One of the most difficult estate planning decisions people face is selecting the person (or persons) to appoint as guardian of their minor children. Here are issues to keep in mind as you weigh your options:
- Consider the age of the person you are naming. Grandparents are often a favorite choice for guardians. The person who serves as guardian could serve for up to 18 years (or maybe longer if your child has special needs). Grandparents are more likely to face their own health issues as they age – potentially at a time when your children would need them most. Will the person you name likely be in good health and able to care for your children until they reach the age of majority?
- Does your choice for guardian share your parenting philosophy? If you are a “free range” parent, and your nominee is a “helicopter” parent, your children may have quite a culture shock adjusting in such a different environment. Will the potential guardian enforce similar rules (and consequences)? Does the guardian share similar religious/philosophical/political beliefs?
- The guardian does not have to be the same person who manages funds left in trust for your children. Too often I hear clients express concerns that they have the perfect person to raise their children if only that person could manage money. It is not necessary to give the same person guardianship of your children AND control over their inheritance. You can always name different people to manage funds.
- What should happen if the guardian divorces? When siblings are named, clients often consider naming the sibling’s spouse as an additional co-guardian. If the sibling and spouse divorce, do you want your children to stay with the sibling? What if the sibling should pass away? When should a successor guardian step in?
- Will your nominee make sure your children remain connected to their relatives? When a family member is chosen as a guardian, you should consider whether that individual will make sure your children have opportunities to spend time with other family members – including the other parent’s family. Additionally, does any trust created for your children provide funds for travel for your children and guardian to allow them to spend time with other family members?
Taking these issues into account as you consider options for guardians should help guide your decision to find the best solution for you and your family.