Choosing a guardian for your minor children can be the hardest part of any parent’s estate plan. It is not easy to contemplate your own mortality or the idea of someone else, no matter how loving they may be, raising your child. However, a few moments spent thinking about what you value in life and child rearing now can have a tremendous difference in your child’s life should tragedy strike. Here are a few steps to help guide the process of choosing a guardian.
Step 1 – make a list
Your list should contain the names of everyone you know who could be a possible guardian for your children. You’ll know the list is long enough when you can’t stand to put another name on the list. At this point, the only qualification a person needs to be included on your list is: if that person provide a better home for your child than the state foster care system.
Step 2 – define your priorities
Now, think about your values and what your values your ideal guardian would have. Make a list of your top factors and rank them from most important to least important. Your list need not be exhaustive, but it should capture the core of your beliefs. To get you started, here are some factors to consider:
- parenting style
- religious beliefs
- an existing relationship with your child
- marital status
- moral values
- presence of children in the home
- willingness to serve as a guardian
Don’t make the mistake of including financial resources as a factor – it is your responsibility as the parent to provide the financial resources (life insurance, savings accounts, investments) to care for your child. What you want to create is a list of factors that captures the essence of how you would like to see your children raised and the values you wish to impart to them.
Step 3 – narrow your list of candidates
Now, use your list of factors to narrow your list of possible guardians. Consider each person (if you have listed a couple, consider each member of the couple individually) in the light of your list of factors. Ask yourself how would that person score on your measure and narrow your list down to the handful of people that score the highest. Now sort your shortened list by order of priority – who would you want first, second, third, etc. If you list a couple, take a moment to consider what should happen if the couple splits up or one member dies or is incapacitated (this is why you want to score both members of a couple individually) – will it matter to you which member of the couple cares for your child after the incident, or should your children be cared for by the next person on your list of possible guardians.
Step 4 – see an attorney
Now, take your short list to your attorney and have him draw up the legal documents needed to implement your guardianship plan.
For a complimentary initial consultation, call 507-206-4976