Many people are spurred to start their estate planning when they have a child. They want to designate a legal guardian who will step in and raise them should something happen to both parents.
Unfortunately, not everyone does this. They assume that because they have a big, close-knit family, their child will be loved and cared for should the unthinkable happen. Besides, what are the odds that they’ll die together? Well, they aren’t zero. Sadly, it happens all the time in car and plane crashes and mass casualty events.
Even if you have relatives fully capable of raising your child, do you want them fighting it out in court while your child’s life remains in limbo? By designating a legal guardian, you’ll save everyone the time, stress and expense of going to court and potentially prevent a rupture in your family when they need each other most.
Factors to consider
Determining who would make the best guardian is a highly personal decision. All parents have different priorities. Among the factors that are important to consider when evaluating potential guardians include the following:
- Age and health
- Financial stability
- Marital/family stability
- Shared religious beliefs and/or values
- Their relationship with your family (whether they’re relatives or not)
Understandably, parents often want a married couple to be their guardians. However, this can create problems if the couple divorces. It’s typically recommended that just one person in the couple is designated. Of course, single people can also make excellent guardians.
Give your chosen guardian time to consider
Just because you’ve decided someone will make the best guardian, that doesn’t mean they want that responsibility. Give them a chance to fully contemplate your request before documenting it in your will or other legal document. If they aren’t on board, move to the next person on your list. It’s a good idea to designate an alternate (after getting their agreement) along with your chosen guardian.
Choosing a legal guardian can cause some family discord. If you fear that will be the case, you don’t have to tell everyone in the family whom you’ve chosen. However, by making the decision that’s best for your child, you have nothing to apologize for or even to explain, if you choose not to.
Choosing a guardian for your child if you can’t be there for them is a big – but a necessary – step in your estate planning. Having experienced legal guidance helps.