What happens when single parents die?

wills for single parents

“Are you doing to die, Mum?” 

“Yes, but I’ve no immediate plans in that direction.” 

“OK. If you do, though, will I get all your money?” 

Sometimes it’s the small moments that make all the hard work of motherhood worth it, aren’t they?

This week has been all about wills and financial planning. I know, I know. Making a will is one of those things I really should have got around to years ago, but there always seemed to be something more important to finish first. Work, school stuff, that packet of Quavers…

For someone who spends as much time as me trying to fight my natural inclination to obsess on all the Terrible Things that might happen to me on a daily basis, making a will is a bit challenging.

Honestly, just the thought of my lovely girl being alone, without me to protect her makes my heart stutter, but as a single parent, it’s unavoidable. After all, does anyone really want their ex-husband to move into their precious house and sleep in their bed, and manage all their finances until their child comes of age? *shudders* 

And as a single parent, I don’t have the luxury of being able to leave everything to my spouse and smugly note that there’s zero inheritance tax. Oh no. If I don’t make sensible arrangements, Flea has to pay 40% tax on anything I leave that is valued over the threshold – and once you take a house into consideration, that threshold really isn’t very high at all.

Not to mention the very real risk that she would immediately sell the house, car, business and anything else not nailed down and spend the proceeds on Nike trainers, Haribo and vintage Marvel comics.

So I’ve been thinking and planning.

First, there’s financial planning. Putting things into place to cover school fees and university fees in the short-term, and flat deposits beyond that. There are insurance policies to pay off the mortgage and provide an income in the event I’m no longer here supporting the household. There are pensions and investments and all the other stuff my financial advisor told me to do when I was 25 and I ignored him because, well, I was 25.

Then it’s a question of what happens to those assets when I’m gone.

It’s easy to just say, “Flea gets everything” but when? In stages? All in one go? My child will need an income to pay for her education, housing, food – who will manage that money for her? What happens to the share of the business she will inherit? My ex-husband has many talents, but financial management isn’t one of them. So I need to ask someone else to take on that responsibility – and ensure they’re aware of my wishes.

It feels like a monumentally giant ask, doesn’t it? Would you look after my child’s financial wellbeing? Will you be the person who sorts out my life insurance and ensures the electricity bill gets paid? If I’m incapacitated rather than dead, will you make decisions about my medical care, so Flea doesn’t have to?

I tell myself I’d do this for the people I love in a heartbeat, so I can only hope they feel the same way in return.

And of course, the biggest, hardest, don’t-think-about-it-too-hard question is … what happens to Flea?

She’s always been close with her Dad. Because we were married, and we share custody at present, the default legal position is that if I die, he assumes full custody.

But my ex is almost 15 years older than me. Without wishing his demise, there’s a reasonable chance he will die before me. So what then? I need to appoint a guardian who will take care of Flea in the event that she (God forbid) loses both parents before she’s of age.

And is the default position the best one? Flea has had some big challenges in her relationship with her Dad over the past year that have had quite serious consequences, and I suspect in the event of my death, my traumatised daughter might be happier staying with other family members, even if just in the short term. Hopefully this isn’t a long-term situation, but it is worth taking into account.

As a single parent, I can express my wishes in my will, and while they’re not legally binding, they should be taken into consideration when deciding what should happen to Flea.

These are issues that, I know, all parents need to consider. And none of us want to – because the idea of your child being alone, and not being around to love and protect them is just… unthinkable.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go and re-bury my head in the sand and not think about anything quite so grown up again for as long as possible.


(image via Shutterstock)


25 thoughts on “What happens when single parents die?”

  1. Alexandra | I'm Every Mum

    Ugh just the thought of all this sends my heart into a panic. Well done for addressing all of this. It’s huge questions. For us we’ve sat down to look at this so many times and ended up completely baffled and never sorted it. It is a HUGE decision to make in any circumstance but when there are 4 children. It’s hard to imagine who would take that on and love them as much without them feeling like a burden. I just can’t get my head around it. So we’ll bury our head in the sand a little bit longer but you’ve definitely given me a big nudge to think about this again xxx

    1. Gosh yes planning for four children must be very hard – luckily you have a partner (I think?) so the likelihood is that if the worst happens, there’s another parent to step in. But I can’t imagine what your “both parents down” scenario must be – so hard. What prompted me was just thinking, this will be the last thing I can do to protect my child, and imagine if I didn’t?

      1. Alexandra | I'm Every Mum

        Oh my goodness, yes. I need to make this happen. Yes I do have a partner. We need to sit and chat about all of this again. Xx

  2. Three kids, one marriage and a house later we *still* haven’t made a will or really considered any of these things – it’s on the “know I need to do this but would rather not think about it” list… Though we have asked my sister if she would be their legal guardian.

    1. I think it’s really hard- none of us want to think about mortality, I know, and I’m the worst for it. Definitely had it on the same list for a long time!

