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GuardianOur children are the most important part of our lives.  We put so much effort into raising them and instilling the values and morals that are important to us and that will help them be successful in life.  Our children are so dependent upon us as parents.  Even though they become more independent as they get older, until they are 18, they still legally need a parent.  While the chances are small, it is possible that something could happen to both parents before their children turn 18.  It is a wise decision then for parents to name a trusted and loved adult to be the guardian of their children if something happened to them. 

What if you don’t have a Guardian?

What will happen if you do not name a guardian for your children in the event of your passing?  In any situation, a judge will make the final decision of who the guardian is.  However, if you name a guardian, the judge knows of your preferences and wishes, which makes it highly likely that the judge will chose that person.  If, however, you do not name a guardian, the judge has to make their best effort to choose who they think will be best.  Judges are magnificent people and professionals.  However, they only see a snapshot of your family members and your family dynamic.  It is incredibly difficult to make sure that the judge is making the decision that you would have wanted.  The judge’s decision of guardian has long-lasting and profound effects, and it is possible that they could make the wrong decision without your input.  Therefore, you want to name a guardian in your will so that the judge can know your wishes, and the chances are greater that the judge will comply with your wishes.

Choosing a Guardian

The first pre-requisite for you to name a guardian is that you trust them.  The guardian does not have to be a relative; it can be whomever you want.  So, you should think through the values that are important to you to help you decide on your guardian.  Some possible criteria are below:

  • What are the potential guardians’ parenting style, value, and religious beliefs?  Many parents want guardians who closely aligns with them on these matters.  These are often the primary considerations in making guardian decision.
  • Where do the potential guardians live?  Many parents may not want to uproot their children by making them move long distances and begin life in a completely different location.
  • Do your children like the potential guardian?  Do they get along?  Would they have a good relationship moving forward?
  • How old are your children, and what is the age of your potential guardians?  If you are thinking about grandparents, will they have the energy to raise young children?  Is there a possibility that an older guardian will pass away before your children turn 18?  Is your potential guardian still in college or just starting a career?  If your children are older and more mature, perhaps you should include them in this decision-making process.
  • What are the potential guardians’ situation?  Can they handle the added responsibility?  For example, a single adult may not want to become the guardian of young children, or a couple with kids may or may want appreciate the additions to their household.  These are conversations that you should have with your potential guardians.
  • You should ask your preferred potential guardian if they are willing to serve before you formally name them.  You should also have at least one alternate guardian in case the primary guardian is unable to serve for any reasons.

Financial Considerations

You surely would not want your child to be a financial burden on the guardian, and you should not look at a possible guardian’s financial situation as a “deal-breaker.”  Rather, you can provide money to raise your children in the form of assets or life insurance, or prepare some funds to help the guardian buy a bigger car or build an addition to their home if they need it.  For these funds, you do not have to give them directly to the guardian, but there are a few strategies that will help direct the use of those funds and make sure they are used properly.

The most straight-forward of these strategies is to have another individual handle the money.  While it is simpler to have the guardian also control the money, you named the guardian because of their ability to raise your children, not necessarily because of how well they budget their money.  You may have another individual in mind who is excellent with money.  Having these two people work together to raise your children creates some checks and balances and further ensures that your finances are used just to help your children.  You should try to make sure that your guardian and whomever administers the finances can get along well.

Final Thoughts

Deciding on who to name as the guardian of your children is not an easy decision for most people.  Fortunately, it is incredibly unlikely that the guardian will ever have to step in, since chances are that either you or your spouse will survive until your child becomes an adult.  That does not mean, however, that naming a guardian is a bad idea or a waste of time.  Rather, it is the responsible thing to do because you are planning for a possible future, no matter how unlikely.

As you work on deciding who will raise your children, please realize and remember that no one will probably raise your children exactly the same way as you.  You will probably have to make some compromises on some of your factors.  Just find the individual that you are most comfortable with and comes nearest to your parenting style and priorities.

Finally, please remember that as long as your are alive and capable, you can change your mind.  Take the time to review your guardian decision as your child grows and your named guardian’s situation evolves.  You may decide that you feel more comfortable with someone else.  That is ok.  Contact your estate planning attorney to make that change.  Naming a guardian is just like the rest of your estate plan: you want it to be able to last forever, but it requires reviews and maintenance to keep it aligned with what is important to you.