One of the most important questions that you must ask yourself when you are making a Last Will and Testament is how to choose a guardian for your children. None of us ever want to think that we won’t be around to care for our children until they are adults. However, sometimes that becomes a reality.
It is not very likely to happen, but you do need to make sure that there is a provision for someone to look after your children in the event of your death. You can do that by making a Will and giving some detailed thought about how to choose a guardian for your children.
A Will allows parents to name the person or people who you would like to appoint as guardian for your children. This is one of the most important provisions in a Last Will and Testament for all those of us who have minor children.
If you do not choose a guardian in your Will, one will be appointed for you by the court. The decision of who looks after your children will be taken out of your hands. To avoid this, it is very important to choose a guardian in your Last Will and Testament.
What are the things that you must think about when you choose a guardian? Here are some questions that you should think about.
When you choose a guardian do you go with family?
Often people automatically choose a family member as a guardian. However, the most important factor is making the best decision for your children. You must think very carefully about your choice of guardian.
Is your childless career woman sister the best choice? Will your brother who travels the world be happy to settle down with an instant family. You must think about the practicality of how a family member would look after your children. Are you family members really the best people to take on the responsibility of looking after your children.They may be great in the role of aunt or uncle, but are they going to want to be an instant parent?
Your own parents may seem like an obvious choice to be a guardian for your children. However, you need to think about how practical this is. How old are your parents? If they are already in their sixties or seventies will they still have energy and good health in ten years’ time? They may have to be looking after teenagers in their advanced years and this could be far from ideal.
Impact on the guardians
Always think how your choice will impact on the lives of the guardians as well as your children. Obviously, their lives will be changed by having to take on the role of parent. If this is going to impact negatively on your children, you should be thinking of alternative choices.
Whilst most people look first to their parents and siblings as a choice for a guardian, it may be that there are other family members who are a better choice. You may have a cousin or other family member who has children of the same age. Do not think narrowly about your choices.
A guardian does not necessarily have to be a family member. Think about whether a friend is an appropriate choice. However, you do need to be cautious about this. It is a great deal of responsibility for someone to take on.
Are the Guardians Willing to Take on the Responsibility?
Bringing up a child is one of the most important things anyone will ever do in their life. It is not a responsibility which should be taken lightly. Therefore, you must be sure that the person you choose as a guardian is willing to take on the responsibility. We all know that it isn’t likely that guardians will have to step in. However, you must always assume that they will when you choose a guardian.
It is no good just thinking the worst will never happen, so it doesn’t matter who you choose. You can’t just choose your brother and then hope he would gladly take on your children. You must make sure that you talk through your choice with the person who you have chosen.
Always ask the person who you want to appoint first. Do not be offended if they refuse and say that they do not want to be appointed as guardian. It is a huge responsibility. They should take time to consider whether they would be willing to take it on.
How Do They Feel About Your Children?
It is very important for children to feel loved and cared for. This is a very simple question. Do the people you are thinking of appointing love your children? Many other things go into making a great parent or guardian, but the fundamental starting point must be love. You must consider how your children would feel if they suddenly had to start living with their guardian.
Are there children of the guardian to be considered? Would the guardians treat your children as their own, or would there always be a feeling of being second place?
Are the guardians naturally giving and loving people? These are difficult, but very important questions that you need to ask yourself when you choose a guardian. No one can take your place, but you must consider exactly how you think your children would fit into a new family setting.
Do the Guardians Views Align with Your Own?
We know you are not going to find someone who perfectly matches every view that you hold. However, some views are more important than others. Certain differences are very difficult to overcome.
One of the most obvious differences may be religious views. If you hold very strong religious views it may be unwise to choose a guardian who does not share those views. Strong views on any subject should ideally align as much as possible when you choose a guardian.
How does the potential guardian feel about education, social issues, discipline and even politics? You will most likely have a very good idea of exactly what values you want your children to grow up with. If the guardian has opposite views about many important subjects it may be that you must start thinking about another choice.
There are many other things which may not be as important. Only you can decide which major issues and views must closely align. Don’t sweat the small stuff. However, make sure that the important things are thought about and that you are happy that the guardian will raise your children as you would want.
Is There Enough Money?
Of course, you shouldn’t choose guardians for your children with sole regard for their financial circumstances. You will be able to make adequate provision for your children in your Will. This is one reason why life insurance for parents is essential.
If the guardian does not have adequate finances to take care of your children, money should be used from the trust that you will have set up in your will. Even if you think that your estate will cover their needs, you should always consider life insurance for the benefit of your children. You should not expect a guardian to take care of your children financially.
When you choose a guardian, you should not be thinking about the size of their house or their wallet. You shouldn’t choose a guardian who you know is financially irresponsible though. You do need to think about that as a factor of whether to appoint someone as a guardian.
Remember that you should appoint someone as a trustee for the money that your children inherit. This does not have to be, and probably shouldn’t be, the guardian. You need to appoint a trustee who has the best interests of your children at heart.
