Choosing a Guardian for Your Children: What to Consider

No one likes to think about what would happen if they should pass away unexpectedly. However, for parents, one of the biggest responsibilities is to ensure that their children are safe and cared for. This is why it is so important to choose a guardian for your children. Guardianship is a legal process in which an individual is named to serve as the decision-maker of another person. When you select a guardian for your children, that individual would take care of your children should you not be around to do so. 

Those who fail to choose a guardian for their children could be setting up a concerning scenario in which their relatives may argue with one another in court about who is to get the children or their relatives may agree – but on a different guardian. Worse yet, the court could end up deciding on a guardian for them. This is why it’s so important to nominate a guardian while you still have the ability. I have heard it said that young parents spend more time planning their next vacation than in planning for potential guardianship of their children. While I can certainly understand that–who wants to think about serious illness/injury or premature death–but it is a critical part of what we call Peace of Mind Planning and should not be put off.

So how do you select the right person? 

When choosing the correct guardian for your children, there are some things that you can do to ensure that you take the best choice. These things include:

  • Making a list of people you know and trust who would take care of your kids;
  • Considering each person’s philosophies and values (such as on religion, morality, education, and child-rearing among others);
  • Weighing whether each person on the list is a good fit;
  • Considering how your kids would fit into their lifestyle;
  • Deciding whether you would be comfortable with a sole guardian should a couple divorce or a spouse die;

It is often good to make a decision but also to provide for a backup choice should something prevent the first from taking on these responsibilities. It is very important that you and your spouse or co-parent can agree on your choices.

You may want to consider the use of a Child Protection Plan in order to choose a temporary custodian and your will to nominate a permanent one. A temporary custodian cares for your children should you temporarily become unable to do so (e.g. are severely injured in a bad car accident), while a permanent guardian cares for your children should you no longer be around (e.g. you are killed in a bad car accident). 

Why would temporary custodians and permanent guardians differ?

When you choose a permanent guardian for your children who lives out of state and would have to upend their life in order to care for your children, you may not want to make them do so if your inability to care for your children is only temporary. It is important to remember that your temporary guardians are not appointed in your will, which is used after you pass away, but rather through a Child Protection Plan. 

Once you have decided whom you want, it is important to speak with them about their willingness to accept the responsibility. You may also wish to seek the opinions of your children if they are old enough to comprehend the situation. Additionally, it can help to write a Letter of Intent n order to share what you believe is important in regards to your children: your parenting values, your hopes and dreams, etc.

Should you select friends over relatives, it is a good idea to explain the decision in writing, so that it cannot be contested later on. By nominating a guardian (and a temporary custodian) for your kids, you can take comfort in knowing that they will remain protected no matter what. 

Guidance for Your Guardians

As part of the guardian identification process you may want to start a folder or document with your ideas on what is important in the raising of your children should someone have to step into that role. At Reilly Law PLC we provide our Young Family Plan clients with a template created by a colleague of ours that gives our clients some ideas on what things they may want to include in their guidance document or folder. It should be updated as your children get older and their interests change but it can be an invaluable guide to what you think is important for your children and I have heard from colleagues that guardians suddenly thrust into this challenging role really appreciate the guidance they are given. It gives the guardian some Peace of Mind themselves!

Reilly Law PLC Helps Those in Virginia Who Wish to Establish Guardianship for their Children

At Reilly Law PLC, we understand the importance of protecting your wishes and affording you peace of mind in knowing that the people you care most about will continue to be cared for and protected. We will help you to create a comprehensive estate plan that meets your wishes and makes the lives of your loved ones easier. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!