The anticipation of a new baby comes with a laundry list of to-do items to complete before or soon after your baby’s arrival. By now, you may have picked a name, created a registry, and designed a nursery for your little one. However, an often-overlooked but extremely important to-do is to begin thinking about who should take guardianship of your child should something happen to you. Most families will thankfully never need to have their child raised by a legal guardian. However, in the event of a simultaneous death of both parents, it is best to be fully prepared for all outcomes.
Choosing a legal guardian, the person who will raise your child until age 18, is an important decision, and there are many factors to consider when selecting someone (or multiple people, in the event your first choice is no longer available). Of course, you’ll want someone who will love and care for your child, but you may also feel a person with a background similar to yours is the best choice for your family.
Some of the factors you might wish to consider when choosing a legal guardian:
The age and health of your selected person/people: While you may feel that your parents would be the best choice to raise your child – you turned out alright! – don’t fail to consider that they may not have the energy to run around after a toddler or deal with the issues of today’s teens. Additionally, statistically speaking, they are less likely to outlive you than persons your own age or younger than you.
Financial stability: Does your choice have a steady job? Are they able to handle the financial strains that come with raising a child?? Children are expensive, and you don’t want to add an extra burden on a family member or friend that might already be struggling to provide for their own family. Consider funding a trust to help the guardian supplement the costs of bringing your child into their family.
Religious, political, and moral beliefs: If you hold strong beliefs or values you want to pass onto your children, choosing a guardian with likeminded ideals can be an important consideration. If these values are already ingrained into your guardian’s life, it is more likely they will teach your children in the same way. Although you may not have a perfect match in your chosen group of people, finding someone close can be an excellent option.
Location: Let’s say you pick your sister as legal guardian, but she lives across the country in California. Are your children supposed to go live with her there, or should she come live in your home to avoid disrupting them further? Will she need a bigger home to accommodate her family and yours? Have an open dialogue with your choice to ensure these provisions can work for both of you and your families.
Once you have chosen a legal guardian for your child, make sure to take the following steps to communicate and document the decision:
Talk the role over with your selected guardian: As mentioned, an open dialogue is a necessity when choosing a guardian. While your friend or family member may be honored to be selected for this important role in your life, make sure to discuss it in advance with them. They may have other reasons, unbeknownst to you, that render them unable to fulfill your request.
Put it in writing: Once you have had the necessary conversation with your proposed guardian and are both on the same page, be sure to contact your attorney to solidify your wishes and make them legally binding. Guardian provisions are stated in your last will and testament and should be reviewed, alongside your complete estate plan, every few years or after a major life change to ensure your wishes remain the same. Additionally, if you have specific instructions regarding your child’s upbringing, you should put those in writing as well.
We understand that it is incredibly difficult to imagine someone else taking care of your precious child. However, failing to plan for a “worst-case” scenario can lead to the court appointing a guardian, someone you may not have personally chosen, to raise your child.
If you need assistance in reviewing your options for a guardian or facilitating a conversation with them, reach out to NextGen@bbh.com.