The selection of a guardian can have a profound impact on a child, so it’s important to choose carefully. If a person is hesitant to name a guardian for his or her children, a court will name one. Thus, it’s one of the most important estate planning decisions a person can make.
- Take inventory. Make a list of potential guardians — people you trust to love and care for your children.
- Make value judgments. Consider the values that are important to you, such as religious and moral beliefs, parenting philosophy, educational values, and social values. Determine which people on your list share these values most closely.
- Consider the intangibles. It’s also important to consider potential guardians’ intangible qualities such as their personalities and whether they’d be a good “fit” for your children.
- Consider age. The age of the guardian as well as the ages of your children are factors to consider. If your children are very young, a grandparent or other older person may not have the energy to keep up with them.
- Be practical. Consider factors such as where potential guardians live, whether they have other children and whether their homes are large enough to accommodate your kids.
- Don’t dismiss the possibility of separate guardians. If you have more than one child, it’s generally best for all concerned to keep them together. But sometimes it’s preferable to split them up.
- Talk it over. Narrow your list of potential guardians to a primary choice and one or two alternates, and discuss your plans with them.
- Put it in writing. Nominate a guardian in your will and include at least one alternate in the event your primary choice is unavailable or changes his or her mind. To avoid uncertainty and disputes, be sure that you and your spouse nominate the same guardians.
- Choose a temporary guardian. In addition to nominating a permanent guardian, it’s a good idea to name a temporary guardian, who is close by, to care for your children in the event you’re unable to do so (i.e., for health reasons).
- Be flexible. As your children grow older, their personalities, interests and needs change. The best guardian today may not be a good fit 10 years from now, so it’s important to review your guardian designation periodically.
Keep in mind that a court’s obligation is to do what’s in the best interest of your children. The court isn’t bound by your guardian appointment but will generally honor your choice unless there’s a compelling reason to do otherwise. It’s a good idea to prepare a letter explaining the reasons you believe your appointees are best equipped to care for your children.
In addition to naming a backup guardian, your estate plan should list anyone you wish to prevent from raising your children.