A Word or Two about Guardianship

Guardianship“Planning for death is a morbid thing to do,” admits Kelli Gardner, an estate attorney in Portsmouth. “People don’t like to deal with unpleasant things.” But if dying isn’t bad enough, parents of young children must face the choice of deciding who will replace them and take over the day-to-day care of their children if the unlikely occurs. Choosing a guardian is one of the toughest estate planning choices people have to make. “It’s the reason why many don’t have an estate,” says Michelle Arruda, an estate lawyer in Concord. For some “it’s just not an obvious choice [and others] just can’t get it done.”

New Hampshire Magazine’s May 2015 issue contains an article titled “Don't put off writing down your last words.” The article admits that the likelihood of two people who have at least one child under the age of 18 dying simultaneously is quite low. Even so, for many young parents death seems like a long ways away. Parents of all ages should have their affairs in order—including guardianship.

If you just can’t decide on a guardian, you should still move ahead with your estate planning. It is better to have this issue undecided than to die without a will. That said, the article suggests that it’s a good idea to nominate two people. That way you have one to be the guardian of the children and a second to be a trustee of the funds dedicated to their care. 

Some parents feel that they must choose family members, but in many instances a close friend will work better than family. Think about close friends with children at about the same age as yours. Here are a few other things to ponder about selecting a guardian:

Does your guardian have a similar parenting philosophy, religious, and personal values?

Do they live close to you?

Do they have children, and how will your child(ren) fit in that situation?

Is the household stable?

Is age of the guardian an issue?

The article also advises not to exclude someone because they aren’t well off. You can create a trust that is funded through assets or life insurance to ensure the day-to-day care, health care needs, and the college expenses of your children. Talk to a qualified estate planning attorney about setting up this type of trust and reviewing your estate plan.

Finally, when you have decided on a guardian, review your plans and expectations with them (including the trust created by the attorney) and give them some time to think about assuming this role.

Reference: New Hampshire Magazine (May 2015)“Don't put off writing down your last words”

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