How to Choose a Guardian of Your Children

Legal GuardianshipIf you have minor children, an important aspect of your estate plan will be selecting a guardian or guardians to take custody of your children after your death. Selecting a guardian can be difficult, and you and your parter (and attorney if possible) should deeply discuss all possible options before making a decision.

When selecting the individual who will take guardianship of your children, there are a few things you should consider.

  • Hire a mediator if you and your partner are unable to come to a decision yourselves. Parters will sometimes have difficulty agreeing on a guardian, and will continue to put off the decision until it is too late. If you cannot agree on guardianship, do not wait around for your partner to see your point of view; hire a mediator to help you make the decision. A local courthouse can likely make a recommendation.
  • Name more than one guardian. Though you should have a primary choice, listing a backup guardian or two will help to ensure that your children are cared for even if the first guardian is unable or unwilling to take custody. It is also wise to name both short-term and long-term guardians so that your child’s immediate welfare will be tended to while the court approves your long-term choice.
  • If you name a couple to become guardians of your children, provide a plan for what will happen in the event that the couple breaks up. If you still want one or both of the individuals to take custody, explain your wishes. It is acceptable and legal to make a couple’s guardianship contingent on their continued relationship at the time of your death.
  • Identify individuals you want to exclude from consideration for guardianship. Even if you name numerous backup guardians, events may occur that prevent all of your selections from taking custody. To prevent a friend or relative with whom you disagree from becoming your child’s guardian, explicitly exclude him or her from consideration in your estate plan.
  • Speak with a financial planner or attorney to help decide how you will fund your child’s upbringing. Though a typical strategy is to provide a lump sum for the care of your children with the remainder to be distributed to your children when they turn 18, you are free to create other systems if you wish. For instance, you may create contingencies such as requiring that a certain sum be used only for educational expenses.

Though it is unpleasant to consider someone else raising your children, naming a guardian in the event of your death is an important part of responsible parenting.