One of the most important decisions new parents (and all parents of minor children) have to make is who would care for their child(ren) in the event something were to happen to the both of them. Often times, this is overlooked because parents do not want to deal with such an unpleasant hypothetical, but what they may not realize is that parent(s) who die without designating a legal guardian unwittingly leave the fate of their children in the hands of a judge. Therefore, all individuals with minor children should stop delaying and come to terms with this difficult decision by executing Wills appointing legal guardians. Below are a few steps that couples may consider when going through the process.
• Define your Ideal Guardian Candidate. Jot down a list of values you as parents share in raising your children. The qualities you rank most highly should be the same ones you seek in a guardian. Further, define your parenting style, and perhaps other considerations such as religious beliefs, educational values and involvement in extracurricular activities.
• Make a list of Contenders.
Think about those individuals in your life who you would trust and are best equipped to raise your children, and who would be most able to take on a responsibility of caring for your children, emotionally, financially, and physically, etc. While at first glance it may be a family member, sometimes parents should think beyond the obvious choices.
• Narrow the Field.
Once you have a list of contenders, consider who on the list makes “practical” sense in terms of geographic location, age, health and whether the candidate has the ability to take on more kids. One may be adamant to keep their children in the same school district he/she was in; however, if you choose a relative or friend that does not live in the immediate area, unless they are willing to relocate to accommodate your children, they may not be the ideal choice. This should be a conversation with you and the potential candidate. Further, if you have a candidate who ticks all the boxes but is not financially able to raise additional children, there are ways to ensure your children will continue to have adequate funds, for example, investing in adequate life insurance coverage.
• Choose the Guardian and Make it Official. While the decision is a serious one, it could always be changed if circumstances warrant by executing a new Will. Speak to the individual you wish to appoint and tell them why you have chosen them. Also, choose a backup in the event your first appointed guardian is unable to act as guardian. Also, if you are thinking about appointing a couple, consider the situation if one of them died or if they divorced, whether you would still be comfortable with either of them acting alone. If you would not be, you need to specify what you would want to happen. If you still cannot decide, and if you are both adamant that someone from “your side” should be the guardian, consider a compromise where one spouse’s relative is guardian of the children, and the other spouse’s relative is trustee, managing the children’s finances.
Remember, guardianship can be flexible over time. Perhaps during the infant and toddler stages, grandparents are the ideal candidates, but as they age, a more suitable guardian would be a friend, sibling or other family member. Once you have made your decision and executed a Will, it is wise to document your hopes and expectations for raising your children. This document should be attached or a copy should be left with your Will.