If you are a parent with minor children, one of the most important aspects of your estate plan will be your chosen guardian for your children. This decision is not one to make lightly, and you also need to ensure it is legally set up so that the chosen person gets custody of your children if you die.
This guide will outline the steps you need to take to declaring a guardian for your kids in case you die, so you can have confidence that your estate plan provides the right protections.
Consider Your Goals for a Guardian
Before choosing a legal guardian for your children, consider your goals for your child’s future. Ask questions like these:
- Do I want my child to live with someone who shares my religious beliefs or culture?
- Do I want my children to be able to continue living in their community, or am I fine if they move to relocate?
- Does my chosen guardian have the energy to take care of a small child?
- Can my chosen guardian handle the responsibility of caring for my children with their own family responsibilities?
- How does their family life align with what I picture for my children?
- Does the guardian have children of their own that might resent my children being added to the home?
- Will the guardian be able to keep the children in contact with their grandparents and other family members?
The answers to questions like these will help you narrow down your options. Take your time here, and think about all of the implications of the choice. For instance, if you are comfortable with your sibling, but not their spouse, you may want to find a different choice.
Keep Age and Health in Mind
While your parents may be the first people that come to mind as you think about potential guardians, make sure they are healthy and well enough to take on the role. If your children are babies or toddlers, an elderly adult may not be able to care for them. As you consider all of the options for your child’s guardian, these physical limitations should be part of the plan.
Make a List, Then Narrow It Down
After considering age and health as well as the answers to the above questions, make a short list of available candidates. Having a list with more than one candidate is helpful because you can have someone to fall back on if your first choice does not work out.
Once you have your list, decide which candidate seems to be the best fit for all of your goals. Remember, no guardian will be the same as if you remain alive and continue parenting your children, but you should be able to look at your list and tell which candidate is the best choice for this present moment in time.
Ask the Person if They Are Willing
Once you know who you want to have as the legal guardian for your children, ask them if they are willing to take on this role. Make sure they know all that you expect from a guardian, including what financial protections you will have in place to ensure they can care for your child. Make sure the person you choose is aware of the fact that you are naming them and is able to take that responsibility happily.
When you have this conversation, make sure you outline what your goals are for your children, and what responsibilities the role of guardian will entail. Do not choose a guardian who seems hesitant to take on this role, because your children’s future well-being is at stake.
Make the Choice Official in a Last Will and Testament
Once you have their verbal agreement that they are willing to be the child’s guardian, make the decision a part of your estate plan by including it in your Last Will and Testament. Simply asking them verbally for their consent is not sufficient. If you pass away, the courts want to see official documentation stating your choice for guardian, or they may make a choice that is against what you want for your children.
To create a legal and effective will, make an appointment with a wills and estates attorney. Your attorney will help you craft the right paperwork to ensure your choice for your child’s guardian is clear and legal. At a bare minimum, make sure you have a will that indicates the guardian you choose. If possible, have a will for each parent that names the same guardian with the same wording, so the courts do not have any questions about who you have chosen.
Add Financial Protection
You do not want your children to create a financial burden for the person you choose as a guardian. One way to safeguard your child’s future is with life insurance and a structured estate plan. A good life insurance policy and financial plan will give the guardian funds to use for your child’s education and other potential costs they must shoulder when they become the guardian, and these financial plans ensure your child will not suffer financially if you are gone. You can also structure your Will so that the guardian can only access those funds for your child’s care, or so that some of the funds remain in a trust until your child comes of age. This type of plan will further protect your child financially in the future.
Give Care Instructions
If you have specific goals for your children that you want the guardian to embrace, such as wanting your child to have a college education, provide those instructions in your estate plan. Then, even if you die and your child has to go into the care of your friend or family member, you can have confidence that the goals you set will be part of their future as much as possible. If you choose a caring and supportive guardian, you can be confident that they will embrace the goals you have set.
Know That You Can Make Changes
As your life progresses and your children get older, your choice for guardian may change. You may face a situation where the chosen guardian is no longer able or willing, or you may find that your older children could live safely and comfortably with a grandparent who may not have been an appropriate guardian when they were babies.
Your Last Will and Testament is something you can easily update to accommodate these types of life changes. Choose the guardian that is the most logical choice for your current stage in life, but make changes later if you need to.
Choosing a Guardian Is Challenging, but Essential
Declaring a guardian for your children who will take responsibility for them in case you die is not an easy task. However, it is responsible parenting.
Choosing this person can be emotionally challenging because no parent wants to think about someone else raising their children. Yet your children are relying on you to provide this vital protection. If you do not name a guardian in your will, then your children’s care will land in the hands of the court system that does not know your goals and dreams for those children. For that reason, all parents need to ensure that their estate plan includes a name guardian for their children.