Over the years, I have found the hardest client decision in estate planning is often deciding who should be the guardian of any minor children. Sometimes, the lack of a clear choice prevents parents from even starting the planning process. Here are some thoughts that might help in the decision making process.
Evaluating potential candidates
Here are some things to consider when evaluating potential guardians:
- Do they want to serve as guardians?
- Will there be sufficient assets in your estate so that caring for your children won’t cause an economic hardship?
- Do they share your values and parenting philosophy?
- If they’re married, is the marriage stable?
- If they have children, do your children get along with them?
- How old are they in relation to the children? A grandparent or other older person may not be the best choice to care for an infant or toddler, for example.
- Is their home large enough to make room for your children?
The court isn’t bound by your guardian selection, but it will generally honor your choice unless there’s a compelling reason not to. The court is obligated to do what’s in the best interest of your children. It’s a good idea to prepare a letter explaining the reasons you believe your appointees are best equipped to care for your children. And, if there’s someone you don’t want appointed, it’s smart to explain that too in a letter, or better yet an affidavit.
It’s also important to choose a backup guardian, in case your first choice dies or is unable or unwilling to serve for some other reason. The same thought process goes into that decision as well.
I also suggest you write out some instructions to your designated guardian (and your trustee if you set up a trust) setting out some general guidelines about what is important to you. It is not an easy task, but think of how helpful it could be for the guardian to have a general statement of your wishes, values and priorities. Which would be more important to you, summer travel to another country or staying home and working toward the cost of a college education? Getting a car at 16 or waiting till they turn 18 or 21? You can’t “rule from the grave,” but you can give some general thoughts about your parenting philosophy.
For more information give me a call or shoot me an email and ask for our white papers “Eight Common Mistakes People Make When Naming a Guardian” and “Seven Tips on Choosing a Guardian.”