Choosing a Guardian for your Children

I could try to make this sound more “fun” but there’s nothing enjoyable about discussing distressing things. However, as parents we are all familiar with braving upsetting things to get the right result, and this is definitely the right thing to do for your children. So let’s just cut to the chase…

Parents, you need a will to name a guardian of your minor children in the event that you should die.

While it’s terrible to think about not being able to raise your children, it’s worse to imagine a court choosing a guardian without any input from you. Likewise, it’s awful to think of your relatives arguing in court over who gets your children—or having them agree but not on the people you would have chosen. That’s just a few of the many reasons why it’s important to nominate a guardian.

Through your will you can easily and clearly set out your chosen guardian for your minor children. You can also name a separate person to handle/manage any inheritance that your children will receive.

Often the most complicated part of the process is choosing who is best suited to care for your children. To get you started thinking, below are seven things to consider when deciding upon a guardian:

  1. Make a list. Make a list of all the people you know who you would trust to take care of your children. You don’t need to limit your list to close family members. While siblings and parents can be excellent choices, consider also extended family members and close friends who are old enough to raise your children.
  2. Consider values and philosophies. Think about whom on your list most closely shares your values and philosophies regarding such things as:
    • religious beliefs
    • moral values
    • child-rearing philosophy
    • educational values
    • social values
  3. Consider personality. Consider whether your potential guardian choices have the personality traits that would work best for your children.
    • Are they loving?
    • Are they good role models?
    • Do they have the patience to take on parenting your children?
    • How affectionate are they? (If your family is particularly affectionate, a guardian who is loving but not physically affectionate may not work best for your child.)
    • If they’re fairly young, how mature are they?
  4. Consider the practical side of things. For example:
    • How would raising children fit into their lifestyle?
    • If they’re older, do they have the necessary health and stamina? Do they really want to be parents of a young child at their stage in life?
    • Do they have other children? How would your children get along with theirs?
    • How close do they live to other important people in your children’s lives?
    • If a couple divorced, or one person died, would you be comfortable with either of them acting as the sole guardian? If not, you need to specify what you would want to happen in your will.
  5. Trust your gut (at least twice). In the end, trust your instincts. Come to an agreement on your choices with your spouse. Make primary and backup choices.
  6. Select temporary and permanent guardians. Temporary guardians may be appointed if both parents become temporarily unable to care for their children. This could be for a number of reasons. For instance, if both parents are in an automobile accident or are out of the country for a period of time, a temporary guardian could step in and care for their children. Your choice of temporary guardians may differ from your choice of permanent guardians. Also, you should have a local temporary guardian appointed who can care for your children until the permanent ones arrive if they do not live close by. Or, if you’re temporarily disabled, you’ll want a local temporary guardian to keep your children close by until you’re able to care for your children again.
  7. Talk about it. If your children are old enough, talk with them to get their input. Speak with the people you’d like to choose to ensure they’re willing, able and would feel comfortable acting as guardians.

If you know you need to name a guardian, temporary or permanent, I encourage you to begin the process of making that all-important decision. Should you need an estate planning attorney to assist you in creating your will, keep me in mind as I near the mid-January formal opening of my completely virtual legal office. I would be honored to assist you.