We know it’s hard. Thinking about someone else raising your children stops us all in our tracks. It feels crushing and too horrific to consider. But you must. If you don’t, a stranger will determine who raises your children if something happens to you – your child’s guardian could be a relative you despise or even a stranger you’ve never met. No one will ever be you or parent exactly like you, but there is someone who you would probably prefer provide for your children’s general welfare, education, and medical needs. If you have minor children, you really must name a guardian.
Consequences of Refusing to Name a Guardian
Parents with minor children need to name someone to raise them (a guardian) in the event both parents should die before the child becomes an adult. While the likelihood of that actually happening is slim, the consequences of not choosing a guardian are more than intense. If no guardian is named in your will, a judge who didn’t know you will decide who will raise your child. Anyone can ask to be considered, and the judge will select the person she deems most appropriate. The possibilities include a stranger who does not know you, your child, or your relatives and friends. Families tend to fight over children, especially if there’s money involved, and worse, no one may be willing to take your child. If that happens, the judge may have toplace your child in foster care while figuring out a more permanent choice. On the other hand, if you name a guardian, the judge will likely support your choice.
How to Choose a Guardian
Your child’s guardian can be a relative or friend. Here are factors our clients have considered when selecting guardians (and back up guardians).
- How well the child and potential guardian know and enjoy each other
- Parenting style, moral values, educational level, health practices, religious/spiritual beliefs
- Location — if the guardian lives far away, your child would have to move from a familiar school, friends, and neighborhood
- The child’s age and the age and health of the guardian-candidates (e.g., grandparents may have the time, but they may not have the energy to keep up with a toddler or teenager. An older guardian may become ill or even die before the child is grown, so there would be a double loss. A younger guardian, especially a sibling, may be concentrating on finishing college or starting a career)
- Emotional preparedness: (e.g., someone who is single or who doesn’t want children may resent having to care for your children. Someone with a houseful of their own children may or may not want more around.)
Serving as guardian and raising your child is a big deal; don’t spring such a responsibility on anyone. Ask your top candidates if they would be willing to serve, and name at least one alternate in case the first choice becomes unable to serve. Also, revisit your choice often. The person who made sense when your children were 4 and 2 years old might not make sense not that they’re 16 and 14 years old.
Who’s in Charge of the Money
Raising your child should not be a financial burden for the guardian, and a candidate’s lack of finances should not be the deciding factor. You will need to provide enough money (from assets or life insurance) to provide for your child. Some parents also earmark funds to help the guardian buy a larger car or add onto their existing home, so there’s plenty of room for extra children.
Factors to consider:
- Naming a separate person to handle this money can be a good idea. That person would be a guardian of the estate or a trustee, but not guardian of the children.
- However, having the same person raise the child and handle the money can make things simpler because the guardian would not have to ask someone else for money.
- But the best person to raise the child may not be the best person to handle the money and it may be tempting for them to use this money for their own purposes.
Compromise Will Likely be Necessary
The choice of who to name a guardian is a difficult decision for most parents. Keep in mind that this person will probably not raise your child because odds are that at least one parent will survive until the child is grown. If you name a guardian, however, you are being responsible and planning ahead for an unlikely, yet possible, situation. It’s important to realize that no one besides you will be the perfect parent for your child, so typically this means making compromises in some areas. Select the person you think will muddle through the best.
Let’s Continue this Conversation
We know it’s not easy, but don’t let that stop you. We’re happy to talk this through with you and legally document your wishes. Know that you can change your mind and select a different guardian anytime you’d like. The chances of needing the guardian named in your will is slim, but you’re a parent and your job is to provide for and protect your children, so let’s do this together. Call our office now for an appointment and we’ll get your children protected.