Insight + Tips for Selecting a Guardian
If you are anything like me, when expecting you would look at the pregnancy tracker “to do lists” and updates from different websites or magazines. Over and over, we are prompted to get our “ducks in a row” with Estate Planning (aka drawing up a Will). The most critical piece of Estate Planning at this phase of life is the need to appoint a Guardian for your child or children in the event both parents are unable to raise them. The second most critical piece, is having a Will the includes a Children’s Trust to ensure that any money they inherit is used strictly for them and their best interest — but more on that topic later.
But then the baby arrives and adjusting to life with a newborn is hectic enough without also trying to get into your attorney … and then you realize the “baby” just turned two and you still haven’t checked “Get a Will” off the perpetually growing To Do list.
Choosing who will raise your kids if you and your spouse are unable can be a really tough process. To be completely transparent, even my husband and I took our sweet time to discuss, ponder, observe and finally decide. While it is incredibly difficult to even think about not being there to raise your children, it is even harder to imagine a Judge choosing their guardian with no input from you. We all would like to think that in a time of crisis our family would pull together perfectly, but unfortunately a lack of planning as a parent could mean your relatives arguing in court over who gets your children—or having them agree on who will raise them but that being different from the people you would have chosen. That’s why it’s important to nominate a guardian while it’s still up to you in a formal manner – simply telling someone is not effective. Here are some tips to help you make your best choice.
No. 1: CONSIDER ALL OPTIONS. Make a list of all the people you know who you would trust to take care of your children. Include everyone that you trust to care for your child and that you think would provide a childhood as similar to the one you and your spouse would in the event you were still able. Let yourself freely make this list without a single thought of blood, duty, money, burden, or anything else. Just pure love and care for your kiddos. Hopefully this list includes friends and family.
No. 2: FOCUS ONLY ON THE KIDS. Often my clients worry about the money side of raising children – this should not be part of the analysis because a good Life Insurance policy will address the money side of it, in addition to other considerations like equity from your home, retirement and/or other investments.
No. 3: FOCUS ON THE LOVE. Consider whether each couple or person on your list would truly love your children if appointed their guardian. If they have children of their own, will your children be second fiddles? Or is the couple sufficiently loving?
No. 4: THINK THROUGH THE DEEPER STUFF. Ask yourself which people on your list most closely share your values and philosophies with respect to your parenting philosophy, educational values, religious or moral values, social values.
No. 5: GUT REACTION. Consider whether each of your candidates has the personality traits that would work for your children as you know them at this time (and in the future this may need to be revised): How LOVING are they, how do they SHOW love? What type of ROLE MODEL are they? Is this consistent with your VISION for your kids? What AGE are they – will they have the ABILITY and ENERGY to provide a life that you would if possible?
No. 6: PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS. Where do they live, do they have a strong network of friends and family, what are their children like, how is their marriage, do you like how they talk to one another? How they talk to their kids? Some of these things may be significant to you, some may not. That is ok, all of my clients approach this differently.
No. 7: MAKE THE BEST CHOICE — BUT IT WON’T BE PERFECT. This is a REALLY hard decision, no one will feel PERFECT. Prioritize what matters to you most, make a reasonable choice. Rely on your instincts. If you cannot make a decision, or if you and your spouse cannot agree, select a good estate planning attorney who can help you talk through the process.
No. 8: TEMPORARY & PERMANENT GUARDIANS. Temporary guardians may be appointed if both parents become temporarily unable to care for their children – perhaps if there is a car accident. If you’re temporarily unable to care for the children, you won’t want their lives unnecessarily disrupted by moving them to a new town and school. These are often different from the permanent guardians.
How does this translate to real life?
Most of my clients don’t know where to start. Start by making an appointment with an Estate Planning Attorney – We guide you through the process. This includes drafting the following documents and being sure you understand what each one does:
WILL + CHILDREN’S TRUST | DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY | HEALTH CARE DIRECTIVE
We answers questions like:
If we both die, how is the money protected for just our kids? Can we change this?
Can we say who under any circumstances is NOT to have the kids?
Or the big picture: So how does this all actually work?
IT IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW:
1. You do not have to know your exact plan when you meet with the lawyer, a good one will help counsel you through.
2. Try to only think in the immediate – make a plan for the next 5-8 years, and know that you will likely update it in the future.
3. When you meet with you attorney you will share a ball park concept of the value/size of your estate — but you do not need to bring bank statements or tax returns or anything like that.
For additional information contact Grifan at email@example.com.