A month or so ago, Clancy was able to finagle a trip back home so that she could attend her cousin’s wedding. Her uncle fell all over himself telling her how happy he was that she made it. She is his goddaughter. His relationship to his cousin (Clancy’s father, her uncle isn’t technically her uncle) was close enough that she was the only godparenting role he accepted.

All of this drove home something important: We have no idea who we would ask to be Jumping Bean’s godparents. We have no idea who we’d ask to take over if something happened to us.

It’s a sign of the changing times that we have this issue. I have two brothers, she has two sisters. Of these four, only one has children and none of the others plan to. We’re in the social range where choosing not to be a parent is, if not embraced, not uncommon. We are the designated parents for our blood and lineage, more-or-less.

This has affected the larger families beyond our immediate orbit, too. Her cousin Ally has said that her children and our children will have to be raised like first cousins, because there aren’t going to be many first cousins around (the cousin’s sister doesn’t plan to have kids). Minds on this score may change, but Ally and Clancy are embracing parenthood while it’s either a vague possibility or no-go for most of the others.

It’s worth noting that, in a pinch, any of our siblings would take our children in if something happened to us and they needed to (Clancy’s sister Ellie has really stepped up as a step-mother). It’s something we would rather not ask, though, of non-parents. There are also cousins who would do the same.

What we lack, though, is any sort of obvious choice. Ellie (Clancy’s middle sister) would be the favorite (which would have been unimaginable until the step-kid situation arose). However, in addition to the problematic step-kid situation she has, she also has the tendency to live in Third World Countries. We’re not sure about our kids being raised in the third world, and wouldn’t ask her to reroute her life on our (and our children’s) account. Her younger sister Zoey would be a fantastic mother, but isn’t ready to settle down. My older brother Oliver is a father of two, but… for a variety of reasons, it’s not a great fit.

My cousins are all problematic for one reason or another. She has a male cousin and two female ones. The male cousin, a major in the state police, jumps out at me as someone that would be great, but Clancy isn’t quite so sure. A female cousin who would be perfect is someone that, for a variety of reasons, we’ve just never been very close to (she was not on the list of people it occurred to us to personally inform Clancy was pregnant). The other female cousin, Ally, makes a lot of sense except for one thing: I don’t think she cares for me much, and I can’t say that’s entirely one-sided. She’s always been a sort of icily polite and has given me the impression that I am something of an unsophisticated rube more tolerated than anything else. I get along great with her husband, but never well with her. It seems petty to disregard what might be a good situation on the basis of personal impressions, but… I just find the thought discomforting.

There is one couple outside of the family that Clancy and I would consider so up-to-the-task that we would have no problem going outside the family. Interestingly, when we did discuss this as a way hypothetical a year or so ago, both of us thought of him independently as one of the only non-family-members we would entrust with our kids. Of course, he and his wife have decided not to have children. Would they step up? Probably so. We would for their kids even if we had the maximum number we wanted. It’s a lot to ask, though.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. Am I understanding this post correctly that you are using the term ‘godparent’ not in the traditional sense i.e. someone who sponsors the child’s baptism, but in the more contemporary definition of someone who agrees to raise the child if something happens to mom and dad?

    • I wondered that, too, although I imagine “traditional” might vary with a person’s culture and practices or with the traditions of one’s family. This is anecdotal, but I have a friend whose parents are from Mexico, and he and his family treat godparentage as a great honor, but also as a great responsibility to look after the child, both in case something happens and to be sort of like a second parent, or super close uncle/aunt.

      In my family, it’s an honor….and that’s it. I’m godfather to one of my nephews, but we’re otherwise not that close, and we’re not expected to be that close either, at least not due to my being his “godfather.”

      Some day, however, he might ask me for a favor….

      • Ah – that makes more sense. We were lucky that we had family that we knew would take the kids when they were younger if something happened to us. It’s weird with stepkids though. Because of legalities and such it’s almost guaranteed they will end up apart.

        • Mike, in your case is stepchild adoption a possibility, so as to keep them together in an unfortunate event?

          • No, because my stepdaughter’s biological father would have to give up his parental rights. Although he is barely involved neither he nor my stepdaughter would want me to adopt. Our oldest will be 18 next month so it’s a moot point for the siblings now. It was a real concern when they were younger.

  2. Another thing to consider is life insurance, and setting up a control for the use of the benefit. Should you and Clancy both get taken out of the picture at more or less the same time, whoever does step up to the plate to raise the Jumping Bean ought to a) have the benefit of the support you could have provided for things like higher education, and b) be required to use that benefit for the Bean and not for themselves.

