Many people choose to write a will, obtain life insurance, or start estate planning when they become parents to ensure their children will be cared for after their death. In addition to these steps some may also want to consider choosing a guardian should both parents die or become incapicated while their children are still minors.
If you choose to do this, there are two types of guardians you will need to decide upon—a guardian of the person and a guardian of the estate.
- Guardian of the Person: This person will take care of your child's needs by providing them a safe home, food, clothing, medical care, and education. They will raise and nurture them as you would
- Guardian of the Estate: This person is in charge of the child’s finances and will have control over his or her inheritance and assets until they reach legal age to take control themselves.
It’s important to note that the guardian of the person and estate do not have to be the same person. You can name a different person (or a couple) to each role, or have them both be filled by one person. In some cases, assigning two different people to the roles could be preferable. Perhaps you have one sibling who is fiscally responsible, but would not be a good caregiver, and another is nurturing and capable, but not great with money. In this case, it would be the responsible choice to split the roles.
Additionally, the guardian of the estate doesn’t have to be someone you know. If you choose, you can appoint an attorney, accountant, or other professional to carry out this task.
Why Choosing a Guardian is Important
It may be hard to think about a world in which your children are left without you, but accidents and misfortunes can happen to anyone and you should be prepared. If you don’t preselect a guardian then the courts will decide for you and though they will often choose a family member, you have no control over who your child lives with or how they are raised. The courts don’t know anything about your wishes for your children or your parenting style.
Benefits of Choosing a Guardian
- You are in control of who your child lives with and who is in control of their money, not a judge.
- By choosing now you have time to talk and prepare with the guardian so they know your wishes.
- Nobody else can influence your decision if you make it now. This is especially helpful if you disagree with your family about who your child should be with.
- You can always change your mind and revise your decision if the needs of the guardian or your child change.
How to Choose a Guardian
Choosing a guardian is no doubt a huge decision for your family, but the alternative of not choosing and letting the courts decide is far worse. Whomever you pick will be a better choice for you child than having a stranger decide. Here are some things to consider when choosing:
Guardian of the person
- Location: Where do they live? Is it important to you that your child stay in the same area they’ve grown up in?
- Values: What are their values? Do they have a similar parenting style as you and will they raise your child in a similar manner? This is also a good time to think about the role of religion in your family’s life and whether or not the guardian will honor your wishes.
- Availability: Are they willing and able to take on the role? Are they physically and mentally capable of child rearing? You want to trust that the person will love and embrace your child as if it were their own.
- Experience: Have they raised kids before? This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but it will give you insight into their parenting style.
- Relationship: How well does the child know this person? Would your child feel comfortable with them?
Guardian of the estate
- Responsibility: Are they good at managing money? The main role of the guardian of the estate is to manage the child’s assets so this should be on the top of the list.
- Organization: Are they organized? Will they be able to track spending and keep detailed accounting records?
- Experience: Though it’s not a necessity, does this person have experience in the financial or business sector? If so it could help them in this role.
When you and your spouse decide upon someone, you should contact your attorney and have them draft a document stipulating your choices for guardianship. If you already have an estate plan or trust in place, the guardianship can be included as an addendum.
Remember, whomever you end up choosing will be better than having the courts do it for you. Furthermore, you can feel secure knowing that your child will be cared for and raised according to your wishes.