Family & Relationships

How to Choose Your Child’s Guardian

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The thought of choosing someone to be your child's guardian in case something happens to you may seem morbid. But consider that, while it’s unlikely, if something happens to both parents and there is no will in place, the court would have to choose a guardian for your child without any guidance from you.

That scenario should be enough to keep you up at night. Here are three steps you can take to name a legal guardian for your child.

1. Start with discussing who you’d want to take care of your child.

First, talk about what you feel are in your child’s best interests when it comes to important issues like their care, upbringing, education and religious beliefs. Then consider which person or people would be best suited to carry those wishes out using the following questions:

  • Do you have confidence and trust in the person to carry out your directions?
  • Is the person able to handle the physical requirements of being guardian?
  • Does he/she have the time?
  • If he/she has a family, are their kids close to the age of your child?
  • Can your prospective guardian cover the costs of raising the child (if it’s in addition to what you’ve provided)?

Once you decide who you want to name as guardian, whether it’s one person or a couple, be sure to talk with them about it. After all, it’s a big commitment. And you’ll want to know if they have any reservations about being a guardian and make sure they understand your wishes for your child.

Also choose an alternate guardian to include in your will. He or she will take care of your child if your primary choice can’t or won’t serve.

2. Understand the legal roles.

As part of your estate plan you can delegate different responsibilities to various people within your will. Key appointments can include:

  • Guardians who are responsible for your child’s physical and emotional well-being.
  • Conservators are appointed to manage the property of a minor.
  • Trustees who manage the finances of the estate on behalf of your children.
  • Personal representatives or executors who oversee the implementation of your will.

The advantage of selecting different people for each role is that it ensures you have the best person possible to attend to your child’s various needs. For example, the person you want to manage finances may not be best suited to take on a guardian role.

3. Put the right documents in place.

Discussing your child’s care is certainly important, but it is a moot point in the eyes of the court if you don’t have it in writing. Here are the key documents and designations involved in estate planning:

  • A will: This document sets out specific directions on who receives your property and assets after your death. It also spells out the terms for these gifts, names who you want to carry out your directives and names who will care for your dependents after you pass away.
  • A trust: If your children aren’t old enough to manage property and assets, your will can name a support trust to be managed and distributed for their benefit until the age you specify. This kind of trust is effective only upon your death. If the trust is named in your will it’s also known as a “testamentary trust.”
  • Beneficiary designations: Keep in mind, if you have a life insurance policy, 401(k) or IRA account, the beneficiary forms accompanying these documents overrule wills. The funds in these accounts will be distributed to whomever you name in those documents — regardless of whom you specify in your will.

You’ll want to be sure you consider all possible variables and scenarios when deciding who will be responsible for your child if something happens to you. An estate planning attorney can help make sure you make the right choice for your family.

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