  3. We haven’t sorted a will yet. It’s one of those things that’s on the list of things to do. Our main reason for not sorting it out yet is the whole guardian thing. If we both died at the same time, what would happen to the kids? The money stuff kind of pales into insignificance to that. When we’ve worked it out, then we’ll write a will x

    1. I think the thing to bear in mind is that if there isn’t a will, it’s down to social services what happens to your children – and those great friends who, in the back of your mind, you’d love to raise the kids, might not get a look in. DO IT! You can always easily update it later, but better to have some sort of plan!

    1. I know your life’s a bit similar to mine in some regards, so I can imagine you empathise with some of the issues I’m struggling with too. So happy you’re all sorted, tho.

  4. This is one of my biggest fears as a parent, as I lost my own mum when I was young and never want my own children to grow up without me as I know what it is like. I was a single parent for a long time and I hated the idea of my daughter being left without me. I have not sorted a will out either, I keep meaning to but like you say other things always take priority. I am totally with you on the finishing a bag of quavers though as they are way to yummy to not finish, although I kid myself they are healthy and end up eating two bags xx

    1. I think the “other things” is really just us not wanting to think about being dead, not wanting to think about the kids being bereaved – but I had to give myself a firm talking to, and say, this will be the last loving thing you can do for your child, this is you taking that opportunity to protect and nurture her even if you’re not there – and as hard as it may be for me, it would be so much harder for her, if I didn’t.

      Ps: Quavers FTW.

  5. We’ve lamely half discussed a will and who would look after this but never quite ironed it out, or asked who we’d like as potential guardians. It feels such a daunting thing, I know I should though!

  6. Interesting and important post! Ive thought about making a will a few times but still not got round to it. How much does it cost to make a will? I have made my wishes concerning my son clear to my family but as you said without a will nothing is legaly binding. My son has non relationship with his dad a recent try at his dad seeing him lasted a week so it is extra important to me whom my son will be with IF i do die eeeek. Some serious thinking to do.

  7. I decided the minute my daughter was born where I didn’t want her to end up if anything happened to us, so we made a will within weeks. Hopefully the nominated people won’t have to step up, but it was a big weight off my mind once it was done.

  8. Aaargghhh! These issues trouble me A LOT, especially since I am still basically ignoring all the sensible advice at 35…. As an only child, I have no default brothers or sister to step in, plus the added complication that I am an expat living in Italy and therefore the only link to my child’s English side (not to mention the only person she speaks English with on a daily basis…..). I try to reassure myself with the thought that she has a lot of people around who love her, so should the worst happen those adopted aunties and close friends would step in. Unfortunately nothing is particularly reassuring though, so maybe the best idea is to not think about it at all!

  9. Was only researching blogs but had to read this..so close to home! I lost my husband 4 1/2 years ago very suddenly to cancer, 2 months before the birth of our 3rd child. There hasn’t been a single day since that I haven’t thought “What if…” and yet, I still haven’t managed to face the music and do a will! The main issue being because I really don’t know who could care for my brood should I not be here any longer! I am an older (which doesn’t help with this anxiety!) and my sister is in her 60s so can’t imagine her taking on 3 young kids (they’re 4, 6 and 8), plus that would mean they’d have to move and changed school which would add to their despair! I have good friends who have been a great help these last 4 years but I can’t imagine them (all in their late 40s, 50s) taking on 3 young kids either……so I’m going back to my hole in the sand (with Quavers)!

    1. That’s such an awful thing to have been through, it must have been so tough. I know a complicated family situation must make it that much harder for you – thanks for commenting.

  10. Luckily got through my kids being children without both of us dying – but this was always one of those things I meant to get done, seems like there are quite a few of us with our heads in the sand eating quavers.
    I still need to sort the will out so that the kids get more than the tax man though!

  11. As a single mother I also dread this. It has been decided between my sister and me that if anything happens to me, DD will go to her. This will mean moving countries and learning in a different language (albeit one she is fluent in) let alone changing schools! Call me morbid but at every milestone it has crossed my mind. For e.g. when she was 3 – my sister won’t have to deal with nappies, 6 – my sister won’t have to teach her to ride a bike, to swim, or to read, etc, etc… And at every birthday I celebrate bringing her up thus far.

    1. I think a financial advisor (or the executor of your estate) can advise on how to minimise the amount of tax liability. I do know that it’s complicated.

      Let’s assume our children can inherit £350k before paying IHT. They can also benefit from a residential tax band that allows them to inherit £175k (for a single person, it’s double for a married couple) in the form of the family home, without paying IHT. So I think that potentially if your main asset is your home, you can pass on £525k before IHT kicks in.

      Anything over and above that will be liable for IHT – my assumption would be that Flea will sell my house after I die, and use the proceeds to pay any duties, since I doubt her dream will be to live in a 4-bed home in a rural village. If you wanted your children to be able to keep the house, then I’d be looking at moving assets into things that will give a cash lump sum on death, to cover those expenses.

      Hope that helps!

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