Selecting a guardian for minor children is a critical aspect of estate planning. This article explains the role of a guardian, the types of guardians, and guidelines for choosing one. It emphasizes factors like parenting values, financial capability, familiarity, and willingness. The article also advises having an alternate guardian and keeping the children's well-being in mind during the selection process.
Making arrangements for your property in the event of your death is one thing. But making arrangements for the care of your minor children is an even more important aspect of estate planning. Choosing a guardian who will care for your minor children in the unlikely event that you can't is something that you want to do carefully after much consideration.
What Is a Guardian?
A guardian is a person who has been granted the authority to make essential decisions regarding your children's upbringing, including their education, health care, and religious instruction. Usually, parents share guardianship of their children while they are alive, but when both parents pass away and the children are under the age of 18, a court must choose someone else to assume this responsibility.
Generally, a guardian is appointed in the Will of the last parent to die. If no guardian is appointed, or no Will exists after the last parent dies, a court will have to choose a guardian for the children, unless a relative or friend steps up and goes to court to request a guardianship.
There are two types of guardians:
- A guardian of the person; and
- A guardian of the estate
Many parents choose a different person for each of these roles for many different reasons. Perhaps the person who is most suited to love and raise your child is not necessarily the most financially capable. Having two different qualified people in charge of these different aspects of your children's well-being is something that you may want to consider.
But Who Should You Choose to Act as Guardian?
Your children's guardian must be at least 21years of age and should be young enough to carry out the task of parenting your children until they reach adulthood. Here are some other important guidelines to follow when choosing a guardian:
- Choose someone who already is or will make a good parent -Choose the sort of person you think will make the right decisions in raising your children. This is usually someone that you know well and shares the same parenting values as you do. Depending on the ages of your children, the guardian will effectively become like a parent to them. So, make sure that this person is someone whom you want to fulfill that role.
- Choose someone that your children are familiar with - After a parent passes away, it is important for children to be around someone whom they know and trust.
- Choose someone capable financially - As any parent can tell you, raising children can be very expensive. Unless you leave behind a considerable inheritance, the responsibility for paying for your children’s clothes, medical care, transportation, etc. will rest with the guardian. You want to consider the potential guardian’s financial situation and whether they already have children of their own.
- Choose an alternate guardian - It can be advantageous to appoint a backup or successor guardian. Especially if your first choice of guardian is an older person such as a grandparent. You can choose multiple guardians if you know a number of people with complementary skills, but don't know any one person who can you trust to raise your children alone.
- Choose someone who is willing to accept the job - Parenting means a lot of joy and excitement, but also a lot of worry and sleepless nights. So, it's good to choose someone who is willing to accept the job. It is recommended that you discuss your decision with the person of your choice and make certain that they are open to taking on all the extra responsibility.
- Choose someone local - Losing a parent or two is more than enough change for any child to have to go through. Keeping your children close to friends and family and in the neighborhood where they feel comfortable, can make it easier on them during an incredibly difficult time.
Other Things to Keep in Mind When Choosing a Guardian for Your Children
Whomever you choose as guardian of your children, it is important to remember a couple of things:
- Appointing someone as a guardian is not a popularity contest, it is a huge job with a lot of complicated obligations. Interviewing potential guardians to find out what they would do in different situations is a good way of gaining a clear picture of how they will raise your children and/or manage your estate.
- Review your decisions frequently. If someone you have appointed to be your children's guardian moves across the country, goes through a rough patch in their life, or changes considerably, it may be time to consider appointing someone else.
- The guardian can always turn to other people for help. Raising children is not an easy job. Parents who are able to raise their children without any outside help are few and far between. Your guardian can call a friend or relative for advice and babysitting, the same way you do now.
Depending on your circumstances, there may be more factors to consider, but these are the basics. Selecting a guardian for your children is an important choice. If you are ready to start your estate planning process contact an experienced estate planning attorney. They can provide the guidance and support you need.