No parent likes to think about the possibility of dying while their children are still young. Regardless of how uncomfortable the issue may be, it’s important to name someone to care for your minor children if you pass away. As an Orange County will and trust lawyer, I can tell you that choosing a guardian is crucial as it keeps this decision from falling into the hands of the court.
For some parents, the decision is fairly simple. They may want to leave that responsibility to their spouse or partner or the child’s grandparents. Keep in mind, however, that an aging parent’s ability to care for young children may change over the years. There’s also the possibility that a partner or spouse could potentially pass away at the same time, particularly in the event of a car accident. Having a secondary choice for guardian of your children is important in order to cover situations like this.
When deciding on who to name as your child’s guardian, there are several key factors to consider. Remember that whoever you choose will be responsible for your child’s care, including making decisions about their health and their education, as well as managing their financial affairs.
If the person you are considering for a guardian is also a parent, think about their parenting style and how it compares to your own. Consider their opinions on rules, discipline, and involvement in activities. Are they stricter or more lenient? If they don’t already have kids of their own, thinking about how they were raised can give you an idea of what kind of parent they would be.
Because your child’s guardian may also be in control of their finances, including any inheritance or benefits your child will receive, you’ll want to choose a guardian who is able to effectively manage their money. If you have any concerns about the individual’s ability to keep finances under control, consider setting up a trust and choosing someone else to manage that trust for your children.
Religion, Politics, and Morals
The person you choose as your child’s guardian could have a major effect on your child’s belief system, including religion and politics. How much do you know about this person’s personal beliefs? How strongly do they feel about religion or politics? What about important moral issues? Even if their beliefs aren’t completely aligned with your own, you’ll want to consider someone whose beliefs are at least close to yours.
Think about the potential guardian’s family situation and how that could change over the years. If the person is single and childless, would they be able to change their lifestyle to raise your children? What happens if or when they marry and have children of their own? If they are married, is the marriage stable or is divorce a possibility? If they already have kids, how close in age are they to your own children?
That begs a larger question of whether your guardians are equipped to take-on caring for additional children. We discuss financial ramifications below, but are they going to be able to handle the extra work or handle raising your children in the wake of the sadness and trauma of your death? Sometimes we assume that people (especially family) will just “rise to the occasion” (because we think we would, too), but the emotional fortitude to do so might be lacking when the time comes. Additionally, if your guardians are your parents, will they be healthy and energetic enough to raise your children? What happens if they get sick or something happens to them?
Lastly, any changes to the guardian’s family situation, whether it’s a divorce or the addition of another child, will have an effect on your child.
Willingness to Take on the Role
One of the most important factors in selecting someone to act as your child’s guardian is whether or not they are willing to take on the responsibility. You don’t want to name someone as the guardian of your children if it’s not a duty they are fully willing and able to fulfill. Talk it over with them and make sure that they are committed. Encourage them to be completely honest with you without being worried about hurting your feelings if they decline. Otherwise, your children’s fate could be up to a judge and they could end up caught in a custody battle.
One factor we see many parents consider is the financial stability and capability of potential guardians to take on the cost of raising more children. While this certainly is something to think about, it might not be the prime reason to choose or bypass someone as a guardian. Remember, your other assets, will be used to raise and care for your children. Theoretically, there should be nothing or very little for your guardians to pay for out-of-pocket to support your children financially. That way you would not have to worry that becoming a guardian for your children would be a financial drain or burden to those you are considering to be guardians.
That is why it is a good idea for parents to incorporate life insurance planning with your guardianship planning. Talk to a financial advisor, insurance agent, or estate planning lawyer about how much life insurance is appropriate for you and your family. Many parents of minor children have not had enough time to generate large savings or tremendous assets to transfer to their children, so life insurance a great tool and equalizer to providing the financial future for you envision.
Lastly, if there is a concern that a certain person is wonderful with kids but horrible with money, you do not have to provide them with both the responsibility of raising your children and managing the finances. You can divide the responsibilities between your guardians and those who would be your trustees. That way there is a division of labor that doesn’t overwhelm anyone and also builds in checks and balances which might be helpful or necessary depending on the circumstances.
Where your guardians live may be an important thing to think about. If they live far way such as out-of-state or in another country, will they relocate or will they relocate your children? If your children would be moving from their home base, how would that affect them? Would it be in their best interest?
Bringing up these questions is not to say that you should not consider guardians that live elsewhere. At the end of the day, they may be the best candidates to be guardians. That’s why we recommend you have the conversation with them about any expectations you have about moving or what they might be willing to do. That way you can get on the same page and not simply assume.
Choosing a guardian for your child may not be an easy decision to make, but it’s one that needs to be done as soon as possible. Tragedies such as an accident or illness can happen at any moment. Take some time to think it over but not so much time that you find yourself putting it off. Don’t forget to have a backup choice in place in case your first choice isn’t able or willing to take on the role. If you need help documenting your choices, contact our law firm at (949) 333-3702 to schedule a consultation with an Orange County will and trust lawyer.
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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He’s all about family and passionate about estate planning, elder law, veterans and teaching others how to protect what matters most: family, dignity, and legacy. Snyder Law helps parents from Orange County, Los Angeles County, and the greater surrounding Southern California area.