Here’s a simple question that rarely has a simple answer: Who would raise your kids, or care for your dependents, if you weren’t around to do it? For parents with young kids, or those taking care of an adult with special needs, choosing a guardian is the most important reason for creating a Will. It’s also the toughest decision you’ll have to make.
To start, here’s what you should consider when picking a guardian:
- Values: Does the guardian share your beliefs, principles, and philosophy of life?
- Personality & Lifestyle: What kind of person is the guardian, what kind of life do they live, and is compatible with your child’s personality and interests?
- Religious Views: Does the guardian share your religious or spiritual views and will they raise your child accordingly?
- Parenting Style: If the guardian is already a parent, what is their parenting style like? Is it similar to your own or very different? Do you think your child would thrive with that type of parenting?
- Ability To Act As A Guardian: Can the guardian handle the responsibilities and duties that come with the job and do they have the resources necessary to raise your child? Resources may include time, energy, health, financial ability, and emotional wherewithal.
- Existing Relationship With The Child: Does your child and the guardian like each other and have a friendly, healthy relationship?
- Location: Does the guardian live near you, or far away? Would naming this person require your child to relocate to a new community?
Financial Support For Your Kids
There may be a significant amount of money left behind for your kids, especially if you have Life Insurance, and it’s the guardian of the estate’s job to manage those finances.
Typically, the person you name as guardian of the person, which is the official, and kinda cold, name for “guardian,” will also handle the assets left behind for that person. But then there are people who are just plain bad with money.
If you opt for different estate/person guardians they need to be able to work together on the child’s behalf. Whenever the person-guardian needs funds for the kid, they need to hit up the estate-guardian for the money. On paper this makes sense, but you won’t be around to manage the personal dynamics if things go south.
Choose wisely and let them know beforehand so it’s not a shock. If you sense any tension, choose different people or find a way to set the person-guardian up for financial success. But no matter what, don’t let any of this become an excuse to not name a guardian. It’s too important to leave to chance.
To make this task easier to visualize, we created this checklist to help with the decisions. Print it out, or fill it out digitally, and keep it with the list of possessions you created from this Will: Possessions task.
We know this task might not be as easy as simply writing down a name. Almost all parents struggle with naming guardians in case something happens to both parents because it means picking someone on “my side of the family” vs. “your side of the family.”
The way most attorneys get parents to decide this is to have them agree on someone who would make a terrible guardian, like a crazy sister-in-law or completely unreliable brother. The attorney then explains that if they don't name a guardian, a judge will choose someone from the immediate family and it could very easily be that person so there must be someone, anyone, who could make a better guardian. This is when most couples need to go away and think about it -- and it’s also why they never end up actually executing their Will, even though everything else is worked out.
Please don’t let this be a blocker. Even if you don’t complete this task today, make it a priority to settle on a person within a week so you’re not leaving anything to chance.