I’m an estate planning attorney who is passionate about what he does. But I’m also the first to admit there’s a certain morbid undertone to the work I do. After all, I am helping people plan for their incapacity and death. However, when you’re a parent to a minor child it’s your responsibility to plan for the worst-case scenario and not bury your head in the sand and hope things will continue on their merry way. You must name legal guardians who will care for your children in the event of your incapacity or death.
Without having taken this step, your family and loved ones will end up in court to determine the custody of your children. By failing to plan you will end up with zero say in the outcome of the court proceeding. Maybe your children end up with exactly whom you would have chosen. Maybe they don’t. It’s a roll of the dice. As harsh as this sounds there’s a simple solution: make this the year you name legal guardians for your children.
Throughout the years, countless clients have said to me “I understand the need to name legal guardians, and that’s why I’m here, but how do I choose?” The following steps are helpful:
Make a List
It sounds simple, but there’s something about seeing names on a piece of paper that makes the decision easier. Start by writing the names of every person you would even remotely consider to care for your children. The more names the better. We’ll narrow the list down as we go through the process. This list will include family, friends, and others close to you. How do you begin to narrow the list? Think about the age of your children and the age of those on your list. It’s one thing for your 65 year old parent to raise your 5 year old child, but time passes and you’ll need to consider whether your 75 year old parent is capable of raising your 15 year old teenager.
One tip that clients hear me reiterate time and again: don’t worry about the financial resources of those on your list. The money to raise your children to adulthood is your responsibility, not that of their guardian. If that means taking out term life insurance to provide for your children after you’ve passed away than that’s a step you’ll need to take. You should speak with a financial professional on this topic as only they can determine the exact dollar amount you’ll need to provide your children with the life you desire.
Think About Values and Character
Instead of focusing on money, consider the personal values and character of the people on your list. Do the potential guardians share your philosophy for raising children and educating them? Do they share your morals or religious beliefs? Will they raise your children in the way you want and instill in them the values you hold dear?
Consider Personal Compatibility
Finally, think about the lifestyle of the potential legal guardians. If they have children, do those children get along with yours? If they don’t have children, how are they with your children? Do they appear to be someone who will grow into the role of guardian or are they uncomfortable now and forever with children?
Something many attorneys overlook is if you are considering naming a couple as guardians and that couple someday splits up through death or divorce which one would you want to take care of your children? Greater than 90% of the clients I speak with really want one member of the couple to be guardian and the other individual, though they may think highly of them, is only there by virtue of the marriage. In such instance you’ll only name the one person as legal guardian.
You’ll soon realize that no legal guardian is perfect in every way. Who among us is? All you can do is make the best decision with the hand you are dealt by considering values, character, and personal compatibility. By taking the simple steps outlined in this article, and legally documenting them, you’ll find great comfort in the knowledge that you have done everything possible to provide your children with a secure future no matter what.
Contact our office at 646.736.7539 or via the submission box below to learn more about how you can make this the year you name legal guardians for your children.
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