How to Select Guardians for Your Minor Children
May 3rd, 2016
Appointing a guardian for minor children is one of the most important and challenging decisions that parents face. If you've been avoiding the issue, it's time to take the leap. A thorough, properly drafted estate plan is the best way to protect your children's future. Any plan, even if it's not perfect, is better than none. Regardless of your family situation or income, the right documents can help ensure that your children will always have someone to care for them.
Estate Planning Paralysis
As an estate planning attorney, I know what it's like to work through the paralysis that parents face. It's natural to procrastinate or avoid tough decisions. Many people don't know where to start. Others worry that they won't appoint the right person or fear that they will never agree with their spouse.
To get past the paralysis, think about the near future. Who would make the best caregiver in the next three to five years? If you realize that your best friend from college isn't the right guardian for your little ones, that's alright. People change, and your will can always be updated.
In most cases, parents are given priority when guardianship is decided, so your spouse or ex-spouse should be your first choice. Then, appoint an alternate guardian in case the other parent is unable or unwilling to care for your children.
To avoid legal battles, make sure that you and your spouse or ex-spouse list the same guardian on your respective wills. You can work together to select the right person. He or she might be a relative or close friend. Usually, parents can agree on a person who has good parenting skills, a suitable lifestyle, and similar values.
To help the decision-making process, each parent can make a list of candidates to see if there are any matches. If you're still having a hard time, talk to the potential guardian to see if he or she is able and willing to care for the children. You might also plan an outing to see exactly how the guardian interacts with your children.
Avoiding Guardianship Pitfalls
- In case of a divorce, don't select co-guardians, such as the child's aunt and uncle. Pick one trustworthy person.
- To ensure that your wishes are carried out, explain in writing why you appointed the guardian.
- Godmothers are not legal guardians. If you want a godparent to care for your children, put it in your will.
- Each sibling or half-sibling may have a separate caregiver if it is specified in the will.
- Unlike some states, Florida does not specify an age when children may choose a guardian, but judges will consider their wishes. You can discuss the decision with teens.
While you are designating a guardian for your minor children, take time to make financial plans. Be practical. Consider whether that person has the resources needed to care for your children. Guardian gifts, minivan clauses and insurance policies can help the caregiver buy a bigger house or a family vehicle.
Think about college funds and the child's expenses. Don't forget to appoint someone to manage the estate or trust. The guardian doesn't have to be the same person who manages the finances if the guardian isn't suited for the role. I will be glad to discuss the options with you and determine if an irrevocable trust or custodial UGMA/UTMA account is right for your family. I can help you develop a suitable estate plan to ensure that your assets are inherited by your spouse or children in the manner you prefer, and that those assets are protected for your children's future.
If you're ready to create a will that designates a guardian for minor children, schedule a meeting with an estate planning attorney.