Too few parents make plans in case they die early

7 October 2014
Parents are failing to make adequate plans for their children should they die early, a new survey by the Childhood Bereavement Network has revealed.

A lack of information, busy lives and a reluctance to think about death means parents of young children struggle to make plans for their children in case the worst happens, according to the organisation, which is based at leading children’s charity the National Children’s Bureau. 

The research is published to mark the launch of the Childhood Bereavement Network’s awareness campaign Plan If which encourages all parents to put in place a legacy of practical and personal things which would make a difference to their children should one or both parents die.

The survey found that only one in four parents of young children have an up-to-date will, yet almost three-quarters think it is important to have one. When it came to making plans regarding the guardianship of their children should both parents die before the children are grown up, half of parents had no definite plans in place. 

The Childhood Bereavement Network estimates that every 22 minutes in the UK, a parent dies leaving dependent children. By the age of 16, one in twenty young people will have had a parent die, yet findings showed that almost half (46%) of those parents who had no plans in place for guardianship said they haven’t thought about who would care for their children, with 21% saying they haven’t got round to it.

A further one in six found it too hard to think about, with the same number struggling to decide who they would choose to look after their children and one in four hoping that such arrangements wouldn’t be needed.  

Further findings showed that one in six parents have written a special letter to their children to be read after their death; with one in five of those who hadn’t written a letter hoping it wouldn’t be needed, and almost the same number saying it was too upsetting to even think about. Over half (53%) of those parents said they simply hadn’t thought about writing a letter to their child.

The Plan If campaign encourages parents to put in place the practical and personal things that would make a difference to their children and families if they were to die while their children were still young; things such as wills, plans for guardianship, insurance, family stories and letters for children to read in the future, providing comfort, stability and security at the toughest time. 

Speaking in response to the new campaign, Claire Henry, Chief Executive of the Dying Matters Coalition, said: “Facing up to our own mortality and planning ahead may not be easy, but doing so can provide peace of mind and help ensure our loved ones are taken care of after we have died. Yet as today’s research shows, far too many parents are failing to make adequate plans and are leaving the welfare of their children to chance, should they die before they have grown up. That’s why we welcome the Plan If campaign, and look forward to working together to raise public awareness about why it’s so important to make your wishes known before it’s too late.”

Alison Penny, Coordinator of the Childhood Bereavement Network, commented: “Mortality statistics show that in people of parental age around one in four[iii] deaths are unexpected, with little or no time to put arrangements in place. We believe in the importance of all parents making plans now in case they die while their children are still young.

“Practical tasks, such as making a will and planning guardianship, can take some of the uncertainty out of life after a parental death, and personal tasks, such as capturing family stories and writing letters to children, can provide comfort and opportunities to remember and maintain bonds if a parent dies.

“Our research highlights the necessity of providing both emotional and practical support for all parents to make their own Plan If, to ensure their children and families are cared for should the worst happen. Our dedicated Plan If website helps break down the steps of creating a tailor-made Plan If, with simple, practical advice.

“We hope that Plan If will play a part in making society as a whole more aware of and more prepared to talk about parental death and in that way, play a part in helping bereaved children and young people respond to a death.”


The Childhood Bereavement Network has created a dedicated website to help parents prepare their own Plan If. It sets out simple steps parents can follow, with manageable actions they can carry out:

  • This Week (includes making a will, appointing guardians, thinking about insurance)
  • This Month (includes financial affairs, digital assets and online accounts, writing a letter to your child)
  • This Year (includes planning end of life care, capturing your family history, recording thoughts about your funeral)

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