As mothers, we often put our children before our own needs. We can’t help it—it’s just how we are wired. But if you’ve ever traveled on an airplane, you’re sure to hear during the safety instructions, “In the event of an emergency, if you are traveling with a minor child, put your oxygen mask on first, then help your child”. Wow! I could spin that so many different ways, but  I’ll confine my thoughts today to just one way you can show your children you love them: by planning for the inevitable and taking care of yourself first.

NEWS FLASH: We are all going to pass away—we just don’t know when. Frankly, if you haven’t given this a second thought, you run the risk of leaving a set of irreparable and potentially irreversible problems for your children. If you really knew how much a lack of planning would affect your children’s lives, not to mention the emotional loss, then of course, you would definitely get your house in order!

Wealth can bring a family together and just as easily tear a family apart. As a financial planner, I have witnessed the drama and trauma that occurs when an estate has to be probated, when assets are unprotected, and children squabble over property and legal rights. It is not pretty and it’s not fun.

While you can’t control what happens when you are no longer in the picture, you can mitigate the bigger problems that would most certainly arise if you didn’t have a plan in place.

Here are five things you can do to reduce the drama and trauma:

1. Write Your Will

A will formalizes your wishes about how your assets will be handled after your death and how they will be distributed. If you are a single mom with minor children, it’s critically important that you indicate who will be appointed guardian of your children. If you are the custodial parent, don’t assume that their father can automatically step into the role as full-time parent, or for that matter your children’s grandparents. There will likely need to be some legal proceeding to formalize the new arrangement.

2. Select an Executor/Trustee

This person will handle “administering” your estate for things such as paying taxes, settling outstanding bills, and making distributions to your heirs. Just be sure to select someone who is financially responsible, and make a point to introduce them to your advisory team: your accountant, financial planner, attorney, etc.

3. Consider a Trust

Trusts can help even those with smaller estates to not only protect the assets and ensure they go where you intend, but more importantly, provide a cloak of privacy around your affairs. Also, unlike the will, which only comes into play at your death, the trust is a “Living Will”. This means it is an all-inclusive document that incorporates your Will, your Powers of Attorney for finances and health, and your end of life directives.

4. Give Away During Your Lifetime

Consider helping your children by gifting during your lifetime. Whether it’s to fund their education, helping them to start a business or to buy a house, you’ll be able to see the fruits of your gift now. You can gift a substantial amount without incurring a gift tax. The exact amounts vary with the tax code, so be sure to ask your tax preparer or financial planner. 

5. Assign a Power of Attorney

This is a person or persons that you appoint to make decisions regarding your health and financial life in the event you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Keep in mind that you can have more than person fill these shoes. As a matter of fact, I strongly recommend selecting different individuals to act as power of attorney for health and financial matters, since these typically involve different skill sets and/or knowledge of your desires.

Going through this process is not always pleasant, but it is an absolutely necessary evil. Working with a financial professional and/or an attorney will help you make the best decisions you can, help to set your mind at ease, and most importantly provide a legacy of love for your children.