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What would happen to your kids if you ...

So you and your spouse have created a lovely family and a wonderful home together. But have you properly planned for what would happen if you were in an accident? It's not a happy thing to ponder, but what would happen to your children, your money, your home? Author Alexis Martin Neely helps you answer these questions in her new book, "Wear Clean Underwear!: A Fast, Fun, Friendly —and Essential — Guide to Legal Planning for Busy Parents." Here is an excerpt.

You and your spouse have created an amazing life together.

You love your son, Carlos, to distraction. He is kind, sensitive, helpful, and generous of spirit. He loves music, animals, and basketball. He warms your heart and makes you smile. You suspect he is a genius.

He cannot stand when you leave, not because he needs you, but because he loves helping you. When your daughter, Sara, is born, your love for Carlos grows exponentially. He calls Sara “his baby.” He worries when she cries. “My baby is sad,” he says with tears in his eyes.

When pregnant with Sara, you and your spouse worried that you would not love her as much as you love Carlos. But your heart has expanded exponentially to accommodate your love for Sara, and even though she is different from Carlos in just about every way, you love her just as much as you love Carlos.

Sara has a mischievous sense of humor and wreaks havoc everywhere she goes. She earns the nickname “Hurricane Sara” by the time she is two. She makes you laugh. You suspect she is a genius.

You and your spouse are kind, loving, and attentive parents, who make great effort to be actively involved in your children’s lives. They are your primary focus. Your spouse, who works for a prominent marketing firm, tries not to work more than eight hours a day, though business sometimes requires an out-of-town trip.

You are so fortunate to work from home. Because your children are your first priority, you sometimes have difficulty finding time to work, especially with the constant interruptions.

To ease your burden a little, you and your spouse look for someone to help with childcare and household errands. Because the two of you are financially successful, you can afford to be picky. Eventually, after searching for months and interviewing countless people with whom you would never leave your children, you find the perfect nanny/assistant. Though she is only 20, Courtney is mature beyond her years and has the patience of a grandmother. You hire her to run errands and care for Carlos and Sara when you need to meet with clients or are facing a looming deadline.

Courtney is wonderful. She plays games with your children, rarely loses her temper, and teaches Carlos and Sara to speak Spanish. Your children love her, and you trust her unconditionally.

One morning, you have a three-hour meeting with a client at his office. Your spouse is in France on business. On your way out the door, you remind Courtney to call your cell phone if she needs you, which you always leave on vibrate if anything comes up.

When you arrive at the client’s office, you learn that your meeting has been postponed, though no one bothered to notify you. You are irritated, of course, but you decide to make the most of the time and grab a quick workout.

You park your car in the gym’s vast parking lot and remember that cell phones are not allowed inside. From the parking lot, you try to call Courtney, but you receive a busy signal. You wait a couple of minutes and try calling again. The phone is still busy. This surprises you, and you make a mental note to have Courtney call the phone company to find out why the second line is not ringing.

You make a choice. Courtney is responsible and can handle anything in the unlikely event that something unexpected happens while you spend an hour in the gym. You turn off your cell phone, stow it in your gym bag, and stash your bag in a locker. You tell yourself that after you warm up, you will sneak into the locker room and try to call Courtney again.

While jogging on the treadmill, you worry about the kids. You remind yourself to stop worrying. Courtney will be fine for a little while without you.

And then, the unexpected happens. An aneurism in your brain that has lain dormant for years — unseen, hidden, waiting — explodes.

Later, the doctors explain the aneurism had nothing to do with the fact that you were working out. It was just a time bomb in your brain that could not have been prevented, even with prior knowledge. It could have happened anywhere: at the grocery store, in line at the bank, at home with your kids.

But it happened while you were at the gym, with your gym membership, driver’s license, and all other forms of identification in an anonymous locker, your cell phone turned off, and your car a needle in a haystack in the gym’s parking lot.

The gym calls 9-1-1 immediately, but without any means of identifying you, no one knows to call Courtney. By the time the paramedics arrive, you are gone. You never have a chance to tell anyone about your kids, or Courtney, or that your spouse is on a business trip in a foreign country.

When you don’t return home by 3 p.m., Courtney calls your cell phone, but the call is sent straight to voice mail. The meeting must have been long, Courtney thinks. Still, she worries a little bit: It isn’t like you to turn off your phone, and you always call when you are going to be late.

