When I ask my clients what is driving them to come see me for estate planning, I usually get the same answer; we want to make sure that our family is taken care if something ever goes wrong. It’s a simple enough objective, but all too often clients are only thinking in terms of financial help for their family. One of the most important things a parent should include in a Will has nothing to do with money, it is deciding who would be their preferred choice of guardian for their minor child(ren) in the event of the parent’s death.
A guardian is a Court appointed person who can legally care for a child who has lost both of their biological or adopted parents. A guardian is appointed only by a Judge after judicial proceedings. During that proceeding the Judge will consider evidence to decide who is the best person to care for that child now that the parents are deceased. An overwhelming piece of evidence in that decision would be the deceased parent’s choice of guardian, which is commonly listed in their Will. Here are some factors to consider when trying to decide who would be a good choice of guardian for your child(ren):
- Have that discussion. No matter who you ultimately decide would be a good choice of guardian for your child(ren), be sure to have a talk with that person to make sure this is a responsibility they are prepared to take on. Serving as a guardian for a child is an awesome responsibility, make sure your guardian is willing to assume this responsibility before making your choice.
- Plan for the immediate future, not forever. Remember, you can always revise your Will in order to change your list of preferred guardians over time. Therefore, choose guardians who would best serve your child(ren) now, and in the next few years. The right choice for a toddler may not be the right choice for a teenager.
- Have a back-up plan. Never just list one choice for guardian of your child(ren). It is important to always list at least one back-up choice. Your first choice may not be able to serve for many reasons, so always be sure to include a second or third choice.
- What if I don’t think anyone in my family is the right fit? Your preferred choice of guardian for your children does not have to be a family member. You can choose anyone who you feel would be best suited to serve in that capacity. When making the decision as to who should serve as a guardian the Court simply makes that decision based upon what is in the best interest of the child. The Court is not restricted to only consider family members.
Remember, don’t get caught up in just focusing on financial oversight. Engage in a thoughtful analysis of what the real world implications would look like if your guardian were doing your parenting. From daily life to finances, and everything between. By doing so, you will ensure your children are best cared for if the unimaginable would ever occur.