Selecting a guardian is one of the most emotional aspects of the estate planning process. It forces us to contemplate our own parenting style because in order to choose a guardian, we need to first choose what type of parents we want to be.
It is not uncommon for parents to agonize over this question after the initial estate planning consult. In this post, I will share some advice about choosing a guardian, which I have learned along the way, both as a parent and as an attorney.
Define Your Parenting Style
Make a list of core values and traits you want to instill in your children. Consider your own childhood. Are there things you want to emulate from your own upbringing? Or perhaps you want to shield your children from having certain experiences. Talking through these things with your spouse will help you come up with a number of potential guardians who share your values and align with your own parenting style.
Narrow the Potential Candidates
Once you have answered the philosophical questions, you are ready to consider the practical questions of appointing a guardian.
First, is the potential guardian physically up to the task of raising your children to adulthood? Grandparents are often the first choice. If your parents are fairly young they may be the logical choice. However, if it has been ten years since you first made your will and you have a couple more kids, your parents may not be the best option anymore. Keep in mind how old your chosen guardian will be when your youngest child is a teenager. Someone in their late seventies or early eighties may have a hard time keeping up with a high schooler.
Luckily, updating a guardian in your estate plan is simple and most attorneys will draft the update for a fairly low fee. Many people will update their child’s guardian at least once and sometimes twice. It is not set in stone.
Next, consider the geographic location of your preferred guardian. Relocating away from their friends and school during a traumatic time could be very hard on your kids. Also, location can have a big impact on a child’s upbringing. If you value the outdoors and want your children to grow up in the countryside, a guardian who lives in New York City may not be the best option.
Finally, consider the finances of your potential choice. The average cost of raising a child in America is $284,570. This excludes the cost of college. Creating a burdensome financial drain on your chosen guardian can lead to feelings of resentment which will negatively affect the relationship between the guardian and your kids. Be sure your choice is financially stable and that you are providing the necessary assets and life insurance coverage to ease the burden on everyone involved.
Ask for permission to list the individual as your child’s guardian. It is a big ask and there is the possibility they might say no. Better to let them bow out now then to hope they do not refuse the guardian appointment in the midst of what will be the biggest family crisis your kids ever face.
Many potential guardians will be concerned they lack the finances to provide for additional children. Discuss the amount of life insurance and assets you have with the potential guardian. Being open and transparent with the person you want to appoint will help put them at ease. Give them time to think it over too. While it is unlikely to ever come to fruition, their saying “yes” has the potential to alter their life forever.
What if they say no? If you have gone through the process I discussed above, the person you choose rarely declines. However, if they do say no, it is probably for a very good reason. Sometimes people are dealing with their own challenges that are not always apparent to us. Broaching the subject in a respectful manner and giving the person time to think it over can help ease any tension if the person does decline.
Put it in Your Will
When you decide on the perfect person to name as your child’s guardian put it in your will. This ensures that the guardian can act right away if something happens to you. If you do not name a guardian, an expensive custody battle may ensue and the court will decide the guardian or if no one steps forward to take guardianship your children will be placed in foster care.
Including a Testamentary Trust within your will is also a good idea. This is a trust which springs to life after your death and places all of your estate’s assets into a trust for the benefit of your children. You will need to name a trustee for the Testamentary Trust. This may or may not be the guardian. Consider appointing a trustee who is good at managing money. If you choose to split up the guardian and trustee roles, be sure the two people you choose will work well together.
Finally, make copies of your will and give a copy to your chosen guardian, trustee, and executor. Provide them with instructions on where they can find your original estate plan documents too.
Choosing a guardian for your minor children can be an emotional and time-consuming endeavor. It was for my wife and I, and I have yet to meet a client who took the decision lightly. I have found when parents have a meaningful conversation between themselves and with the potential guardian, everyone involved comes away with a greater sense of security and comfort about the choice.
Carolina Estate Planning works with individuals and families to make sure they have the proper estate planning documents in place. To schedule an appointment, click here. If you have additional questions give us a call at 336-221-4457. Or get started right now and browse our Online Estate Planning Packages here.