It’s unthinkable, isn’t it? If you’re a parent of young children, the thought of you not being there to care for them is probably one of your top nightmare scenarios. Odds are, it’s a nightmare that will never come to pass. However, it’s an important issue if you’re planning your estate, and it’s better to plan for the worst than simply hope the worst never happens.
If both parents are unable to care for their children, that leaves selecting a guardian up to the court. It’s not that a judge won’t do his or her best to select the best guardian for your child, but a judge doesn’t know your parenting style, your preferences, and your family and friends the way you do. Why not help the court make the decision? You can do just that in your estate plan by nominating the guardians you’d prefer.
But how are you going to decide? One place to start is by rating possible guardians on issues such as values, location, and relationships. That list is a pretty good start for the key questions to ask in selecting a replacement guardian, but there are some key issues you’ll want to get into after asking those questions:
Do they want to take on the responsibility?
It’s entirely possible to love a child without wanting to take care of that child full-time. Before you nominate replacement guardians for your child, discuss it with them and make sure they want to serve. Do they have the resources (including anything you might leave to your children)? The energy? The time?
And if you want the truth, make it okay to say “no.” Sometimes a potential guardian may feel pressure to agree to serve to keep you happy. If they’re unwilling or unable to serve, it’s better to find out now than to wait until they’re needed.
What if multiple people want the job?
The other problem is that you may have many people that want to help. Unfortunately, some of those people may get their feelings hurt if you do not pick them. The politics of selecting a guardian can be tricky, but there are ways to manage it effectively:
- You don’t have to go around telling people they’re not nominated. When you discuss the matter with your first choice, ask that they keep the selection confidential.
- You can always have backups. In fact, it’s wise to have backups throughout your estate plan. What if the first option isn’t available or can’t serve for some reason? It’s no different here. For some people, knowing they’re on the list–even if they’re not first–may be enough.
- Selecting a guardian is about finding the best fit for your children. Those friends or family members that you do not nominate aren’t terrible people, they’re just not the best fit. Assuming it’s true, explain to those who aren’t nominated that you want them to remain part of your children’s lives.
- Ultimately, it’s your decision. These are your children and this is your decision to make.
How do you want the child’s property managed?
Your children may receive property from your estate or from your life insurance policy. If so, someone will have to manage that property for your children until they reach majority.
You can name the same person to serve as guardian and to manage your children’s money, but it’s not required. Child care and financial management are separate skill sets. Some people may be great at both, and some may be good at one and not the other. If you have someone that can do both, great! If not, you may want to name different people instead.
If you name different people, make sure that they would work well together. If they don’t, then their disagreements could make things difficult for your children.
Deciding who takes care of your children if you can’t may be the biggest estate planning decision you will make. Making the decision thoughtfully is an important step to protect your children’s future.
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Photo credit: Flickr user aaron gilson, licensed under CC 2.0