Anyone with a minor child must stop to consider who would raise their child if they were unable. Imagining your premature death, let alone someone else raising your child can be difficult, which is why many people put off making the decision. Often times, people give themselves a false sense of relief because they discussed it with a family member or friend that they know would raise their child with love and grace. Unfortunately, if you do not legally document who you would want to raise your child if you are unable, the court will do it for you. Usually, it will be an over-burdened court that will not put the same love, care, and time into making the decision that you would.
Have you ever stopped to consider who in your family or your spouse’s family feels they should be the one to raise your children if something happens to you?Often times, it is more than one equally qualified person, which can lead to a long, expensive, and emotional court battle.
You can make a significant difference in your child’s life if you take the time to plan ahead. The younger the child, the more crucial it is for you to legally document this decision. Nominating a guardian can be a straight-forward process or as detailed as you want. It is usually best to get expert advice on how to craft detailed guidance about your children and the sort of experiences and family environment you would want for them. The more detailed the instructions, the closer your children will be raised according to your family’s values.
With that said, many people do not know where to start to choose the right guardian. For some, they have too many people to choose from. For others, they struggle to think of even one suitable person. Whatever end of the spectrum you are on, here are three steps to make the process easier:
(1) Your first step is to make a long list of possible candidates for a guardian. In this step, do not get bogged down in any particular order or if they would make the best guardian. Just ask yourself “would this person provide a better home for my child than the foster care system or someone a judge would hastily choose?” Write down everyone you know that would fit this simple criteria. Do not let the person’s financial ability to care for your children determine if they would be suitable. It is your responsiblity to leave adequate funds for your child to be raised to adulthood. Often times, life insurance is necessary to achieve this. Also, don’t feel guilty about considering people outside your family.
(2) Your next step is to make a list of what characteristics and factors relating to the potential guardian are important to you. The following may help to identify some important factors:
- Maturity and patience
- Marital or family status
- Enough “free” time to raise children
- Current relationship with your children
- Age and ability to meet the physical demands of child care
- Child-rearing philosophy/parenting style
- Do they have children already?
- Integrity and stability
- Religion or spirituality
- Potential conflicts of interest with your children
- Social and moral habits and values
- Willingness to raise your children
- Where they are located
(3) Your final step is to match people to your most important priorities. This should narrow your list of candidates. You will need to spend some time on this part and really become clear on what is the most important to you and what you want for your children. You will then need to rank this short-list into the order that you would want them to serve. You will also need to consider the following if you nominate a couple to serve: if the couple divorces or because of death or incapacity only one can serve, would you want the other to serve alone? You may want to consider only naming one party in a couple or document what you would want to happen in the event of the death, divorce, or incapacity of one of them.
You will also want to consider nominating “temporary” guardians. Temporary guardians may be appointed to care for your children if your long-term guardian is not immediately available in an emergency. You will want to choose people that live nearby. This is an especially important step if your long-term guardian does not live near you or tends to travel frequently.
For many families, this is a simple process. For others, however, these three steps are the most difficult part of their estate plan. One common source of difficulty is disagreement between spouses. It is important for both spouses to be on the same page. While you can each name different guardians, most parents are happier when they reach a mutual agreement. Explore the disagreements to see what information about values and peole you should both understand. Listen to each other’s position to try to find a solution that you can both feel good about.
If you still find yourself stuck or unable to choose a suitable person, please let us know, we take pride in our ability to counsel parents on how to choose the right guardian.