Estate planning allows you to protect your family in case something unexpected happens to you.
That’s why this planning is so important.
And every adult needs an estate plan in one form or another, no matter your age or the size of your estate.
If you are young and don’t have many assets yet, you at least need health care documents in place in case of a medical emergency.
If you have some assets, no matter how many, you still want to choose who will receive them if something happens to you. So you at least need a will. Otherwise, the state gets to decided who gets your prized possessions.
And If you have minor children, it’s really important.
Because if you don’t name guardians to take custody of, and care for, your children, then you risk having a judge who doesn’t know you or your kids make the ultimate decision about who will raise them, or having them placed into the system if no one comes forward to care for them if you are temporarily unable to do so yourself.
That’s why choosing guardians for your children is the most important decision you’ll make during your estate planning.
For some parents, this might be easy. They have relatives or close friends nearby whom they trust would care for their children in the ways they would want them to.
For others, it’s not so easy. They may not have good options nearby, or they’re not sure if those they might choose would raise their kids the way they would want them to.
Whether you think you have the perfect guardians ready and willing to serve, or you need help identifying guardians for your kids, there are some important, and not so obvious, factors to consider.
Considerations When Choosing Guardians
Choosing guardians can be difficult. And I’m about to make it more difficult – you need to choose two types of guardians.
That’s right, not only do you have to choose who will take care of your kids permanently if you are no longer able to do so, you also have to pick temporary guardians. And, as you’ll discover below, your estate plan is incomplete if you don’t name both types of guardians.
Temporary guardians take immediate custody of your children, on a temporary basis, if you are unable to do so.
For example, you and your spouse plan a long overdue date night. You hire a babysitter and feel comfortable that he or she will do a great job. Unfortunately, you’re in a car accident on your way home and can’t get back to your kids.
Obviously, the babysitter can’t keep custody of your children, and unless there is family close by, legal authorities will have to step in until family can be reached or you recover to an extent that you can care for them. And if a family member can’t be reached soon, or that family member is unable to take temporary custody, your kids could be in legal custody for days or weeks.
This is why executing temporary guardianship documents is so important.
In the temporary guardianship document, you name an individual or couple to take temporary custody of your kids if something happens to you. After you execute this document, you give it to the people you named as temporary guardians. And when you leave your kids in the care of someone other than your temporary guardians, you let that person know that you have executed such a document, you give them a copy of the document, and you also give them explicit instructions to call the temporary guardians as soon as they find out they may be needed.
When choosing temporary guardians, three things are essential:
- You want to choose guardians who live close enough to you that they are able to get to your kids as quickly as possible.
- If temporary guardians ever take custody of your kids, it will be a stressful and possibly chaotic situation for everyone involved, but especially for your children. They’ll be scared and worried about you. So, you want to name guardians your kids know and trust, and who will make them feel safe and cared for during a traumatic time.
- You need to choose guardians who are available. Choosing someone who travels a lot, or works a shifting schedule, or has too many commitments of their own to care for your kids, even on a temporary basis, is probably not the best choice. You can, and should, name back-up guardians in case someone isn’t available, but if you are choosing between a guardian who may have problems with availability and one who doesn’t, choose the guardian without availability issues.Permanent Guardians
Permanent guardians are individuals or couples you name to care for your children if you are no longer able to – either because of death or permanent disability.
Depending on the age of your kids, the permanent guardians you choose could have custody of your children for a long time. Therefore, it’s important that you make this decision carefully, and factor into your decision numerous considerations to ensure that you pick the best possible guardians.
The first step in choosing permanent guardians is to make a list of all of your possible candidates (if you have a spouse or partner, you can each create your own list). Once your list is created, consider the following:
- Unless you have no other choice, it isn’t a good idea to send your kids to live with someone they don’t know well or have never met. It’s always better to select people your children know and with whom they feel comfortable.
- If at all possible, name guardians who live close by. That way, your children are not forced to move away from other family and friends during a difficult time.
- You should choose guardians who share your values, including your religious beliefs, and your views on education and discipline, so that your children are raised in as similar a manner as you would raise them.
- Although you may want to select your parents as guardians for your children, their age or overall health may not make them the best choice.
- If your guardian of choice already has three kids, would you want to add your kids into the mix? Would your children fit in well with the rest of the family?
- What if you’re selecting someone who hasn’t started a family yet? Are they ready for the immediate responsibility of raising your kids? Even if they say they are, do you believe they are?
- You may be surprised to find out that some of your top choices don’t want to serve as guardians. So, it’s important to have a conversation with the potential guardians to make sure they are willing to take on the responsibility.
One thing you should not consider is the financial resources of any potential guardians. You need to make sure that you provide sufficient financial support, through life insurance or other planning, to ensure that no one who is otherwise qualified to serve as a guardian is disqualified on the basis of financial means. You don’t want to disqualify the perfect guardian because they can’t afford to care for your kids.
And if you’re having difficulty choosing guardians, or you need help creating an estate plan that gives you and your family peace of mind, don’t hesitate to contact me at 904-201-4149. I’d be happy to discuss these issues with you, and help you choose both temporary and permanent guardians for your children.