How Do I Choose a Guardian For My Children?

It has always been important for parents with a child under the age of 18 to choose a guardian for their child in case of their untimely passing, however now, in the midst of COVID-19, the importance of choosing the appropriate guardian is magnified.

The guardian is responsible for the daily caretaking of a minor child, such as providing food, shelter, clothes, emotional support, and other basic necessities a parent would provide for their child.  A  parent can nominate a guardian via their Will, but what if you do not have a Will?  Then a court will choose the guardian, who may be someone you do not want to take care of your child, coupled with a potentially lengthy and expensive court proceeding and unnecessary stress among family members who believe they should be the guardian. Generally, if a court is in the position to choose the guardian of a minor child, the court will appoint the child’s other parent if they are living, unless they are unfit. If they are not living or are unfit, the court will likely appoint a family member. Therefore, if you desire a friend or a specific relative who already has an established relationship with your child and/or shares values important to you to be your child’s caretaker, it is vital to nominate that person via a Will.

As you may recognize, selecting a guardian requires careful thought and may pose to be a quite difficult task. Should you pick a family member? Should you pick someone with or without kids? Should you pick a single person or a married couple? Should you pick someone older, younger, or the same age you? Should you pick someone with the same social and/or religious values? Should you pick someone who is good with money? You can narrow down your potential guardian options in a number of ways:

  • Think about who you would want to take care of your child today, not in 5 or 10 years from now (because you should update your Will, including the guardian designation, roughly every 5 years).
  • Be cautious when naming a couple as guardians. Do you want a potential future ex-in-law to be the guardian of your child? Simply because a person you may want to nominate as guardian is married does not mean you must also nominate their spouse as guardian.
  • If they are old enough, ask your child his/her opinion. This can give you insight as to who the child feels a bond with and in some states once a child reaches a certain age the court takes the child’s opinion into consideration.
  • Do not weigh someone’s money management skills too heavily. In addition to the guardian for a minor child, a trustee may also be selected to manage the child’s inheritance. The trustee’s job is to manage the assets you left for your child. The guardian and the trustee can be the same person, but they do not have to be. A trustee can even be a bank. Different people serving in each role can add an extra layer of protection, with the trustee acting as a check on the guardian.
  • Speak with potential guardian(s) and/or trustee(s). Check-in with your potential guardian(s) and/or trustee(s) to ensure they understand the future responsibilities they may have and whether or not they think they are able and willing to assume these duties.

After you have begun to narrow down your choices for guardian and trustee, you may also want to select one of your choices as a backup in case your first choice is unwilling or unable to serve in the role if the time comes. Nominating a backup guardian and trustee, in addition to the primary guardian and trustee, in your Will eliminates any confusion as to your desires regarding who should care for your child if you are unable to.

The choice of a guardian and a trustee via a Will is an important, albeit sometimes difficult, a task that will ensure your child, and the child’s inheritance is in the appropriate hands in the event of your untimely passing. Of equal importance is keeping these choices up-to-date. Rinke Noonan recommends updating your Will, including your guardian and trustee nominations every 5 years. The estate planning attorneys at Rinke Noonan can create your Will or review and update your current Will.  With the current situation at hand, Rinke Noonan has the technology available to craft new Wills and update previous ones, in an economically efficient way.

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