One of the worst things you can think about as a parent is not being there for your children. Really, it’s only after you experience parenthood that you can truly understand the magnitude of the hard, but vitally important, decision of appointing guardianship. As difficult as it may be, it’s critical you take the time to go through the process.
Establishing guardianship in advance is one of the single most important types of protection you’ll ever be able to offer your children.
Read on, as we explore each of the intricate aspects of guardianship. We’re sharing everything about this crucial part of your Estate Plan — from how to choose a guardian, to what he or she would need to do in their role — this is your ultimate guide to finding the right guardian for your children.
How to Select the Right Guardian
Selecting a guardian can often seem complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. At the end of the day, it’s really pretty simple. We all fundamentally want to choose someone we can trust to raise our children, someone with the same values and morals that we hold.
While it can admittedly be uncomfortable, you really need to put a plan in place now, while you still can. Preparing in advance is the only chance you’ll have to minimize (even slightly) additional trauma your children will endure after an inconceivable loss. Many people choose grandparents, or aunts and uncles, or siblings, or even close family friends. Who you actually choose is a very personal decision, but try to look at it pragmatically. Knowing the person or people you select will love and honor your child is your number one priority.
Exploring these questions may help when you’re considering different adults in your life to take on the important role of guardian.
What are your (and their) values? List your values and think about what you would want someone else to hold as important if they were to step into the role of guardian.
Who are you considering? Make a short list of everybody you’re thinking about asking.
Keep an open mind.
Your goal is to find the best person possible, someone who will love your child as much as you do.
You don’t necessarily need to rule somebody out simply because they are (or aren’t) married.
Thinking about spouses is a good idea.
Can you see both parties equally invested in raising your child?
Do they have a solid relationship?
Would they both be willing to do it?
You may find you have a preconceived notion about what a guardian should look like - but it’s important to try (and yes, it is hard) to take some of the emotion out of your decision.
Are they financially stable?While money is not the most important thing when it comes to guardianship, it should be considered. Whether or not you have a substantial estate that will support your children could also factor into your decision.
Is the person you’re considering responsible?
Are you sure they would honor your wishes?
Would they be able and willing to make the best decisions for your child?
Will they be fit and able to care for your children until adulthood?Unfortunately, sometimes age comes into play. If your parents or grandparents are an option, and you have very young children, think about how old the guardians you select will be when your child or children reach the age of 18.
Where do they live?Are you thinking about someone who lives far away? That may be perfectly OK. But remember that if a guardian is stepping in, your children have likely just experienced a devastating loss. So considering geographical location is important. You’ll have to seriously think about and weigh the pros and cons of what that means.
Will a big move be involved?
Will your children be leaving absolutely everything from their former life?
Will they be moving far away from friends, family and the support they have?
Location doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker, but it should be taken into consideration.
What Makes a Good Guardian?
Somebody who would make a good guardian would be:
Stable in their career and life
Similar to you in terms of values
What is the Role of a Guardian?
The guardian you select for your children will be taking on a lot. Should the time ever come that they need to act, they’ll be thrust into the world of your child’s life, often with little to no time to prepare. Their responsibilities could include:
Making medical and educational decisions
Providing for the general well-being of your children until they are legal adults, including housing, food and clothing
Managing a Trust, administering funds as needed
Distributing any funds left over from your estate at the time your children become adults (Note that you can create stipulations around this final distribution. You can set it up so that your children receive their inheritance at a certain age or after a major life event, like when they turn 25 or graduate from college. Or, you may want them to be able to access funds as soon as they turn 18 and are a legal adult)
How to Appoint a Guardian
You can legally and formally appoint a guardian for your children in your Will. Not ready to tackle the whole Will planning process? Don’t worry - you can also do so through a guardianship form. You don’t necessarily need to hire an attorney to prepare these documents. You can affordably, quickly and easily safeguard and protect your children by nominating a guardian you trust with an online service like Trust & Will.This option offers instant protection, and can be changed in a matter of minutes if you ever need to update your choice.
How to Talk to the Guardian You Choose (...and, yes, you should talk to them)
Although it may be uncomfortable, it’s generally a good idea to have a conversation with the person or people you select to be your children’s guardian. First, it can help alleviate any surprise or shock should the time come that they need to step in. Also, having that conversation upfront means they’ll have time to prepare emotionally so they’ll be better-able to focus instantly on your children when they will need it most. Grief is a tricky thing, and remember, the guardian you choose will be also experiencing your loss.
Yes, the conversation may feel somewhat strange or awkward at the beginning. But the truth is, most people are honored that they are your top choice and therefore take the responsibility very seriously.
No, we never want to think about not being there when our children need us. But becoming a parent means taking on some of the greatest challenges in life. Selecting a guardian is just one of those difficult parts of parenting, yet it must be done.