My youngest sister will be having a baby soon. We were discussing wills recently, and she wisely brought up the question of how to choose a guardian for your child. I gave her some basic tips in an email, but I thought it would make a good topic for a post. This is an expansion of the advice I gave my sister.
What Is a Legal Guardian? Why Is Choosing a Legal Guardian So Important?
A legal guardian is an adult who is designated to care for your child if both you and your spouse die or become incapacitated. If you fail to go about choosing a legal guardian, the courts will choose one for you.
You shouldn't assume that family will automatically get custody of your child. Unless you have a named guardian in your will, a judge will choose the guardian for your child. While the courts look most favorably upon choosing family members, they are free to pick anyone they choose. If they can't find someone who is capable and qualified, your child could end up in foster care. If that's not reason enough to designate a guardian, I don't know what is.
It's also wise to name an alternate guardian in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to accept the responsibility. This can be easily handled in your will.
Choosing the Right Guardian
The first thing you must realize is that you won't find a perfect guardian for your child. Your job is to find the best guardian you can, not a perfect one. Start by making a list of all the possibilities when choosing a legal guardian. Then discuss each possibility with your spouse. Here are a few factors to consider when narrowing down your list:
Should I Choose a Different Person to Manage My Estate?
Hopefully, you'll leave behind an estate that can help cover the costs of raising your child. If you do, you must decide if you want the legal guardian to also be the manager of those funds or if you should pick someone else. Having one person do both keeps things simple and makes it easier for the guardian. However, there are cases where you might want to pick a different person.
Clearly, if the person you've chosen as your child's legal guardian is not good at managing their own finances, you probably don't want them to manage your child's inheritance either. (Although, if this is the case, why would you pick them to be the guardian?)
You might also select a different person to be the trustee so you can keep them involved in your child's life. Your parents could be a good example. They might be too old to raise your child, but by choosing them to be the trustee, you can keep them involved in your child's life without the day-to-day responsibilities.
In either case, you'll want to make sure that both the legal guardian and the trustee can work together well. Any complications could make a difficult situation worse.
Get the Person's OK Before Signing Your Will
Finally (and this should be obvious), make sure you've discussed this with the person you'd like to select as your child's legal guardian. You don't want them to be caught by surprise after your funeral. It would be quite foolish to pick someone without discussing it with them first.
This is also a good way to narrow down your final list. One person may decline the responsibility. Another may be more than happy to take on this role. This makes things much easier when choosing a legal guardian.
This article has been reprinted with permission from Provident Planning. You can find the original article at How to Choose a Legal Guardian. Paul Williams lives in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and has a passion for teaching people about personal finance, especially from a Christian perspective. ProvidentPlan.com is dedicated to pursuing that passion.
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