If it pains you to think about not being around to raise your children, just think about how it will affect your children if something happens to you and you haven’t chosen a legal guardian for them.
Choosing a legal guardian takes more than a verbal agreement between you and the chosen party. There are specific legal steps you need to take to ensure that your wishes are followed by the courts and the best possible person is named to raise your children with the values and benefits you want them to have.
To help you arrive at the right decision when choosing a guardian, we’ve compiled a top ten list of points you should consider:
1. Consider all possible options for guardianship. When we think of guardians, we normally think of the most obvious choices, our sisters, brothers or even our parents. But are your choices really that limited? Think of everyone you would trust to care for your children in your absence and make a list.
2. Guardians do not have to be relatives. Chances are you have friends who would make excellent guardians for your children. Simply by virtue of the fact that they are your friends, you probably already share values and beliefs that would continue to be a part of your children’s lives.
3. Think beyond the material things. Don’t limit your choices of guardians to people with money, a large home or other material resources. You can help with the financial aspects of guardianship by properly structuring your estate to take those things into consideration. Talk to us about what you need to do to eliminate financial considerations from your choice of guardianship.
4. Choose a loving environment. Forget about the money about think about how loving an environment your chosen guardian will provide for your children. Your children will have suffered a significant loss with your passing and they need a lot of love and support to get them through the grieving process. Make sure your chosen guardian will give them the emotional support they need.
5. Take a serious look at values and belief systems. Take a look at the list we talked about above. Which of the people on that list share values and a belief system that agrees with what you and your spouse would have given your children? That includes religious beliefs, morals, child-rearing philosophy, education and social responsibility. Think about all those things when choosing your guardian.
6. Choose the right personality type. Think about the type of personality you would like your children to be exposed to.
- Is your choice a loving person?
- Would they make a good role model?
- Are they patient?
- Are they kind?
- Are they as affectionate as your family normally is?
All these personality traits should be considered when choosing a guardian for your children.
7. Be practical. As hard as it may be, try to be practical in your choice.
- If the people you’re choosing as guardians are older adults, how healthy are they?
- If your children are a little younger, would they actually have the energy to deal with young children?
- Do they have children of their own?
- How would your children integrate into their family structure?
- Do they live close enough to other important people in the lives of your children to maintain contact?
- If you choose a couple and they divorced or one of them died, would either of them be a choice on their own?
8. Consider a guardianship panel. As much as we would like to simplify the process of choosing a guardian, sometimes trying to predict what your children’s needs will be as they grow can be extremely difficult. One option to consider is a guardianship panel made up of trusted relatives and friends. The panel can consult with your children should a guardian situation become necessary and make a decision on guardianship that reflects what your children need at that particular time.
9. Write everything down. Whatever your reasons for choosing the guardian you choose, write down all your reasons. If your choice is challenged by people who think they should have been chosen, a court will have a written record and good solid reasons for your choice and will be more likely to support your decision.
10. Make sure you talk to your chosen guardian before you include guardianship papers in your estate plan. Yes, being chosen as a trusted guardian for someone’s children is an honor, but it’s also a huge responsibility and can be a burden. Always talk to the person or persons you’ve selected and your children to make sure that everyone is okay with the decision.