The most critical part of estate planning is choosing legal guardians for your young children. Children under the age of 18 are considered minors. If you and your spouse/partner were to die before they reach the age of majority, a court appoints a guardian for your children. How does a court know who will be the best guardian? They consult your will. If you do not have a will, the court will make the decision for you. And it may not be who you want. To ensure your children are cared for by the best possible candidate, you need to create a will.
Who should I choose as my children’s legal guardian?
Nobody is perfect and can’t be a better parent than you. But the next best thing is choosing someone who understands your children and raises them as you would. You know your family best. Who better than you to make that decision? You. Not a court.
If you have a candidate that is a wonderful caregiver but not great with money, you can appoint a trustee to handle the money for your children’s care.
Choose a guardian who is:
- responsible, and
Ask them questions about how they would raise your children. Will they follow your education wishes, family values, and religious preferences? Will they keep your children in close contact with other family members? Are they financially, physically, and emotionally capable of caring for your children?
In addition to naming a guardian, you will need to determine a backup guardian. If your first choice is unable to serve, the court would consult who you designated as a second choice.
What if my spouse/partner and I can’t agree when we create a will?
Many parents don’t even get started on estate planning because they can’t agree on guardians. It’s common to have a difference of opinion. You may want your mother to be the guardian and your spouse/partner thinks his or her sister may be better.
If there isn’t a clear choice between you, make a list of all the pros and cons of each of your candidates. Talk to each of your candidates. You may be surprised that they may have reasons not to do it or don’t feel comfortable with the responsibility.
If you still can’t agree, talk to an estate planning attorney. They ask strategic questions that will guide your choice.
ACTION PLAN TO CHOOSE A LEGAL GUARDIAN
- Make a list of possible candidates
- List pros and cons of each candidate
- Talk to prospective candidates
- Determine who the best choice as the primary guardian
- Determine an alternate guardian
- Consult an estate planning attorney and put it in writing
As a parent, you know life is unpredictable. Take the important steps to secure your family’s future. Plan for someone to take care of your children if you can’t.
Author: Catherine Hodder, Esq. is an estate planning attorney turned author. Her book, “Estate Planning for the Sandwich Generation: How to Help Your Parents and Protect Your Kids” debuted as a #1 Amazon bestseller.