How to Choose a Guardian
How to Choose a Guardian
In my work as an estate planning attorney, I get asked the following question all the time: Who do you recommend we choose as the guardian for our kids? It’s a hugely important question, and for many young families, the single biggest reason they put together an estate plan is to name a guardian for their kids.
So how do you go about choosing a guardian? For some people, the answer is obvious. Most people, but certainly not all, wind up choosing a sibling or parent or other family member to be the guardian. Maybe you have younger parents who live in the same city you do and are very involved in your child’s life. Or maybe you and your spouse have only one sibling between you that is stable enough to raise a child.
For some, there are many great options, and it is a tricky situation deciding who is best. For others, there isn’t a great choice out there. So how do you choose a guardian?
1. Think about what is important to you.
In order to begin this discussion, you need to determine what qualifications you’re looking for. To do so, think about the following:
Do you want your children to be raised by a member of their immediate family? Are you concerned that moving to a new city would be difficult? Are you concerned about parenting style? Do you want the guardian(s) to share your religious views?
Before you can decide on a guardian, you need to know what you want that guardian to be. Answering these questions is a good starting point.
2. Think about capability.
Once you and your partner have come up with a list of characteristics you’re looking for in the guardian, next you need to look realistically at the people on your short list and think about whether or not they’re capable of handling the responsibility of raising a child.
How old are they? How old will they be when your child goes to college? Do they have kids of their own? Are they planning to? Are they financially stable?
3. My family vs. your family.
This discussion comes up all the time — how do you choose between your parents and your spouse’s parents? Or one of your siblings and one of your spouse’s siblings? There isn’t a silver bullet answer for this question, but there are two effective ways of dealing with this issue:
(1) Talk to the people you’re considering and see how they feel about becoming a guardian. Sometimes you find that the people you were sure would be willing to do so simply aren’t. Other times, by talking about this issue, you’ll realize that your sibling/parents aren’t as up for the task as you thought.
(2) Name both. This isn’t ideal, but sometimes it is the easiest way out of a messy family situation. Name all of the child’s living grandparents as the guardians, and let them sort out what the arrangement looks like after you’re gone.
4. When immediate family is not an option.
For some people, parents and siblings simply aren’t the right choice. So what can you do? Think outside the immediate family box. What about close friends? Or an aunt/uncle or cousin? Go back to the discussion you had about what is most important to you and see if there is a person or a couple that meets your criteria outside of your parents/siblings.
5. Talk to them.
This is the one part of the process that most often gets overlooked. Whoever you’re seriously considering naming as your guardian, talk to them about it. Obviously you need them on board in general, but talk to them specifically about what your expectations would be, and determine if this person can meet them. Most people begin this conversation after they’ve already decided whom they want to select. I always suggest starting this process early so that you have as much information as possible while trying to make this important decision.
6. Recognize that things change — and that’s ok.
When you name a guardian in your will, that designation lasts forever. Or until you change it. I recommend to all my clients that every few years we check in to make sure that everyone is still on the same page. It also serves as a good reminder that it is fine to name one person now, and then change in a few years.
For example, you might have an infant now, and want your parents to be the guardians should something happen. But in 10 years, your 10 year old might not be such a good fit with your aging parents — remember that they’ll be 10 years older as well.
Or, you might have one child now, but have more (planned or not) down the road. The discussion is different when you’re naming a guardian for one child or four. Same goes for the family you’ve named as the guardians — what if they have triplets? Or get divorced? You’ll want to revisit this issue every time there’s a change in your life, or the lives of your named guardians.
The information on this blog is for informational purposes only. The posts are not intended to be legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied.