Choosing a Guardian for Your Child

Preparing a comprehensive estate plan to protect a child can be an difficult.  On the one hand, parents should be relieved that they are taking steps to guarantee that their child will be cared for after they are gone.  On the other hand, confronting one’s own mortality and having to decide who will manage the affairs of a child can be stressful.  

Out of all of the decisions that parents have to confront, the choice of a guardian stands out as one of the most challenging.  But you don’t have to dread this decision, especially if they follow these steps:

1. Take Time to Choose, But Don’t Take Too Long

Choosing someone to become the guardian is not a decision that should be made lightly, but this doesn’t mean that the decision should keep you up at night, either.  Start by putting together a list of every potential candidates.  Then go through the list and eliminate anyone who, for whatever reason, doesn’t strike you as an good choice, keep in mind that no one is going to be a perfect because they will never be you.  Take some time to think about each likely candidate. 

The key at this stage of the game is to not get overwhelmed with worry about your choices, especially since you haven’t even asked anyone if they are willing to serve.  One of the biggest obstacles to completing an estate plan is getting so caught up in the decision making process that you stop moving forward.  Don’t let this be you — make your list, start to narrow it down, and then proceed to the next step.  Don’t stop planning.

2. Talk to Your Potential Guardians and Encourage Honesty

After you’ve narrowed your list of potential guardians down to a few names, take each one out for coffee (separately) and ask them if they are willing to serve.  Don’t put people on the spot with statements like, “If you don’t do it, I don’t know what we’ll do.” You don’t want them to agree to make you feel better but then back out later. Encourage each person to be honest with you about his or her questions and concerns.  Don’t look for immediate answers; give your potential guardians time to think about things and get back to you. This is an important commitment and should be carefully considered by both of you. 

This conversation may immediately narrow down your list, as some people may tell you that they absolutely cannot serve.  At the same time, talking face to face with your choices may help you to weed out a few more people.  

3. Make a Decision and Put Your Plan into Action

After speaking with your prospective guardians you may be able to make a decision about who will serve.  But if you still need to think about your choice, keep a few things in mind.  First, you can always change your nomination at a later point, and, in fact, many people do.  For instance, it may make sense for young parents to name their parents or older relatives as guardians but later change their estate plans when the original nominee are older and may have difficulty fulfilling this role.  Likewise, as friends and family move, or have changers in their own circumstances parents may have to update their estate plans.  Nothing is set in stone.  

That said, here are some additional questions to consider if you are having a hard time choosing a guardian:

  • Do I want my child to stay in his community and is the guardian willing to move here if s/he doesn’t already live here?
  • How does the guardian interact with my child specifically?
  • Does the guardian have too much going on in his/her own life to care for a child, especially one with special needs?
  • Does the guardian have children, how old are they and can the guardian take on another child?
  • How old is the guardian?  Do I have a backup in case s/he can’t serve?
  • Does the guardian share my values about things like religion, education and finances?
  • if my child has special needs, does the guardian have experience or patience to manage these issues?

Although the decision making process may not be easy, it is a necessary one.  Remember, the worst thing that you can do is to leave guardianship to chance, which is what will happen if you don’t have an estate plan that reflects your wishes.  Once you’ve followed these simple steps and made your decision, put it into effect by meeting with your attorney and drafting the proper documents immediately.  Don’t put it off.

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