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Peace of Mind for You and Your Spouse: Appoint Guardians for Your Children
Jake LaForet, 2/8/2010

Jake LaForet is a PHAA (PA Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency) graduate from 1996, now working as a attorney in Pennsylvania-- and married to another PHAA graduate, too! I first knew Jake when he was a first-year homeschooler and I had the honor to serve as his end-of-year evaluator-- I could see right away that he was a very gifted young writer and encouraged him to submit several works for my early book Writing from Home: a Portfolio of Homeschooled Student Writing. I was delighted to hear of his new work reaching out to homeschooling families in PA with his specialized services, and I knew these perspectives would be very useful for all homeschooling parents to hear-- Susan Richman, Editor

“LaForet, Jake!” the Master Sergeant barked after a brief consultation with his clipboard. His eyes swept the seated assembly of weary troops before locking onto me as I stood and laboriously made my way through the tangled thicket of plastic chairs, bodies, equipment, and rucksacks. With a satisfied grunt, his eyes dropped back to his clipboard in search of the next name on the combat deployment list.

With a stagger, I disengaged myself from the last row of chairs and walked briskly across the hangar floor towards the first station in the Air Force mobility processing line. Each station checked to ensure I was ready to deploy: Finances checked my pay status, the Military Personal Flight checked my orders, security clearance, and dog tags, while Medical checked my shot record and medical clearances. The Wing Chaplain pressed a pocket-sized camouflage Bible into my hand and offered a few words of encouragement.

“Do you have a will?” one of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) officers asked as I checked in with his station.

“No sir,” I replied.  Somewhere outside the thin hanger walls I could hear the shrill whine of idling jet engines in the early morning darkness.

“We should make you one now,” he said firmly with a nod towards the row of laptops and printers sitting on his table. “You need one today more than ever.”

He was right. An hour later, one of those idling jets would roar to life and carry me to a combat theater of operation in the Middle East.  There, I would face the uncertainty and risks I had only previously seen on the news channels from the comfort of my home.  While I was young and not particularly anxious about my safe return, I had seen the photos of flag-draped caskets neatly arranged inside the cargo hold of a C-17.  Those images were hard to forget.

“All right, let’s make one,” I agreed as I sat down at his table.

 **********

Most people will never be confronted with a situation like this that forces them to prepare a will. Drafting a will is an easy thing to postpone because it involves the unpleasant contemplation of your death and requires you to make some fairly large decisions. For these reasons, many spouses avoid discussing the subject with each other. And adding fuel to the procrastination is the fact that most people assume their death is comfortably far in the future. 

I knew a thing or two about the temptations of procrastination. Before I attended college and entered the United States Air Force, I was homeschooled from grades 6 through 12, where I graduated with the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers. I attended local homeschool groups, and even wrote a short story and poem that was published in Susan Richman’s 1990 book, “Writing From Home.”  While my long-suffering mother kept close tabs on me during my first few years of homeschooling, she allowed me greater liberty to organize and pursue my studies as I grew older. This developed my self-control over the years, such as when I plunged headlong through yet another Saxon Math exercise despite the temptations of computer games and the adventurous woods behind my house.

The dual lessons of Saxon and self-control paid off. I entered college with a heightened sense of discipline and maturity, and I found I was able to balance my recreational time and studies with ease. Following my graduation, I entered the United States Air Force, where I spent four years working at Aviano Air Base, Italy. There, I earned an accelerated promotion from my squadron commander, as well as various awards, one of which was the Airman of the Year. After my Honorable Discharge from the Air Force, I attended law school where I rose to become the Editor-in-Chief of my university’s Law Review. Now, I am a practicing attorney in the Quakertown area and married to my wife Abbey, a fellow PA Homeschooler who, like me, was evaluated by Howard and Susan Richman.  Looking back, I could not have accomplished all this without the firm foundation of my homeschool education and experience.

But back to our discussion of wills. Unless a JAG officer quickly draws up a generic military will for you as you process through a combat mobility line, you may not feel that “kick” to get this document drafted and so the procrastination will continue. But you don’t need a JAG officer to give you that “kick”: just look at your spouse and your children. They need your will, and they need it now.