Things happen, Courtney thinks. I’m sure everything is fine. She tries to be positive.

Two hours later, she is panicked. She has been calling your mobile phone every 15 minutes. She calls your client, only to discover the meeting was cancelled. She tries calling your spouse’s cell phone, but the electronic voice on the other line says the phone is “out of the service area.” Courtney starts calling your friends.

None of them have seen or heard from you. Courtney calls the local hospitals, but since she is not a relative, no one will give her any information.

Courtney tries to stay calm around Sara and Carlos. She feeds your children, and though she rarely lets them watch TV, she sends them to your bedroom to watch cartoons before making a phone call.

Does Courtney call the police, or does she call someone else? If your babysitter calls the police, turn to page A. If your babysitter calls someone else, turn to page B.

Page A: Courtney calls the police.

Because you and your spouse did not have any sort of plan in place as to what Courtney should do if something like this happened, Courtney does not know she should wait to call the police until your children are safely in the hands of someone who has clear authority to stay with them in the event of your absence.

When the police arrive, they question Courtney and ask if you have any relatives in town. Courtney does not know of any. The police try locating an executive at your spouse’s marketing firm, but by this time, the office is closed.

“We’ll take over from here; you can go home,” they finally tell Courtney after questioning her.

“What will happen to Carlos and Sara?” asks Courtney.

The police let Courtney know that Child Protective Services will be responsible for Carlos’ and Sara’s care until they locate you, your spouse, or another family member and run the necessary background checks.

Courtney volunteers to keep the children with her overnight, but the authorities do not know anything about Courtney. Leaving Carlos and Sara in her care without any legal documentation giving her authority is a potential liability for the authorities.

“No ma’am. You have got to go home now. The kids will be fine,” the police say in response to Courtney’s continued pleading that they allow the children to remain in her care.

Courtney refuses to leave until Child Protective Services arrives. She packs overnight bags for your children and promises they will be back home the next morning. When the social worker from Child Protective Services arrives, four-year-old Sara begins sobbing. She clings to Courtney and refuses to let go. When the social worker tries to pry Sara’s fingers away, Courtney and steady-tempered Carlos, now 11 years old, both begin crying. “This is ridiculous!” Courtney tells the police and social worker. “The children want to stay with me, and I want them to stay with me. What is the problem?”

The police explain the problem: Courtney has no documentation of her authority to stay with the children. Without such documentation, the police and Child Protective Services are legally responsible for the children. The police and social worker both think Courtney is too young to care for young children overnight. And, when they run a background check on her, they discover that when Courtney was 17 and at a party following her high school graduation, she was arrested for possession of alcohol.

“You need to leave, ma’am,” the police officer finally tells Courtney forcefully. He needs to focus on your whereabouts, and Courtney’s refusal to leave is slowing down the investigation. Giving your children a final embrace, Courtney has no choice but to leave. As she pulls away, she watches your children climb into the social worker’s car.

The police call the local hospitals and are able to confirm your death. The police alert the social worker, who tells your children you are not coming home.

Because your spouse cannot be located, your children are put in the care of a foster family: Joe and Savannah Liardino. The Liardinos are kind but have four other foster children in their care, so they are not as attentive as they should be. Carlos and Sara are bewildered, terrified, heartbroken, and angry. Sara is too young to fully comprehend the situation and keeps asking about you. Carlos cries each time he tells his little sister you are not coming home.

“Why can’t we stay with Gus and Patsy?” Sara asks Mrs. Liardino, referring to your dear friends and next-door neighbors, Gustavo and Patricia Garcia. “We always spend the night with Gus and Patsy when Mommy and Daddy are gone.” In fact, the Garcias think of your children as family and would have known how to care for them, but they did not answer the door hours earlier when Courtney knocked looking for you. In the absence of any written instructions from you, neither the police nor the social worker tried to reach the Garcias.

The Liardinos know nothing about the Garcias. They do not know that Patsy and Gus have two children who are friends with Carlos and Sara. They do not know that your children often have slumber parties with the Garcia’s children. They do not know that Carlos and Sara love and trust Gus and Patsy, that the Garcias would happily provide an immediate support system during a crisis.

The police do not know any of this because you never made a plan to tell them.

