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Choosing a potential guardian for your children in your will

By Elizabeth McKinney, Attorney and Partner
English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley, LLP

Estate planning often involves thinking about things you’d rather not, and perhaps the most unpleasant of tasks is to consider who you’d appoint as guardians for your minor or special needs children in the event of your death.

girl blowing dandelion from pexelsHow exactly do you choose the person who will raise your children? You can work your way through a simple checklist to get started. Answering these questions honestly will help guide you.

  • Does the person or couple have their own children? If so, what kind of parent or parents are they? Yes, we know, this is obvious, but we can’t skip it. Ideally, the person you choose should have a similar parenting style as your own, or a style that you believe will work for your child.
  • Is the person or couple financially stable? Can they provide the stability that your child needs? Financial stability is only one part of the picture, but it can determine if the family has to move often or if they can provide the basics for the family.
  • Where does this person live? If they’re close by, that is preferable. Loss of parents and moving to another city is a lot to take for a child. Living in the same city and keeping their friends may help ease the transition.
  • Do they want to be the guardian for your children? Yes, you absolutely should have this discussion, but only after you’re pretty sure you want to add them to your will as your child’s potential guardians. You can create hard feelings if you have this discussion with more than one person.
  • Does this person have any kind of substance abuse issues? Naturally, we’d suggest you avoid anyone who has trouble staying sober or has a drug habit.

The advice I always give clients is to remember that you’re not picking the perfect person (or couple) to raise your child. You’re choosing someone to step in if something happens, and it will never be ideal. You’re under no obligation to choose someone who is related to you by blood or marriage. If you don’t believe your siblings would be good guardians for your children, then feel free to pick someone else. You can pick a friend or a more distant relative.

Legally, the guardian can be anyone you’d like. There aren’t any restrictions on who you pick. But you do need to keep the information updated and readily available, and if you change your mind on this particular point, you’ll need to revise your will and other estate documents.

If you’re concerned about handing over a pile of cash to someone along with your child, you can put the proceeds of your estate in a trust account and make an individual or trust company the trustee. This can help avoid situations such as the guardian making questionable purchases that are supposed to help the child – but really benefit themselves. The guardian will have to justify major expenses to the trustee to receive the funds to make purchases.

Choosing guardians for your child is only one part of estate planning. There are many other things to consider and other pieces of your estate plan. Please consult with an attorney in creating your will and other estate documents. You can contact me, Beth McKinney, if you need assistance. You can reach me at emckinney@elpolaw.com or (270) 781-6500.