    I say this as a caution, having seen lots of families badly fragmented over money. Certainly no implication should be taken that the theoretical introduction of a sum of money would make your siblings and in-laws change their behavior or do something morally bad, and I would hope that post-mortem controls on the use of that money would be totally unnecessary. I’m just staying I’ve seen situations in which such controls were absent and should not have been, which makes me think that they ought to be present in every case.

    The best time to set up such an arrangement is now, of course. First figure out how much insurance you can afford, then see an estate planning attorney for what kinds of testamentary instruments (I suspect an inter vivos trust) would be best to accomplish the goals.

    • Those are good points Burt. My father passed away when I was 21 and my siblings were 20 and 18. We all got a huge chunk of money dropped in our laps with no safeguards about how we spent it. Needless to say we all made some poor financial choices and it was gone within five years.

      I set my life insurance up so that my daughter’s portion goes into a trust fund that my sister administers. She can give her payments for college expenses depending on need but the writen intent is that she cannot get a full payout until she is 25 or graduates from college, whichever comes first.

      Now if the kids were younger though, you are correct in that you need to provide for the new guardian you have selected. The question is, how much can you control their use of the money? I know I never had any luck getting court oversight of the child support money I payed for my oldest daughter. Is it different with life insurance?

      • Is it different with life insurance?

        No; it might actually be worse than child support payments, given that most insurance benefits are paid out in a single lump sum and that sum tends to be much larger than period child support payments. But it might be different with funds put into an IV trust, depending on the laws of your state and the skill of the attorney drafting the instrument. YMMV; I may be a lawyer but I’m not your lawyer, so you should get one of your own; disclaimer; disclaimer; etc.

        • I don’t know if all life insurance works this way but my policy allows it to be paid directly to a trust. That’s how mine is set up.

        • I may be a lawyer but I’m not your lawyer, so you should get one of your own; disclaimer; disclaimer; etc.

          Keeping this in mind if you can’t answer… would we have anything to worry about moving one state from the next? Would we have to hire a lawyer that’s in the state we are in when we sign the document?

          By and large, we aren’t the slightest bit worried about most of the principles on our list blowing whatever money is left behind. We aren’t worried about the spouses, either, but we’re a little less rock-solid (if, say, their marriages turned south – not even then would we be actively worried, but we wouldn’t be as completely devoid of worry, if that makes sense).

          • Probably not a big deal. Draw up the trust or other testament in the state where you live now; should you relocate, a medium-priority task upon settling in to a new state would be to find a lawyer there to update and conform the document to the new state’s laws. Costs a few hundred dollars, but it’s totally worth it.

    • That’s something of a complicating issue: Clancy is, last we checked, ineligible for premium life insurance (long story). Good point about the legal leg-work.

    • I say this as a caution, having seen lots of families badly fragmented over money.

      Post? I saw this happen with my mom and her siblings after my grandmother’s death, and it seemed to me it was driven primarily by the in-law (husband of my aunt). It seemed the stupidest thing in the world to me and my siblings, and at least two of us have responded by encouraging my mom to spend her money, so there’s not enough for us to fight over.

      • No post, sorry.

        If the subject matter were interesting enough or I had any substantial insight to offer, I’d find a way to edit and present it so as not to breach privilege. But trust me, it’s all just chaos, the likes of which caused the parties tremendous stress over nothing, and left the attorneys wanting to take long and very soapy showers to remove any residual that may have adhered as a result of mere proximity.

        You probably have a pretty good taste of what these are like from your own family in the wake of your grandmother’s passing.

        • Is there a way to prevent our kids from falling into that trap, other than selling everything I own and blowing it all on hookers and booze before I did?

          • I said you didn’t want the money to be wasted. You’re discussing hookers and booze. Two different things.

  3. Thinking about that last couple you mentioned, and suspecting they’d be honored and pleased to step up, rather than burdened.

    If they’re anything like Jaybird and I (in the case of the families we are closest to), they will eventually discuss this hypothetical between themselves whether or not you ask them. (For us, it was when the first such kid got to be about a year old – we didn’t have the related conversations with their parents until years later.) They will also probably agree between themselves that the kids in question are way more important than anything else on the table, and that they are willing to move heaven and earth to make sure they are okay, up to and including the vast amount of change that becoming parents would entail.

    Or in other words, it won’t be about them, or you, but about how important Jumping Bean is to both you and them.

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