So instead of spending their first hours after your death embraced in a home by a family they know and trust, your children are stuck with the Liardinos. The police are finally able to contact your spouse early the next morning, but bad weather delays flights out of Paris, and your spouse is unable to fly home for another 48 hours. In the meantime, your children have become increasingly terrified and withdrawn. They think they may never see your spouse or their home again and that they will be stuck with the Liardinos and their four foster brothers and sisters forever.

When your spouse finally arrives, Carlos is so angry he is having difficulty functioning; Sara is petrified to the point of catatonia. The oldest foster child in the home has been terrorizing Sara. Carlos has tried to defend her, but the older boy is bigger and stronger, and the Liardinos are indifferent.

Your spouse, who is equally devastated, takes your children home and tries to comfort them while burdened with the tasks of notifying family and friends and arranging for your funeral.

Your only living relative, your estranged brother, comes to the funeral with his wife. They sit alone, barely speak to your spouse, and leave without saying a word to your children.

After the funeral, your spouse enlists the help of a child therapist and calls on parishioners and clergymen for support. Eventually, your family begins to heal.

When Sara is seven and Carlos 14, your spouse begins dating again. You would have wanted this, but Carlos feels hurt and abandoned, as though your spouse is betraying your memory. Sara, on the other hand, is slowly forgetting about you. She was barely four when you died, so she has few memories of you.

Have you created a plan to make sure you remain a presence in your children’s lives, even after your death? If so, turn to page C. If not, turn to page D.

Page B: Courtney does not call the police.

You and your spouse have been thorough. When Carlos was born, you prepared a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan (www.KidsProtectionPlan.com), which provides instructions to your children’s babysitters, daycare providers, teachers, and school administrators detailing the people to call in the event of an emergency. By providing these instructions, Carlos and Sara’s caretakers (including Courtney) know not to call the police until your children are safely in the hands of someone who has clear authority to care for them in the event of your absence.

The first names on the list are your neighbors, Gustavo and Patricia Garcia. Patsy and Gus have two children who are friends with Carlos and Sara. In fact, your children often have sleepovers with the Garcia’s children, Travis and Sherry.

Although the Garcias are at the park, Courtney has their cell phone number, which you posted on the refrigerator when Courtney was hired. They return home as soon as Courtney calls them. The Garcias know your unexplained tardiness means something is wrong, and because you prepared, they know they need to take care of your children until you or your spouse are located.

Because you and your spouse were so prepared, Patsy has a copy of the legal document you signed giving her legal authority to care for your children on a temporary basis in just this type of a situation. With this in hand, she feels confident that your kids will not be taken into foster care when the police arrive.

Together, Courtney and Patsy call the police. The police are relieved to learn that the Garcias have documented legal authority to care for your children. Without such documentation, your children would most likely be taken into the custody of Child Protective Services and placed in a foster home until your spouse could be located.

During traumatic times, children are always better off with familiar friends or family members, rather than strangers, no matter how safe and capable. Your forethought means your children will remain with people you know, love, and trust while the police track down your spouse and investigate your disappearance.

The police call the local hospitals and discover you have died. Your spouse is contacted, but weather has delayed flights out of Paris for 48 hours. In the meantime, your children are cared for by Patsy. They are, of course, devastated and do not completely understand that you will not be coming back. But because they love and trust Patsy and Gus, they have an immediate support system.

When your spouse arrives and takes your children home, they begin the process of grieving.

Your spouse arranges for your funeral, calling on your friends for comfort. Your only living relative, your estranged brother, comes to the funeral with his wife. They sit alone, barely speak to your spouse, and leave without saying a word to your children.

After the funeral, your spouse enlists the help of a child therapist and calls on parishioners and clergymen for support. Eventually, your family begins to heal.

When Sara is seven and Carlos 14, your spouse begins dating again. You would have wanted this, but Carlos feels hurt and abandoned, as though your spouse is betraying your memory. Sara, on the other hand, is slowly forgetting about you. She was barely four when you died, so she has few memories of you.

Have you created a plan to make sure you remain a presence in your children’s lives, even after your death? If so, turn to page C. If not, turn to page D.

Excerpted from “Wear Clean Underwear! A Fast, Fun, Friendly — and Essential — Guide to Legal Planning for Busy Parents” by Alexis Martin Neely. For more info on protecting your kids, visit Neely's Web site at KidsProtectionPlan.com.

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