Naming a guardian for children is the most common reason young couples come in to prepare their estate plan. Often, they’ve been discussing the idea before finally agreeing on who to name as their child’s guardian. Many times, however, they still have not made a decision when they come to see us. For those who are procrastinating on your estate plan because you and your partner cannot seem to agree upon a guardian for your child, we have a few considerations for you:
- Family is not the only option.We frequently hear discussion between spouses that focus solely on whose parents or whose siblings are better suited to raising their child. Don’t get stuck in that rut, especially if no family members are particularly suitable options. Close friends you’ve known for years or friends from church or school can be wonderful options.
- Consider who would love raising your children even through their teenage years.Babies are adorable, and while your children are young you may have swarms of family members and friends offering to care for them. What about when then baby smell wears off and hormones kick in? Who would best guide your teenager through the hard parts in high school like break ups, failed basketball tryouts, and college applications?
- You can make sure your children are not a huge financial burden on a guardian. Life insurance policies are frequently used to fund trusts for children, and term policies can be purchased relatively inexpensively for young parents.
- Find someone who shares your outlook on life. By outlook, we mean beliefs about religion, values, and raising children. There are hundreds of books out there about how to raise children “right”; is it important your children are raised under a particular philosophy?
- Look for a good choice; no one will be perfect.No one you will choose is going to be you or your spouse, but if you look through your options, surely you have people who are reasonable. A younger sibling who you’ve never seen as anything but a younger, less mature version of yourself may be the person who would best “step up to the plate” if given the enormous honor and responsibility of rearing your children.
- Get your children’s input.Your children’s opinions may be the deciding factor for you, and to know who they feel comfortable with is important, so if your children are old enough to have the discussion, talk to them. Any person you intend to name as guardian also deserves a conversation to make sure they are willing and able to take on such an important role.
- Write letters discussing your reasons. No matter who you choose, we suggest writing a letter to the guardians, to close family or friends you did not choose, and to your children discussing your choice and your intentions in making your decisions.
Once you have made your decision, put it in writing.
By documenting your choice in your Last Will and Testament or in a separate Declaration of Guardian, the court appointing a guardian will know exactly who it is you have chosen and will not have to rely upon the testimony of family and friends. If nothing is in writing, you are leaving it to a court to make the decision for you and subjecting your children to potentially drawn out litigation between family and friends fighting over them. Sadly, your children could be placed in foster care until the family can sort the guardianship out in court.
While it may be uncomfortable, make a decision now to protect your children and provide the guidance and thoughtful instructions your guardians and loved ones will appreciate.