I am really wrestling with an issue that recently came up. Here is the background story: My brother-in-law (my wife's brother) has talked to my wife and said that he wants to name us as the care-takers of his children in his will if anything was to happen to both him and his wife. Here's the footnote to that, though. They have five young children, and one of those five is a special-needs child. To get a better idea of the social element between my family (wife and two young children) and theirs, we live on the other side of the country from them and it would be a huge stretch to even remotely say that we are "close".

I'm not sure what the typical obligation would be here at this point. It's one thing if we are talking about one child, or even two children. But five children (one with special needs) is quite an undertaking that I'm not sure is reasonable or even possible. Here are some points I struggle with:

  • I work hard to provide for my wife (stay at home Mother) and my two children. Truth is, I'm not sure if my income could provide for an additional 5 people. My children would do without in many aspects of their lives.
  • Accommodations simply aren't there. Yes there is a spare bedroom, but talking about the magnitude of five extra people to provide sustainable and long term living quarters, I just don't see it.
  • Family element. Call it what you want, but as a father and a husband I enjoy spending my life with my wife and my children. Realistically speaking, adding five additional children to which I have no real bond to will most definitely change everything.

If we were the only other family to where these kids could go to, I'd say that's one thing. But we are surely not. In this family there are also my wife's parents (which would also be the same parents of her brother -- the kids' grandparents), my wife's brother's wife's sister (sorry for the confusion, could also be referred to as my brother-in-law's sister-in-law, the aunt of the kids on the other side of the family), and my wife's brother's wife's mother (the other grandmother, on that side of the family).

To undertake this responsibility alone just doesn't seem possible, appropriate, or feasible. What is the typical thing to do here? Given the quantity (five) and the requirements (one special-needs child), I would think this hardly fits in a "typical" scenario of care takers in the event parents pass away. But I would truly like to hear thoughts on this.

Am I wrong for thinking the way I'm thinking?

Is this just simply an inappropriate request from my wife's brother?

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    I would ask what accommodations that comes with it. We have excellent life insurances, which make me feel better asking my SIL to take care of our children.
    – Ida
    Oct 8, 2014 at 19:28
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    It's a complement . . . they know you're the best option they have, should they not live to fulfill their parental duties. Also, it's clear that you are taking this seriously as well, even though it's unlikely you'd ever have to take on this burden. I would wonder, if they don't make such plans, what would happen? Would you feel compelled to take the kids anyway, but without any discussion or planning? Somebody would.
    – Marc
    Oct 9, 2014 at 4:01

2 Answers 2


Put yourselves in their shoes for a minute. They chose you for a reason. Try to think of what it is. Likely the biggest factor is they like what kind of parents you are, and they think you are the most capable financially.

We have one or two children with special needs, depending how you define it (one with severe cerebral palsy, one with ADHD). There are two things I want to convey to you.

First, we know better than anyone how much more it costs to raise a child with cerebral palsy, and we do our best to plan for it financially. Our 401K and life insurance are significantly heftier than most people with my same salary, and most of it goes to my daughter in the event of both our deaths. It wouldn't be enough to set them up for life, but it would be enough to upgrade to a bigger home, for example. If finances is your main concern, you might want to bring that up.

Second, we know better than anyone what kind of people it takes to handle raising a special needs child, and more specifically our special needs children. For one thing, it's not as hard as most people think. For another thing, the parts that are hard, are hard in different ways than most people think. They chose you because they think you are most capable of handling it, even if you think otherwise right now.

I think you have a strong point about adding 5 children all at once. However, consider that if you are unable to do so, possibly no one can. Consider taking one or two, which is not ideal for either of you, but may be the best you can do under the circumstances.

Whatever you do, if you think you can't handle it, don't lead them on. The kids have to go somewhere. You don't want to be having this discussion after the funeral, when the parents have no input. They know it would be a burden on whoever takes their children, which is why they're bringing it up now, when they still have time to mitigate any concerns.

Finally, regarding the closeness issue. I know how it feels to wonder if you can ever feel close to children you don't really know. It's hard to see it now when you're thinking of the situation hypothetically. As a former foster parent, I can tell you the closeness comes with time.

We only wanted to foster to adopt, until we were told about some real children and asked if we would be willing to accept a temporary placement. It's hard to describe the strength of the feeling, but in that moment, when the need is real and right in front of you, and you are best positioned to help, it's very difficult to say no. In the unlikely event your hypothetical situation becomes real, you will want to help, you will regret not preparing better for it, and you will find a way to make it work. That's human nature. Try to picture yourself in that place when you're having this discussion.

  • I would never think of separating children after the death of their parents. The trauma of their parents' death is bad enough. Oct 9, 2014 at 7:41
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    @anongoodnurse I agree with the principal, but in practical terms, if you're asking someone to care for 5 additional kids, that's a colossal burden to put on someone, special needs or no special needs. That's a "move house, give up full-time job, completely rewrite entire life" change, in a way that just one child isn't. Seperation may be the only viable option over outright rejection,l
    – deworde
    Oct 9, 2014 at 8:27
  • We were asked to be the guardians for my brother-in-law's four children. We said yes. The change in lifestyle (which would not result in giving up a full-time job) was one that we were quite willing to accept. As I said, I would never think of separating siblings. These aren't the days when farmers will take in one or two healthy boys, and the girls will become mother's helpers where needed. I hope we're more civilized than that, but that's just my opinion. Oct 9, 2014 at 9:31
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    I agree that's the ideal situation, @anongoodnurse. However, I would split my kids up among family in a heartbeat if it avoided splitting them up among foster homes. Oct 9, 2014 at 13:08

Is this just simply an inappropriate request from my wife's brother?

Of course not. Your in-laws need to think of the welfare of their children. They have a right to ask, and you have a right to refuse.

Financially, it is the responsibility of the parents to provide enough life insurance that if they were to die, a new, bigger house and major expenses such as special needs care and their schooling through college would be taken care of. This is just common sense, and should be a part of the discussion. It has been when we've been asked to be guardians should something happen, and with those we asked.

Am I wrong for thinking the way I'm thinking?

That's not for anyone but you and your wife to decide. You have not stated what your wife feels in this matter. That's an important consideration. If she's all for it, and you're not, that's a discussion you need to have.

Either way, the likelihood of ever being called upon to fulfill this responsibility is quite remote, so worrying about it is not very productive. You need to make a decision knowing the possibility is there, then forget about it.

If you are serious about what you've written here, then don't agree to take responsibility for the children. I'm sure the parents want the children to go (all together as a group) to someone who would welcome them with open hearts and arms. It's not enough to consider someone's parenting style or income; love matters. Though I agree with Karl that you would most likely grow to love them, if I were the parents and I was aware of your true feelings (to which you are entitled), I would rather look elsewhere for potential guardians. This doesn't mean you need to tell them of your true feelings; that might result in unnecessary pain and possible family repercussions. Just tell them that you can't commit to such a responsibility. They shouldn't expect you to, nor try to guilt you into it.

Your sister-in-law and her husband chose to have five children, not you. It is their responsibility to plan for their futures in the event of their deaths.

The only caveat: if you refuse their children, don't ask them to take yours. That would be quite awkward.

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