Guardianship for Your Children

Learn how to establish a guardian for your kids.

Designating a Guardian

You can designate a guardian for your children as part of your will. It’s best to list a single guardian and an alternate guardian in the event that the first guardian is unable or unwilling to serve.

Some parents choose to appoint a married couple as guardians for their children. Although you have the right to appoint co-guardians, two guardians may disagree or even divorce. Therefore, if you choose to appoint two guardians you should list both guardians separately, so that they each have the ability to make legal decisions on your child’s behalf.

Who Should I Chose as a Guardian?

Selecting a guardian is a very personal decision. Parents often choose guardians with a parenting style similar to their own and who share the same moral beliefs. Your selected guardian may be an extended family member or a very close friend. There are no requirements that a guardian must be married or have children. In fact, you should consider a potential guardian’s existing family obligations and assess whether that person has the time and resources to care for your child. Some other factors you may consider when selecting a potential guardian include:

  • the guardian’s age (must be 18)
  • the guardian’s physical and emotional health
  • the guardian’s responsibilities for other children
  • the guardian’s religious background and moral beliefs
  • the guardian’s work and community commitments, and
  • the guardian’s financial assets.

When in doubt, you should ask any prospective guardians how they would feel about raising your children in the event of your death. Their answers may make your decision easier.

Can I Appoint Different Guardians for Different Children?

If you have children from different relationships, you may want to appoint a separate guardian for each child. Specifically, a child from your first marriage may have no relationship with your current father-in-law, even though your other children and father-in-law share a strong bond. It’s important to take a child’s family ties and relationships into account when appointing a guardian.

Even when children share the same parents, children with a large age gap may be best suited to different guardians. For example, you may want your mother to serve as guardian for your 15 year-old daughter because they share a strong bond. However, your aging mother may be ill-suited to serve as guardian for your infant. Your family’s unique circumstances will affect your decision about how many and which guardians you choose to serve in your case.

Can I Appoint a Separate Guardian to Manage My Children’s Estates?

Yes, you can appoint one guardian to care for your children’s day-to-day needs and a separate guardian to manage your children’s financial estate. It’s actually a good idea to entrust a separate person to manage your children’s inheritance, particularly if you have a large financial estate. A second guardian can ensure that the children’s primary guardian is spending money prudently and can protect the children’s inheritance.

For example, you may have selected your best friend as guardian for your children because of her moral values, good humor, and outstanding parenting abilities. Yet, your best friend may be terrible with money. In that case, you could appoint a separate adult to serve as the trustee or custodian of your children’s estate to oversee finances and expenditures that your best friend makes on the children’s behalf. A guardian over the estate could also reign in reckless spending, if any, by the children’s primary guardian.

What If I Don’t Want My Ex to Raise My Children Upon My Death?

Although a parent’s rights to appoint a guardian are broad, a parent can’t appoint a guardian who interferes with the other parent’s right to custody. This issue comes up frequently in divorce cases. Upon your death, a judge will grant custody to the other parent, unless that parent’s rights have been terminated or the parent is deemed unfit.

If you have significant concerns about your ex’s ability to care for your children, you can write a letter explaining your concerns and make it part of your will. For a comprehensive guide to estate planning, get Plan Your Estate, by Denis Clifford.

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