We know it’s hard. Thinking about someone else raising your children stops us all in our tracks. It feels crushing and too horrific to consider. But you must. If you don’t, a stranger will determine who raises your children if something happens to you—your child’s guardian could be a relative you despise or even a stranger you’ve never met.
Due to the importance of choosing an appropriate Guardian, and our experience seeing firsthand the difficulties people go through determining who to name—we have created a step-by-step Guide: How To Choose Your Child’s Guardian. To obtain your free copy, click here.
No one will ever be you or parent exactly like you, but there is someone who could muddle through and provide for your children’s general welfare, education, and medical needs. Parents with minor children need to name someone to raise them (a guardian) in the event both parents should die before the child becomes an adult. While the likelihood of that happening is slim, the consequences of not naming a guardian are more than intense.
If no guardian is named in your will, a judge—a stranger who does not know you, your child, or your relatives and friends - will decide who will raise your child. Anyone can ask to be considered, and the judge will select the person she deems most appropriate. Families tend to fight over children, especially if there’s money involved - and worse - no one may be willing to take your child; if that happens, the judge will place your child in foster care. On the other hand, if you name a guardian, the judge will likely support your choice.
How to Choose a Guardian:
Your child’s guardian can be a relative or friend. Here are factors our clients have considered when selecting guardians (and back up guardians).
How well the child and potential guardian know and enjoy each other
Parenting style, moral values, educational level, health practices, religious/spiritual beliefs
Location - if the guardian lives far away, your child would have to move from a familiar school, friends, and neighborhood
The child’s age and the age and health of the guardian-candidates:
Grandparents may have the time, and they may or may not have the energy to keep up with a toddler or teenager
An older guardian may become ill and/or even die before the child is grown, so there would be a double loss
A younger guardian, especially a sibling, may be concentrating on finishing college or starting a career.
5. Emotional Preparedness:
a. Someone who is single or who doesn't want children may resent having to care for your children.
b. Someone with a houseful of their own children may or may not want more around.
Serving as guardian and raising your child is a big deal; don’t spring such a responsibility on anyone. Ask your top candidates if they would be willing to serve, and name at least one alternate in case the first choice becomes unable to serve.
Who’s in Charge of the Money?
Raising your child should not be a financial burden for the guardian, and a candidate’s lack of finances should not be the deciding factor. You will need to provide enough money (from assets and/or life insurance) to provide for your child. Some parents also earmark funds to help the guardian buy a larger car or add onto their existing home, so there’s plenty of room for extra children.
Factors to consider:
1. Naming a seperate person to handle this money can be a good idea. That person would be a guardian of the estate or a trustee, but not guardian of the children.
2. However, having the same person raise the child and handle the money can make things simpler because the guardian would not have to ask someone for the money.
3. But the best person to raise the child may not be the best person to handle the money and it may be tempting for them to use this money for their own purposes.
Compromise Will Likely be Necessary:
Naming a guardian is a difficult decision for most parents. Keep in mind that this person will probably not raise your child because odds are that at least one parent will survive until the child is grown. By naming a guardian, however, you are being responsible and planning for a bad—but avoidable—situation arises. It’s important to realize that no one besides you will be the perfect parent for your child, so typically this means making compromises in some areas. Select the person you think will muddle through the best.
Let’s Continue this Conversation:
We know it’s not easy, but don’t let that stop you. We’re happy to talk this through with you and legally document your wishes. Know that you can change your mind and select a different guardian anytime you’d like. You are a parent and your job is to provide for and protect your children, so let’s do this—together. To get started, download your free copy of our Guide: Choosing Your Child’s Guardian. Next, contact our office to schedule your free consultation and we’ll get your children protected.
If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.