By Sarah Enterline
When my husband and I were expecting our son, we met with an estate planner to draft our last wills, living wills, power of attorney documents and the like. We spent many hours completing and compiling these forms and, after they were complete, I dutifully filed them away in a cabinet where I know they are safe. However, I began to wonder who else knows (or should know) where these important papers are? Could my family easily settle my affairs if something happened to me, and I was unable to speak for myself?
I’ve constantly thought about this recently as my sister and I have had to scour for my mother’s documents after her sudden death this summer. Because we did not have the originals, we went on an epic search for her safe deposit box and various court filings. And, since we aren’t on her bank accounts, we’re watching the bills and late fees pile up, as the court delays in appointing an executor for her estate. Although this will all be resolved eventually, these setbacks wouldn’t have happened if we had everything we needed to take care of her affairs.
Dealing with the sudden loss of a family member is hard enough, but not knowing her final wishes is agonizing.
Educators face a similar dilemma. According to AASA’s 2006 State of the Superintendency Study, superintendent turnover affects approximately 15% of all school districts each year, while the National Center for Education Statistics reported a teacher turnover rate of 17%. When instructional leaders leave, they often fail to leave a clear path for their successors. New staff members are forced to spend their first days and weeks on the job organizing overflowing offices and arranging disordered files.
Basically, they are trying to make sense of a messy state of affairs.
Many times, these endeavors are central to incoming “Entry Plans” or “Listening Tours.” But these plans wouldn’t be necessary if outgoing staff and leadership shared vital information about policies, procedures and protocols in a clear and organized way with their successors. This lack of foresight can stall student learning and growth.
In both our personal and professional lives, we must not only take care of business or personal matters, we must also entrust our family and/or colleagues with the information they need to address any number of contingencies. By carefully managing these critical pieces of our lives, we can be assured that our successors, whether they are professional or familial, never have to worry about putting our affairs in order.