What’s arguably the most common reason people put off estate planning? It’s naming a guardian for their minor children. No doubt this is a difficult decision for parents to make. However, if you and your spouse don’t name a guardian for your minor children and you both die unexpectedly, a court will name one.
Begin by developing a list of potential candidates. Immediate family members are obvious choices, but don’t limit yourself. Extended family members, friends, teachers and childcare providers may also be good choices.
After compiling your initial list of candidates:
Identify the values that are important to you and your spouse. These may include religious and moral beliefs, parenting philosophy, educational values, and social values. Bear in mind that you’re not likely to find a perfect match, so you’ll need to prioritize your values.
List the intangibles. It’s important to consider potential guardians’ intangible qualities, such as their personalities and whether they’d be a good “fit” for your children.
Take the potential guardian’s age into consideration. If your children are very young, a grandparent or other older person may not have the energy to keep up with them. Choosing a younger guardian also reduces the risk that your kids will go through the trauma of losing another loved one.
Be practical. Consider factors such as where potential guardians live, whether they have other children and if their homes are large enough to accommodate your kids. Ideally, your estate will include sufficient assets to provide your children with everything they need. But if it doesn’t, will the guardian have the resources to support them properly?
Once you narrow your list to a primary choice and one or two alternates, discuss your plans with them. You can’t force someone to act as your children’s guardian, so it’s critical to talk with all candidates to make sure they understand what’s expected of them and are willing to take on the responsibilities. If your children are mature enough, you may want to get their input as well.
Reaching a final decision
Keep in mind that your choice of guardian isn’t binding. In appointing a guardian, a court’s sole concern is the child’s best interest. But it’ll generally defer to your wishes unless it deems the person you choose to be unfit. To help ensure that your nominee is accepted, write a letter explaining the reasons for your choice. Contact us with any questions.