One of the hardest and most overlooked parts of estate planning is having to choose a guardian for your kids. If you have parents close by, which thankfully we do, it might not be as tough a decision. But if you have family out of state or no existing family members, then the decision is that much tougher. Ideally, you want someone you can trust and that you don't have to think twice about if they are the right person to raise your child. Being a guardian is no such easy task, and that is a responsibility that they must fully understand.
Selecting a Guardian
Every guy has that single friend like Owen Wilson in “You, Me and Dupree“. As much as you love to hang with your buddy and to catch the game and share a beer, is that the guy you want raising your kid? Think about it.
For potential guardians without children, suddenly having children to raise may require an unexpected change in lifestyle. In addition, those who do have children will face the prospect of integrating additional children into their existing family. It is difficult to know how well children will adjust to their new family. Suppose the guardian is a friend and not a blood relative. Will your family members make the situation even more difficult by second-guessing decisions the guardian makes? There's a lot to consider and most likely you and your spouse won't decide overnight.
Financial Responsibility of Being a Guardian
Assuming guardianship of someone else’s children is also a major financial responsibility. Too often, the respective parties may avoid addressing important financial issues, such as the following:
- Would the guardian be able and willing to assume full financial responsibility for raising your child(ren) or would he or she expect some financial provisions to be made in your will? For instance, should the guardian be designated as the beneficiary of your life insurance policies in the event both you and your spouse die?
- Is there sufficient life insurance to help pay for the cost of raising your children, including higher education expenses? Here's a quick rundown of how much life insurance you may need.
- If assets are to be placed in trust for the benefit of your children, how will the trust be administered?
- Will the guardian have any role in controlling the trust assets? In short, are you confident your finances will be handled adequately?
Making it Official
If you've come to an agreement on the who the guardian is going to be, you have to make it official. The courts will have to appoint the official guardian of your children and you can make it simple by drafting a will. Generally, a court will not force unwilling people to serve as guardians, even if they have previously agreed and were named as guardians in the deceased parents’ will.
I was late to the game in getting a will drafted, but we recently just took care of it. Having in-laws that live close, it was a no-brainer selecting them as the primary guardians. My mom, who lives out of state, was selected as the the successor guardian.
When selecting a guardian for your children, you may want to discuss the important issues mentioned above. After you've selected a guardian, it would be wise to have a discussion with that person(s), letting them know why you selected them and how you hope they act as guardian if you were no longer there. You will gain peace of mind from knowing a caring individual will raise your children in a loving, supportive environment. The guardian will better understand the financial nature of the responsibility he or she is being asked to assume. Most importantly, your children will benefit from being cared for by willing guardians.