Just in Case: Designate a Guardian for Your Children Today

"What's the Best Way to Choose a Guardian for Your Kids?" The question, discussed in a recent Huffington Post article, is simple. Arriving at an answer that you and your spouse are comfortable with is not always easy.

Selecting a potential guardian is an emotional decision—and a very important one. Remember, if you don't name a guardian, the state will choose one for you.

Create a list of all the important factors and considerations for this individual or individuals. Then your spouse and you can discuss each one from a practical perspective, as well as an emotional one. Hopefully, you'll come to an agreement fairly easily. In addition, you can ask your estate planning attorney to help you with the process.

Some of the questions you might consider include the following:

Does the prospective guardian share your values? These can be religious, moral, political, or personal. Most of us would prefer that the guardian raise our children with the beliefs and attitudes that we hold dear.

How closely does this person know you and your family? Are your kids comfortable with him or her? The closer the children are to a potential guardian, the better they will handle a very difficult transition.

How many kids does the prospective guardian already have and what is his or her parenting style? If they have a full house, will that make things overly stressful when you kids are added? Also, you'll want someone who can provide a sense of continuity in discipline and personal responsibility.

What's the age and health of the prospective guardian? Depending on the age of your children at the time, this could be a long-term commitment, which may be tough for an older person or couple.

Where does the prospective guardian live? If it's across country, that may be OK for a two-year-old but a whole different ballgame when talking about a teenager and moving him or her from junior high or high school where they have long-time friendships.

While we're on the subject of caring for your kids, think about how much it will cost. You and your spouse should have enough life insurance to provide for your kids financially through college. It's one thing to ask someone to care for your kids and another to ask them to support them.

Your children will most likely have some type of inheritance that needs to be managed carefully, and you can choose to appoint both a personal guardian and a guardian of the estate. They don't have to be the same person. Nonetheless, it's important that the guardian of the person and the guardian of the estate get along and will be able to agree on what's best for the children.

Once you and your spouse agree on the prospective guardian, talk to that person and make sure he or she understands why you've chosen them and whether he or she is willing to take on the responsibility. Agree on a back-up in case the first choice can't fulfill the role.

Remember that you can revisit your choice every few years. If something changes, contact your estate planning attorney to change your guardian choice. Hopefully your guardian will never have to step in, but do the right thing for your children and make your designation now. Put it in writing. Then you and your family can live a full and happy life knowing your kids are taken care of—just in case.

Reference: Huffington Post (January 18, 2016) "What's the Best Way to Choose a Guardian for Your Kids?"

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