Factors to Consider When Choosing a Guardian for Your Minor ChildrenAug 12, 2020 01:42PM ● By The Hood Magazine
By: Woods, Fuller, Schultz & Smith, PC
One of the most difficult decisions to make in the estate planning process is naming who you would like to serve as the guardian of your minor children. A guardian is the individual, or in some cases a married couple, who becomes a substitute parent for your children should you die or be unable to care for them.
A guardian would assume responsibility for daily care of your children, including their residence, their medical care, their necessities (food, clothing, household goods, vehicles, and other personal items), and their education. Although making a decision regarding a guardian is certainly difficult for many parents, we recommend making your decision about this clear in your Will.
The alternative to choosing someone is having a judge make the decision for you, who likely will not know your children or the families involved. Additionally, the failure to name a guardian may cause conflict among family members who wish to compete for the opportunity to serve as guardian.
When making your decision regarding your children’s guardian, there are several important factors we recommend you consider:
• Guardian’s Relationship to the Children: The most important factor to consider is whether there is a close and loving relationship between the potential guardian and your children. Parents often name the children’s grandparents as guardians based on this factor, but because of the advanced age of many grandparents, it may be more appropriate to name the parents’ siblings or friends as guardians (see more on this factor below).
• Age of the Children: The responsibility of raising an infant or toddler is significantly different than what is required to raise an adolescent child. We recommend parents consider the fact that younger children require much more time and attention, while older children present a different set of issues, including established friendships and activities. Also, if you have children ages 14 and older, consider asking them who their preference would be.
• Geography: Choosing a guardian outside of the community where children are established in school and activities may create additional stress for both the children and the guardian. Parents should consider a guardian who will allow the children to continue their existing routine as much as possible.
• Values: Choose someone who shares your goals for your children, your values, and your parenting style. Choosing a person who has values aligned with yours is important in carrying out your wishes and in creating a smoother transition for your children.
• Longevity: Age and health permitting, grandparents may be a strong choice as guardians. Grandparents may be retired and have plenty of time to dedicate to the job, and they may already serve as a source of emotional support for your children. On the other hand, a guardian should be young enough to see their responsibilities through to your children's adulthood. A guardian should be considered in good enough health so that you do not have concerns about life expectancy.
• Willingness to serve: Prospective guardians should be asked about their willingness and ability to serve, and should consult with their family before making a decision to accept the responsibility. If the prospective guardian’s spouse or partner is unwilling to accept the guardianship, another candidate should be considered. If the prospective guardian has children of his or her own, consider how those children would react to the guardianship.
• Financial resources: Consider someone who has the financial resources to care for your children. You do not want to impose an economic burden on the guardian, which will negatively impact both the guardian and the care your children will receive. Once you have weighed all of these factors and have made a decision, consult an attorney to document your decision in the form of a Will. An attorney can prepare your Will, as well as any other estate planning documents you need, and can advise you along the way. You also should plan to revisit your guardianship decision on a regular basis as your children grow and their needs change.
For more information on estate planning, email [email protected] or visit woodsfuller.com.