You put so much thought into caring for your children - finding the best doctors, the healthiest foods, and the schools that best suit their personalities. But if you are like many parents with young children, you have not thought about what would happen if you were unable to care for your children. Who would step in and make sure your children are cared for, loved, and raised if you were unable to? Picking a guardian to care for your children if something were to happen to you is one of the toughest decisions you can make, but it is also one of the most important. So what are some factors to consider when selecting a guardian, and what happens if you do not have a guardian selected and a need arises?
Tips for selecting a guardian:
Emotional Stability: Perhaps the most important quality parents look for in a guardian for their children is the guardian’s capacity to love their children. Does the guardian have the time and energy to give your children what they need? Are there special circumstances in the guardian’s life that would make guardianship a larger burden than normal? Of course, becoming a guardian would be a major adjustment in anyone’s life, but ideally, once the dust settles, your children would be incorporated into the guardian’s immediate family as much as possible.
Willingness to Act as Guardian: It is imperative that you discuss with the guardian his/her willingness to act as guardian. Simply listing your choice in your will is not enough to ensure that your children will end up in the household you request. The guardian must also accept the appointment.
Values and Religion: Consider family members or friends who have a similar value system to you. Do you want your children raised with certain values, traditions, or religion? If so, seek out those people who already share these traits with your family. If there is no one who is a good match, you may also want to consider people who are open to your religious or value preferences, and would be willing to encourage your child in those areas.
Access to other Family Members: Location is another factor to consider. Is your choice of guardian near other family members with whom you would like your children to stay in close contact? Is travel a possibility for this guardian? Alternatively, if there are influences you would prefer your child to be kept from, would your choice of guardian respect your preference?
Financial Stability: Does your choice of guardian have the financial means to take on the responsibility of caring for other children? The assets from your estate may be able to provide financial support. This office is also happy to help you purchase a life insurance policy that would help cover expenses.
One Person versus a Couple: When choosing a guardian, many people like to choose a couple to act as co-guardians. While this is certainly understandable, and in many cases good for family dynamics, we have to think about what happens if the co-guardians should split up or one of the guardians passes away. Would you be comfortable with either co-guardian acting separately? If not, it might be best to only choose one person as the guardian instead of the couple as co-guardians. There are other alternatives available such as putting contingencies in place if certain events occur - please contact this office to discuss.
What happens if you do not select a guardian:
While it is common, and understandable, to struggle with the guardianship decision, it is vitally important that you do so. The truth of the matter is that if a guardian for your children is needed, and you have not made your preferences known in a legally-binding manner, the decision will be left to the courts. This means that any interested person may petition the court for guardianship. The judge will ultimately make the decision based upon what is in the best interest for your children.
There is rarely a perfect choice for a guardian for your children, and it is very unlikely that the guardian will need to step in. Keep in mind that changes can be made to your guardianship selection if circumstances change in the future. Once you have made this important decision, hopefully you will have the peace of mind knowing that your children will be well cared for in the unlikely event you are unable to do so.