How To Choose A Guardian For Minor Children Or Dependents

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If you have children under the age of 18 (“minor children”), and you haven't named a guardian, you should really do it. Like, right now.

The role of the guardian will essentially be the role you have now as a parent—caring for your children, acting in their best interests, and providing for them physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and culturally.

If the child's other natural parent is alive and competent, he or she will likely be granted guardianship, no matter who you name in your Will as your desired guardian.

Reasons For Choosing A Guardian For Minor Children

By naming a guardian in your Will you have a voice in deciding who'll raise your child if you die. If you die without a Will or fail to name a guardian, the court will determine who should get custody over your kids. If your child's other parent is still alive (whether you're married or not), the court will usually grant custody to that person. However, if the child's other parent is unfit, unwilling, deceased, or otherwise unable to care for the child, the court will appoint someone they think will best serve the child. Not too appealing, right?

What It Means To Name A Guardian For Minor Children

Just because you've named someone doesn't mean that person will necessarily end up being the child's guardian. Unlike material possessions, a child isn't property and can't simply be bequeathed to another person, which is why the courts get involved. A judge (usually from Family Court, though possibly from Probate/Surrogate Court, Juvenile Court, or District Court) will have the ultimate say in deciding your child's guardian.

Don't let this discourage you at all. Your opinion on who should get custody matters very much to the court, and the person named in your Will should take priority in the judge's mind.

Types Of Guardians For Minor Children

There are two types: “Guardian of the Person,” who handles child rearing, and “Guardian of the Estate,” who handles the child’s finances. You may choose one person to fill both these roles or you may choose different people for each role.

To learn more about the duties of a Guardian of the Person, see our article Guardian of the Person.

To learn more about the duties of a Guardian of the Estate, see our article Guardian of the Estate.

Deciding Who To Choose As Guardian

Choosing a guardian isn't something parents take lightly, and it can be extremely challenging to think about who you'd like to raise your children. Learning about the responsibilities and duties that each guardianship entails can help you decide. For advice in this area, see our articles How to Choose a Guardian of the Person and How to Choose a Guardian of the Estate.

Naming A Guardian For Dependent Adults

If you are the parent or guardian of a dependent adult, you need to name a guardian for him or her in your Will. The guidelines and process for choosing a guardian for minor children also apply to choosing a guardian for a dependent adult. 

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