What Would the Practicalities Be?
If you appoint your sister who lives in a studio apartment and works all day, how would she look after your children? Would she completely have to change her lifestyle? You must think about the practical consequences for anyone who you choose as guardian.
What age are the guardians that you have chosen? Are they in their twenties so consequently may not be ready to settle down and take on the responsibility? Are your parents too old to start again and look after your young children?
If the guardians already have children of their own, where would your children fit into the family structure? Consider if the children are already friends and therefore would fit in well in the family unit. Do the guardians have teenagers and your children are toddlers? You need to consider whether the guardians want their child caring years extended by another decade or so.
Can you appoint more than one guardian?
You may decide to appoint a couple as guardians. Divorce and separation are very common. Consequently, you need to think about how you would feel if the couple separated. Would you still be happy if just one of those people were guardians for your children? You need to think this through. If you decide that this would be a problem, you must specify in your will what you would want to happen in this situation. You can say that you would want just one person of your choice should this happen to continue as guardian.
Where do the guardians live? If your children would have to move away for other family and friends, you may not think this is a great choice. If they are having to deal with losing you it may not be a good time to uproot them from a familiar environment. They will need stability and therefore you may need to think carefully if you choose a guardian who lives a distance away.
Are You Looking for Perfection?
Choosing a guardian can be a very problematic and emotional choice. None of us want to consider the possibility that we won’t always be there for our children. Take care not to look for perfection. You won’t find it. You will have to make compromises in who you choose as no one is perfect. Just make sure that you have thought through all the issues and that you find someone who is a good enough choice. If you look for perfection you just won’t find it.
Do You Need More Than One Choice?
What is right for your toddler may very well not be right for your teenager. Children change and their needs change along with them. If you do not want to choose a guardian right now you can put this off by appointing a Guardianship Panel. We think that this should probably be left as a last resort.
A Guardianship Panel is two people or more who will decide who should be a guardian in the event of your death. This leaves the choice to them. The advantage is that they will see the appointment at the time at which it happens and consequently can make decisions based upon the children’s needs at the time. However, it does take the decision of who to appoint out of your hands.
Needs do change. The person who is the right guardian right now, may not be in five or ten years’ time. However, instead of appointing a Guardianship Panel you could make sure that you review your will every year. You should do this as a matter of good practice anyway. Make it an annual event so that you can check that all the provisions are still relevant and up to date. If you need to change a guardian you can do it now.
Using the online Will service at USLegalWills.com you can easily update your Will as circumstances change including the guardianship appointment. You simply login to your account, update the name of the guardian, and then print a new Will for signing. This insures that your guardianship appointment is always up-to-date.
Have I Written Down Why I am Choosing These Guardians?
It is very important that as well as appointing a guardian you document your reasons for choosing them. Sometimes people get into disputes about who is chosen. Suppose that you chose your brother and your sister is so upset that she wants to challenge your choice? Or you appoint a trusted friend, but your parents think they are unsuitable? There could be a dispute over your choice of guardian.
To minimize any possible conflict, it is helpful to write down what made you choose that person as a guardian. This may help to explain your feelings and prevent a legal challenge. I the unlikely event that there is a legal challenge it will be helpful to the court to know what the reasons for your choice of guardian were.
Have You Thought Carefully About Who to Appoint as Trustees?
You will want to have a trust in your Will. This enables you to make provision for your children before and after they reach adulthood. It is important that you appoint trustees who you will think have their best interests at heart. Make sure that they know your wishes. Talk with the trustees. Document your wishes about how they should use the money.
Trusts for minor beneficiaries are included as a standard part of the Will service at USLegalWills.com.
Have You Spoken to Everyone About Your Choice of Guardian?
If your children are old enough to make their feelings known, you should always talk this through with them. They are the ones who would be having to live with and be parented by the person or people who you choose as a guardian. They have a right to be listened to and have an input.
You should talk with all family members about your choice. This can help prevent difficulties in the future. Talk with them more about your parenting philosophy and your wishes for how you would like them to raise your children.
We know that this is one of the most difficult decisions that you will make. However, you must give very careful consideration of how to choose a guardian. A guardian will probably never have to take over, but if they do you need to have made the right choice.
Many people procrastinate when it comes to Will writing. One of the most common reason for not completing a Will is uncertainty over the guardianship appointment. But by avoiding the issue, you pass the decision onto a courtroom judge who only has the most superficial knowledge of your family and loved ones. They will make the best appointment they can, but may not be your first choice.
Write a Will today and make sure that your guardianship appointment is your choice.
Tim Hewson is one of the founders of USLegalWills.com.
He has over 20 years of experience helping people to write their Will and other estate planning documents. He has been interviewed by many of the major news media outlets, and has contributed to articles in The New York Times, NY Metro Parents, U.S. News & World Report, and other leading publications. He has also contributed to a number of financial planning books.
Throughout his career, Tim has written extensively on the subject of Will writing and estate planning.
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