A will is really not for you, if you think about it. The will is a document that only becomes effective upon your death, and so it is really there for the benefit of your surviving spouse and children. When you pass away, the will gives you ultimate control over how your property is to be distributed. Properly drafted wills for husband and wife can also establish a trust that will provide for your children’s financial needs.  But even more important, a will can appoint guardians to raise your children.

Homeschooling parents have made the big decision to withdraw their children from traditional school and to educate them at home.  This choice was by no means lightly made: every homeschooling family has deep and compelling reasons why they do not want the state to educate their children. Yet if you and your spouse pass away without a will, you have given your children to the state to place them where the state sees fit.  The state will do its best to find a suitable home for your children, but therein lies the problem. What exactly is “suitable?” The values and beliefs you cherish may not be part of the state’s formula in finding a “suitable” home for your children. Your children may end up in a home that is incompatible with the way you have raised and educated your children in their homeschooled environment.

Naturally, homeschooling parents are in the best position to choose the guardian for their children.  Naming a guardian in your will ensures that your wishes are heard, and that this critical decision is not left solely to the discretion of the court system. 

A common question is, “Who should be the guardian?” This is indeed a tough question to ponder. Naturally, no parents want to imagine someone else raising their children.  However, this is all the more reason why you must draft a will naming guardians so that the best possible guardian will be ready to pick up where you leave off.  When I draft wills for young parents, I strongly encourage them to name two or three guardians, so that if for whatever reason the first-named guardian cannot serve when you and your spouse pass away, the next-named guardian can step in and welcome your children into their home.

The homeschooling parent should choose their guardians based on a variety of factors that the court system may never consider if you pass away without a will:

  • Religious beliefs, denominational preference, and ethical values
  • Political and social views
  • Guardians who are currently homeschooling their family
  • Proximity to family, homeschool group, church, and neighborhood friends
  • Parenting style
  • Whether the proposed guardians have the emotional, financial, and physical capabilities to raise your children
  • Whether your children already know and feel comfortable with the guardians

Homeschooling parents work hard to rear their children in a specific environment and to instill in them a particular set of values. The thought of the upheaval associated with your passing is bad enough, but worse is the prospect that all your efforts may be set back or even go to waste depending on where the state places your children.  If this thought gives you pause, then take this opportunity to sit down and talk with your spouse about obtaining a will and appointing guardians.  A will that appoints guardians and establishes a trust to financially provide for your children will give you and your spouse peace of mind.  

If you live anywhere in Pennsylvania and would like me to draft your will, you may contact me directly at jake@willowvalelegal.com or visit my website at www.willowvalelegal.com.  Abbey and I run a small law firm, and recently I developed an online store where you may browse my services and review my fees – the direct link for this store is here: www.willowvalelegal.com/storefront.  I grant 10% discounts to homeschooling families, so please inform me that you are homeschooling if you contact me directly, or use the coupon code HOMESCHOOL if you use my website’s shopping cart.  There is no need to schedule a meeting with me, as I can draft your will and mail it to you regardless of where you live in Pennsylvania.  I use online “interview” forms and/or telephone interviews to gather the necessary information.  My online services combine the best of both worlds: the affordability and convenience of online shopping and the experience and involvement of a licensed attorney.

This is the Bucks County farm which is the home of Willow Vale Legal Services

It is a huge responsibility to homeschool a family, and it can be challenging and stressful on the parents. I am sure that I gave my mom more than her fair share of gray hairs while I was homeschooled! (I am confident Abbey was a sweet angel during her homeschool experience, though she insists otherwise). Your hard work and effort WILL pay off – that I promise you.  Abbey and I owe a huge debt to our parents for homeschooling us, because the lessons learned there prepared us for a long line of successful challenges in our adult lives.  Your choice to educate at home and promote your family values has placed your children on the right path to success. Now, protect your children’s future by establishing trusts and appointing the best guardians to carry on your work.  


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