The “Dear Prudence” advice column on Slate recently featured a letter that was, at once, both heartbreaking and uplifting from someone who had been given guardianship over the young children of close friends who had died in a car accident. The new guardian was seeking “Prudie’s” advice on how to explain death to young children, and how to address potential differences in the religious outlook between the new guardians and the deceased parents. The letter dramatically illustrates the difficult issues surrounding the selection of guardians, and the importance of making this selection in a thoughtful way. Some questions that might be part of the process:

  • Is the person that I am considering naming as my children’s’ guardian stably employed and in a stable relationship?
  • Does this person share my religious beliefs, or is he or she willing and able to teach my religious beliefs to my children?
  • Does this person live near me, or is leaving my children with this person going to require them to be uprooted from their entire social support system?
  • If this person is not a member of my family (or even if he or she is), is he or she going to be willing and able to help my children maintain relationships with the rest of my family?
  • Does this person have room in his or her house for my children, and if not, is he or she willing to move?
  • Am I going to be able to leave this person a sufficient amount of money to raise my children until they are at least 18, and if not, is he or she capable of overcoming the shortfall?
  • If your child has special needs, does this person have the patience and knowledge to deal with that situation?

This list could likely could go on much longer, and in all likelihood, you are not going to be able to find anyone who meets all of your criteria. The difficulty of making this decision causes many people to procrastinate. If you don’t make the decision, however, and disaster strikes, the decision is going to have to be made by someone entirely unfamiliar with you and your family.

One other thing to note is that this decision should probably be revisited frequently. Friendships fade. People get divorced. They move. They develop health problems. Again, the list can go on. This is not a “set and forget” decision. You might be surprised, however, at the sense of relief that you feel once you do thoughtfully work your way through this decision and made the best possible choice for your children.