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When My Friend Died Without A Will or Trust

Staff Blog || Cathy Cagle ||

Noe never meant to die and leave her children to grow up without her. And Noe certainly never meant for her children to grow up in a home where she herself had been abused. But that’s exactly what happened because Noe died without any written instructions guiding others on what to do. Noe died unexpectedly in her sleep at age 36.

I became friends with Noe and her 2 kids, ages 3 and 6, while we lived on our farm outside of Madison, WI. Noe and her kids would come out to play with our kids, to visit our farm animals and to help out with farm work. They’d often stay for dinner and leave with bags of fresh produce and gallons of fresh milk. Our two kids loved having her two kids over and our families grew close. Noe and I shared many parenting stories, like moms do, and I got to hear the story of how Noe chose to become a single parent on her own, using a sperm bank, partially because of her background growing up with an abusive stepfather. Noe cut all ties with her mother and stepfather and moved out of state to keep her kids safe.

I remember feeling nervous about asking Noe whether she had a will or trust in place for her kids. Ron  and I had been super cautious and had a trust set up and in place within weeks of learning we were going to become parents. Because having a trust, legal power of attorney and legal medical power of attorney in place were so important to us I felt it was my responsibility to ask Noe whether she had done the same for her beautiful kids. She assured me that of course she had everything in place because her kids were her world.

It was a total shock to get the call letting me know that Noe had died in her sleep and that her sweet, precious children had become wards of the state, placed in a temporary foster home for their protection while things got figured out. My vibrant, healthy friend had died as a result of medications meant to control her epilepsy. I grieved hard when I learned that her 6 yr old daughter had waited till dinnertime to ask a neighbor to help her wake her mom up and I grieved even harder when told that the kids asked to come to our farm and live with us. Because we were not related to Noe and because we were not in the foster parent system we were unable to foster Noe’s kids and care for them.

Noe’s devastating death got even worse – no one could find any will, trust, note, or any written record that indicated how Noe wanted her children and her estate to be managed. There was no evidence, anywhere, that supported her stories of abuse by her stepfather. And in the absence of any legal directive or supporting evidence stating otherwise, custody of her children was permanently granted to the people she swore she never wanted them to even know about – her mother and stepfather. Noe’s kids moved to another state to live with people they’d never known existed and contact with Noe’s friends, including me, came to a hard stop. I’ve never seen or heard from them since.

I don’t know what else I could have done while Noe was alive to make sure her kids’ were better protected but I do know this – every child deserves to have a more certain future than the one Noe’s children moved into.

We need to make talking about wills and trusts, and everything that goes with them a part of normal everyday life. We need to hold each other accountable for making those essential plans and for keeping them updated. We need to talk about final directives and make sure those around us have them in place. 

Of course Noe never meant to die and leave her children behind – no one ever does. I was unable to change any of the outcomes from that real life tragedy.  What I am hoping to do is raise awareness of how badly life can twist and turn and why it’s so critically important that those legal documents be in place when you need them most. Please – get it done – put your final directives into legal form and empower someone you trust to effect them. There’s so many good online services you can use to get a will or trust set up or you can work with a lawyer. Don’t wait till you need one because it could be too late. Do it for yourself. Do it for Noe. Do it for Noe’s kids. But do it.

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