perhaps some reeses pieces.
For anyone in the same leaky boat as me, here is a BRILLIANT MUST READ post on the subject. It’s the blogging equivalent of someone gently taking you by the hand and the swinging you right direction… Woosh! Now none of us have any excuse. http://definingmoves.com/2013/often-ignored-expat-essentials-writing-a-will/#comment-902
Oh the will is a thorny one for us too and something we came to no conclusion on for a long time. Like you, if we died, the kids would be forced to move countries. Ultimately, we decided after MUCH back and forth, the best option would be for them to go with their Moroccan uncle, married to a German woman who live in Germany. Yes it would require a new country and new language but they are the family members we would feel best about taking our kids. Sending the kids to grandparents in Morocco had its own set of complications as well as grandparents in the US. (But we still haven’t actually made the will yet to crystallize that! Thanks for the reminder! Also, I know life insurance is FAR more complex out of the country but it was life insurance that really helped us not worry about burdening whoever took our kids as we knew they would get a pay out that would help cover all our kids expenses while they raised them. So I stopped worrying about that part!)
Well the good news is that, in writing this post, I found the courage to ask the couple I had in mind and they have accepted! Now, that is the perfect kick in my bum to get the rest done. Thanks for sharing!
The only reason we have a will is because my husband is neurot… cautious and responsible. ; ) Oh,… and my father is an estate lawyer. ; ) Guardianship is such a tough issue since no one wants to fathom the possibility that their children are orphaned. For us, since I’m so close with my siblings it wasn’t as hard – the only thing was choosing which one. I think you go where you know they’ll be loved and cherished and try not to worry too much about the cultural and life transitions. And then you forget about it -because Jeez! Ugly scenario to keep thinking about. Maybe that’s the best motivation to just draw something up. Good luck dear!!
Yes too true. The wheels are turning…rusty, slow, but turning. Thanks for your joining the conversation!
This is such a huge issue. We have decided on my parents, they are older and live in my home country across the world but I know they will do right by my children. I have a few close friends in Japan but they never use seatbelts on their kids so I just can’t trust them completely! I think my parents would help my kids get to Japan and keep up their Japanese somehow, whereas my family in Japan doesn’t have the adventurous spirit or money to do that for Canada from here.
The big thing though, is the law. In Japan wills for foreigners are based on the law in their home country, but I have joint assets with my husband, a Japanese national. The wills of Japanese nationals can be overridden if they don’t follow the law for dividing up assets, so I have to ensure that his will and my will are the same. Which is okay, of course I will leave my kids and husband everything! But when it comes to step-marriages and whatnot it all gets very complicated. We have been trying to deal with my husband’s grandmother’s assets for 3 years since she died but since she was remarried to a widower with adult children it gets very very very complicated. The first lawyer we consulted had no idea what to do. I do not want to leave a mess like this behind for my own kids. We signed up for a funeral plan, and there is a folder on my desktop called “If I die” in Japanese and English and I hope that cuts out all the guff.
Thanks for getting us all to think about this, so important.
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