How to Choose a Guardian for Your Minor Child
This is one of my very favorite pictures of my youngest son. We are camping on a gorgeous small lake in the mountains, he is wearing overalls gifted to us by my grandparents identical to the ones always worn by my grandpa, and he is joyfully living his best life outside. Happily hanging out in a meadow – just experiencing the natural world with joy and wonder and an open heart. I know I’m biased but my heart swells and my eyes tear up every time I see this picture. My baby.
So the thought of having to consider someone else raising him is frankly soul crushing. And fortunately, as he is 16 now, I’m mostly past that stage. But parents of babies and young children – I want you to know – I see you. The truth is that choosing a guardian for your children – someone who will raise your children if you are deceased or incapacitated – is, at least for me and many of my clients, a grief-inducing, emotionally fraught decision.
Here are some thoughts to help you choose who should raise your children if you can’t. And while I know this is a tough decision, it is so important to make, because if you don’t choose the person you want, state law or a court may choose your child’s guardian for you and it may not be who you would choose. Unless you name a guardian in your will, anyone can step forward and a judge will decide who gets custody.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Guardian
The first thing to recognize is that the best person is you and no one can replace you. You’re looking for next best. Here are some things to consider:
- Who will parent most like you? Do they have a parenting style, values, and beliefs that are similar to yours?
- Who has the ability to take on this responsibility? As we all know, parenting is not easy. Who has the time, resources and energy to devote to your children?
- Would your children have to move? If so, would they need to change schools or live far from other family and friends?
- Is there someone your children already spend time with and are comfortable with?
- Does the person you’re considering have other children? Would your children fit in well as part of another family?
As with all of our other estate planning helpers, whether financial or health care related, it is critical that you discuss this decision with the person you’re considering naming. For more information about naming trustees, executors and financial powers of attorney click here. For more information about naming a health care power of attorney, click here. Is the person you’ve chosen to raise your children if you cannot, willing and able to take on this important responsibility?
It’s also important to speak with the person you’ve chosen about what you hope and expect for your children. For example, what kind of activities do you hope they can participate in, what type of education do you want for them, what values do you hope are shared with them. If you can find the time to write some of this down in a letter and keep with your will, it can prove invaluable to your guardian and your children.
Once you’ve made the choice and appointed a guardian for your children in your will, it’s important to understand that this choice can be changed. Your life may change, the life of the person you’ve chosen may change, your children will change. As with many of the decisions you make in your estate planning documents, your choice of a guardian should be revisited if your life changes. For more information about estate planning and keeping your estate plan updated, click here.
Contact our St. Louis office at 314-303-3218 for assistance preparing your estate plan and choosing a guardian for your children.
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Updated on 10/23/2022 by Stephanie Copp Martinez, JD.