Sunday, March 11, 2012

Where There's a Will...

Okay, raise your hand if you have kids.

Now – raise your hand if you have a will.


Well, the good news is that you are not alone. It’s estimated that 57% of parents do not have a will in place. I know. I understand. It’s difficult to think about it and frankly – in the back of your mind you’re thinking that you really don’t need one. Not yet, anyway. I mean, what are the chances, right?

The thing is – there’s nothing like having children to force you to think about your own mortality. We know we’re not going to live forever, obviously, but for many of us, there is the assumption that we can expect to live to see our kids have their own kids and possibly beyond.

But what if?

Maybe you’re thinking that you don’t really have any money or other assets to bequeath, so a will seems pointless. It’s not always about the money.

Let’s say you’ve had a discussion with your parents. It’s understood that if anything ever happens to you, they will step in and care for your children. But do you have that in writing? Is it legal? What if something did happen to you and it all goes crazy and your in-laws who live five states away and have never spent more than 10 minutes with your kids end up with them. It could never happen, right?

What if you’re divorced or a single parent? Do you have a plan in place?

Creating your last will and testament does not need to be a lengthy and complicated process. There are many ways to accomplish this task ranging from online software to enlisting the services of an attorney. There is truly an option for any budget. As I mentioned before, the most important designation involved in your will, as a parent, is assigning guardianship of your child(ren). It can literally take about 20 minutes to take care of this important administrative task. You take care to wear clean underwear in the event of a car accident, don’t you? So there’s really no excuse for not having a will.

Also? Don’t forget the pets. If you have pets, you should designate who will care for them, should you become unable. Many well loved and cared for pets end up dumped at shelters because families of the deceased don’t really know what to do. Again – a simple legal document can take care of that for you.

Honestly, having a will is just a good idea in general, even if you don’t have kids. You’d be surprised at who may come out of the woodwork to battle over your ceramic bunny collection. Don’t think it can’t happen.

If you don’t have an attorney or prefer not to use one, there are online services and even software that will assist you in creating your will. Requirements vary by state. In many states, all you need are a couple of witnesses and sometimes a Notary public and voilĂ ! You have a will. Not free, but you can get pretty close.

Friday, March 2, 2012

My Child’s Car Seat Did What?!

It expired. Yes—expired. Says who? Well, the AAP, NHTSA, NTSB and IIHS—just to name a few (I know that was a mouthful: please see websites at the very end). I had actually heard this several years ago, but in speaking with some other moms recently, I was surprised that the information had not circulated as well as one would think…or hope. In general, a child’s car seat maintains its integrity for about six years, depending on the manufacturer (see more websites at the end!).

During these six or so years, the car seat is exposed to extreme temperature changes and the plastic can become compromised. It can partially melt then re-harden. The reaction of the seat in a collision can be unpredictable past the expiration date. This applies to all child seats from infant carriers to booster seats.

When my son was born, I wanted to select the car seat that was rated the absolute safest. And darn it, the “safest” ones always seemed to be the pricier ones. Even though I knew that all car seats had to pass the same safety test, I was willing to spare no expense to buy the one that popped up at the very top of the “safest car seat EVER” list. The rationale was that I was getting two seats for the price of one. I fully planned to reuse that seat for my second child. Well, that second child did not show up until six and a half years later (through no fault of her own).

Just as I was dusting off that pricey six-year-old best car seat EVER, I heard the news. Your car seat has expired. Throw it away. Don’t sell it, don’t donate it. Just throw it away in the trash. Oh, and be sure to destroy the seat first by slashing the seat cushion and cutting the straps. And maybe take a sledgehammer to it a couple of times. This will ensure that no one will claim the perfectly good car seat sitting on the curb and endanger a child.

After hearing such a claim about an expiring car seat, I assumed it was a marketing ploy created by car seat manufacturers to force parents to buy more car seats that they didn’t really need. I’m certainly not the only one that felt this way. I was more than a little skeptical, until I saw this.

So part of me thinks – hey! In my day, kids used to ride unrestrained in the car. We were completely free to move about the cabin and we lived to tell the tale! Then the other part of me knows there’s only one way to see if my expired car seat will withstand the impact of a crash without causing harm. Am I willing to take that chance?

I’m really not. Times have changed and we parents have to keep up with the advances in child safety, right?

How do you know if your seat is expired? You probably should not use the sniff test. Some seats are actually stamped with the expiration date. If not, try to locate the manufacturer’s label (usually on the bottom) and take note of the date the seat was produced. Not all manufacturers have the same duration of “freshness”, so find your particular car seat brand’s web site (see below) or call the toll free number if you need additional information. Can’t we at least recycle these expired car seats, you ask? It depends. The best thing to do is contact your local fire department or police station to ask if they have such a program. You can also contact your local recycling facility.

The fact of the matter is that this is not a legal issue. You will not get a ticket if you are driving around with expired car seats. It’s really more about what you choose to do with the information. I, for one, chose to post an fyi on Craig’s list. I know I saw some of those car seat styles around back when legwarmers and neon were popular. I received several “thank yous” from people who had no idea. I received even more “something else-yous” from people who were trying to sell expired car seats.

Maybe I’m falling for a scare tactic. Maybe I’m gullible. I don’t know…but I do know I don’t really push the date stamped on a gallon of milk or a pound of meat. I’d rather take their word for it, even if it does pass the sniff test. Craig's Listers, eBayers and garage sale hosts will surely dislike you, but spread the word anyway.

Related websites:

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)