coryBy Cory Howes

Almost everyone knows that a key part of estate planning for parents of minor children involves selecting a guardian in the event that both parents die before their children reach adulthood. While the likelihood of this event actually happening is slim, it does occur—a recent plane crash took the lives of three married couples, leaving behind 11 surviving children.

Thus, the consequences of not naming a guardian may be quite great. If the parents die without a will, a judge—someone who does not know the parents, children, or their relatives—must make a life-changing decision without knowing the preferences of the deceased parents. Practically anyone can be considered for guardianship, and the judge will select a person whom he or she deems appropriate for the duty. On the contrary, if the parents die with a will, judges will typically go along with the parents’ choice of guardian.

There are many factors you should consider when selecting a guardian for your children in the event of your death.

  • Perhaps most important for most people is selecting guardians whose parenting styles, values, and religious beliefs align with their own.
  • You should also consider location. Guardians who live close by may be able to maintain stability in the form of keeping your children in the same school, with the same friends, while an out-of-town relative would mean lots of changes for your kids.
  • Think about how close and comfortable your children are with different relatives. This factor will be hugely important as they attach in a different way, with a higher level of trust as they had with you as their parents.
  • You should also factor in your child’s age and the ages of the candidates for guardianship. While grandparents may have the time, they may not have the energy to keep up with a toddler or teenager. Here’s another consideration: an older guardian may become ill and/or even die before the child is grown, creating a subsequent guardianship situation. Alternatively, a younger guardian, especially an adult sibling, may be concentrating on completing a college degree or building a career. If the sibling child is older and more mature, he or she should have some input into this decision.
  • Are the candidates prepared to take on the added responsibility of caring for your children? Sometimes, single people may resent suddenly sharing their home, while others with a houseful of children may not want more around. In each circumstance though, many people will welcome your child into their home.
  • Ask the top candidates if they would be willing to serve, and name at least one alternate in case the first choice becomes unable to serve.

You should take great care in not placing undue financial burden on your selected guardian, and this doesn’t necessarily mean you should unduly factor in a candidate’s lack of finances. You can provide enough money (from assets and/or life insurance) to provide for the child, so that your selected guardian can focus on their wellbeing. Many parents, in fact, earmark funds to help guardians buy larger cars, add on to existing homes, or purchase a new residence if necessary.

You may also want to name another person to handle your children’s finances. The personal named as guardian does not necessarily have to be the same person who handles the property left to your minor children. However, if the same person is capable of both guardianship and good financial stewardship, you can have the same person fill both roles.

Naming a guardian can be a difficult decision for many parents, but you need to be mindful that this person will probably not raise your child—the odds are simply too great that at least one parent will survive until the child is grown. By naming a guardian, however, you’re taking responsibility for your children and planning ahead for their wellbeing, even in an unlikely situation. Finally, as parents you must realize that no one else will be the perfect parent for your child. Be prepared mentally and emotionally to make compromises in some areas of consideration. Remember this: you can always change your mind; many parents end up changing their guardianship designation during the annual review process for estate planning, as their children grow and their needs evolve.

For more answers to your questions about estate planning and ensuring that your children have proper care in the event of your death, please email me at the Forrest Firm today.