Ten Things To Think About: Choosing a Testamentary Guardian for Your Child

Nominating a testamentary guardian in advance in a will may give you peace of mind and best provide for any minor children.

Having children adds a new and vital dimension to estate planning. If the child's legal parents die or become incapacitated and never made arrangements, the child could be placed with a new family. This is a disruptive process for the child, even if the placement is with a grandparent or extended family. You can avoid this disruption if you choose a legal guardian for your child in your last will. 

Below are a few things to consider in choosing a legal guardian for your child:

  1. Different types of guardians. Two kinds of guardians are suitable for children: guardians of property (conservators) and guardians of the person. A guardian of property manages the money or assets a child holds. This is possible when the parents are alive or after their death. A guardian of the person assumes the responsibility to take care of your child's well-being should the child's parents die.
  2. Skills of potential guardians. When selecting a guardian, be aware of the two types of legal guardianships, and choose people with the skills or attributes that best suit those roles. For example, your accountant brother-in-law is a terrific choice for the children's conservator, but his workaholic nature may make him a poor choice for a guardian of the person. A potential guardian should have the time to take care of the child and meet the child's needs. If you have specific religious beliefs, a legal guardian should share those beliefs. Shared values are necessary to raise your minor children as you wish.
  3. Multiple guardians. Just as you can choose different people as guardians of the estate and person, you can also select more than one of each type if you have multiple children. For instance, if you have a large family and know that raising numerous children or managing their assets would be too much to ask of one person, you can assign a different guardian to each child. There are fewer emotional ramifications in choosing conservators. Conservators only have to manage the child's financial matters. This includes money and real estate. With a guardian of the person there are more significant considerations with this type of legal guardianship. Splitting your children into different families could have adverse outcomes for your children's well-being.
  4. Shared values. Choose someone you know well and who shares your goals, values, and parenting style, whether you are selecting a guardian of the person or estate. Even if the person you choose only manages the child's finances, you want that person to share your philosophy of childrearing in general.
  5. Financial stability. Choose someone who has the financial resources to take care of your child. Raising and educating children costs a lot, and you do not want to impose these economic burdens on someone who can not afford them.
  6. Physical ability and longevity. Choose someone who can see their responsibilities through to your child's adulthood. They should also be in good enough health to withstand the challenges of childrearing. While physical disabilities do not necessarily preclude good parenting, it is wise to consider health factors that may limit a person's life expectancy or ability to parent. It may be tempting to choose your parents as guardians, but logically speaking, they are less likely to outlive you than are persons your age or younger.
  7. Your preferences. Don't let others influence you when you select your child's guardian. A parent should have their choice of guardian and a backup guardian if necessary. The child's legal guardian is more than a caregiver. A legal guardian will make decisions in all areas of the child's life. This includes ensuring no child abuse in their home and making medical care decisions for the child.
  8. A guardian's character. Choosing a legal guardian for your children is an important decision. Carefully consider your choice of guardian. The best interests of the child are a primary factor in this decision. Consider a family member, family friend, or extended family member. The court won't approve someone with a history of drug or alcohol abuse or a criminal record. This is because a legal guardian with these histories may not be in the best interests of the child.
  9. Get your guardian on board. Although the guardian selection decision belongs to the parents, it is essential to get approval from the person you are considering before you make it final. There may be valid reasons why someone can not fulfill your request. It is better to find that out while you can make another selection.
  10. Get it in writing. Once your decision is final, consult your attorney for legal advice. They can draft the documents needed to make your choices legally binding. Wills, trusts, and other legal documents can be used to implement your guardianship decisions. Your attorney can advise you on the proper procedure, prepare the necessary paperwork, and file any required documents.

Get Legal Help With Your Questions About Choosing a Guardian for Your Child

As you're thinking about your estate plan, one of the most crucial decisions you must make is designating a guardian for your child. There are several important legal aspects to consider, and you'll likely have questions about the process. The good news is that you can get your questions answered today by contacting an experienced family law attorney near you.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Guardianship is always a court process
  • An attorney can help file a guardianship petition and represent your interests
  • Legal advice during the planning, court processes, and interviews is helpful
  • Your attorney can help you understand the final decision from the court

Get tailored advice for becoming or appointing a legal guardian. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Once new guardianship arrangements are in place, it’s an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and make sure your children are provided for. A health care directive explains your health care decisions. It takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

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