There is no question that having children changes everything -- and estate planning is no exception. If you and your spouse pass away or become legally incapacitated, and arrangements were never made in the event of such an emergency, your minor child or children will have to be placed with a new family. Not surprisingly, such a drastic change can be a disruptive process for minor children -- even if they are placed with members of your family. If you choose a guardian for your child in your will or other estate plan documents this difficult time can go much more smoothly. Who Makes a Good Guardian?
A guardian for your minor child “steps into” your shoes in the event you can no longer care for him or her. No one wants this to happen, but when a parent becomes incapacitated or dies, the minor child left behind will need care. Because a guardian plays such an important role in your family’s life, there are several factors to consider when choosing someone to take on this role: 1. Shared values. It is best to choose someone who has a common level of religious belief. For example, if you are not the religious type you may have objections to someone who would expect your child to join and regularly attend church. 2. Parenting style. Whether you run a tight ship at home or prefer a laissez-faire approach to raising children, choosing someone who will continue in your style is likely the best fit. 3. Involvement. Someone who travels all the time will not be able to regularly show up to your kids’ soccer games, gymnastics meets, band concerts, and live theater performances -- an important part of being a guardian to your children. 4. Energy level. Having the stamina to be able to keep up with your child -- especially during the younger years -- is an important factor. 5. Other children. While a potential guardian who already has children should not be a deal breaker, you should consider how adding more children into the family will affect the dynamic, particularly when it comes to the ages of the kids. 6. Financial resources. While money isn’t everything, you should consider whether a potential guardian has the resources to take on your child. Although your estate will be available to pay for your child’s day-to-day needs, your potential guardian may need to make changes in their own life, such as buying a larger house. Perhaps your estate should be made available to assist with such costs. 7. Residency. If your guardian isn’t local, you should consider whether you want your child raised in another city, state or country. Also, you may need to nominate someone to be a temporary guardian, until such time as your guardian can arrive to take physical custody of your child. If a non-U.S. resident is your first choice for guardian, you should provide reasons for this decision in your will, to ensure that your choice of guardian will be respected by the court as being in the best interests of your child.
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Once you have made a decision on who will be your child’s guardian, contact an experienced estate planning attorney. We can draft the documents you need in order to make this legally binding, as well as create an estate plan that suits your family's needs and will protect your loved ones in the event you are no longer able to do so yourself.