Carissa Giebel column How to Choose a Guardian
11:00 PM, May. 30, 2011 |
One of the biggest incentives to put together an estate plan for parents with minor children is naming guardians. It can also be one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Many parents have a hard time deciding who to nominate as guardians for their children. Often times, married couples have a hard time coming to an agreement. It's not easy deciding who should raise your children if you cannot. Nevertheless, it's important to remember that planning ahead could make a significant difference in your child's life.
Any parent with a child under the age of 18 should consider who would best raise their child if they were unable to. Most people consider naming guardians in case of premature death. But if you or your spouse were unable to care for your children during your lifetime, whether it's temporary or permanent, who would you want to care for your children then?
A will is the legal document used to nominate a guardian to care for your children after your death, and a durable power of attorney is used to nominate a guardian to care for your children during your lifetime. It's important to make sure both of these documents are part of your comprehensive estate plan.
The younger your child is, the bigger the impact this decision could have on their lives. Your children may not be able to express their own opinions about guardians, or perhaps who you would choose for them is not who they would choose for themselves.
Choosing guardians can be as simple or complex as you want. You can simply name the guardians, or you can provide detailed guidance on how you want your children raised, your values, what you want them to experience, the environment you would choose for them, etc. It's also a good idea to name at least two guardians in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to take on the role.
Now actually choosing a guardian is the hardest part. Here are a few factors you may want to consider: age, location, maturity, relationship with your children, your child's preference, ability to meet child care demands, religion or spirituality, family structure, marital status, number of other children, child-rearing philosophy, willingness to take on role, morality, health and financial situation.
It's also important to note that you can name one person as guardian and another as trustee, to manage the assets you leave for your children. This may be done when the person you choose to raise your children may not be the best to handle the financial situation, or perhaps you just want to keep both your family and your spouses' family involved.
Remember, a will can always be changed. However, after you become incapacitated or pass away, you no longer have any say in what could be the decision that affects your children the most in their lives. Completing the process will give you peace of mind and could be one of the most influential decisions you make.