The “Dear Prudence” advice column on Slate recently featured a letter that was, at once, both heartbreaking and uplifting. The letter writer had recently been given guardianship over the young children of close friends who had died in a car accident. The new guardian was seeking 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.
Happily in this situation, the new guardians are kind and considerate people who truly love their new children and want what’s best for them. Their concerns illustrate that they are not only interested in helping guide their friends’ kids through this difficult transition, but are also committed to honoring what the biological parents would have wanted them to do. They represent the best of what we hope for when we choose guardians: trustworthy people who want to preserve our values as they raise our kids with love.
If you have picked a guardian, or are considering naming one, the following questions should clarify your options:
- Is the guardian stably employed and in a stable relationship?
- Does the guardian share my religious beliefs, or is he or she willing and able to teach my religious beliefs to my children?
- Are my kids emotionally invested in their community, or can I choose someone who lives far away?
- How important is it to me that my children are raised by a biological relative?
- If the guardian 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 their family?
- Does the guardian 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 the guardian 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 the guardian have the patience, knowledge, and resources 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 choosing a guardian 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.
Don’t forget! This decision needs to be revisited frequently. Friendships fade. People get divorced or move. People age and 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 of guardian for your children.
If you are struggling with this big decision, the McKenzie Firm’s Guardianship Guide may be of help. It will ask you a series of questions designed to help you evaluate your priorities and rank each potential guardian based on his or her character and suitability.
If this process seems to complex, or if it uncovers financial practicalities that need to be addressed, come see us! We provide a professional, warm, and committed atmosphere in which to work out these difficult decisions and leave you with peace of mind. You can contact us through our website, or give us a call directly at 303-578-2745.