The Top 8 Questions When Selecting a Guardian for Your Children
Facing the improbability that your children will outlive you is difficult. It’s not what you signed on for. It is easy to become overwhelmed when you have to think about selecting a guardian for your children. Unfortunately, accidents and unforeseen illnesses happen. And sometimes your children might need another guardian to raise them.
Once you stop and begin to think about selecting a guardian for your children, the questions begin to bubble up.
- How do you choose?
- Who should I consider?
- What are the drawbacks in selecting this person or that?
It seems like with every choice there is some sort of possible problem.
We want to help you in making your decision when selecting a guardian. Here are some questions and answers to consider before you make that choice.
1. What if the person you want to choose is older than you are?
You don’t know what the future holds. Go ahead and designate your first choice. You can always reevaluate 3, 5, or 10 years down the road depending on the needs of your children.
Furthermore, you can designate that an older person be guardian until your child is a certain age. Then after that time have a different guardian take over. Recognize that change can be difficult for a child, so make that decision after careful thought.
2. What if I offend a family member or your entire family with your choice?
You need to put your children first. If your first choice has a similar parenting style and you feel most comfortable with them, then don’t worry about it. You are looking after your child first and foremost.
There are times that family members have a major problem with a choice. In some cases they may challenge your choice in court. Again, do what you feel is best for the child. The truth is that guardian designations are rarely overturned by the court.
In order for the court to rule against your pick, a person would have to make their case in court. In order for the court to rule in their favor, they would need to prove a history of child-abuse or something equally grave.
One way to soothe hurt feelings is to write a letter or record a video explaining your choice and attach it to your Will or Guardianship Designation. This serves two purposes. One it helps the family understand your choice in your own words and thoughts. Second, this would also make it available to the court if there is a challenge to your assignment.
3. What if your first choice isn’t good with money?
This doesn’t have to be a problem at all. You can name both a guardian and a financial manager. By doing this, you can name your first choice as your child’s guardian. They will take care of raising your children. By naming someone else as the financial manager, that person would be responsible for your children’s money. Typically this works by putting their money in a trust.
The advantage to this is it allows the guardian to focus on parenting your child and leaves the finances to someone else.
4. What if you don’t like the spouse of your first choice?
It is not uncommon for people to like one person, but not their spouse. To help ease your fears here is a solution in this situation. You can give just one person guardian designation. Then if the couple splits, your children will stay with your first choice.
But, understand the pitfalls to do this. You must realize that your children will be inevitably influenced by both your first choice and their spouse. The fact that they are a family unit means they both will have a hand in raising your children. So make sure that this is really what you want before making that choice.
5. What if I am divorced and I don’t want my ex-spouse to regain custody?
In your Will, name a guardian and then clearly state or include a letter or video telling why you don’t think your ex-spouse should get custody.
If there is a pattern of irresponsible behavior, show that. Include court records, police records, or other evidence you think shows that your ex is not an appropriate guardian.
Understand that there needs to be a compelling reason for this to take place. If there is no other reason than, you don’t want them to be the guardian, there could be a challenge.
6. What if your children don’t like your first choice?
Once again, communicate. Talk with your children about why you think they should live with your first choice. Some may think it is inappropriate to discuss these things with their children. However, children will find security in knowing you have a plan for them in the event that you are gone.
It is also important to note – youth ages 14 and up (and sometimes younger) have a voice in the matter of guardian designation in court. They can ask the court for a different guardian. The judge will take their wishes into account. Therefore, it is worth the effort to discuss the reasoning behind your choice with your children.
7. What if you have children from different marriages – can you name a different guardian for each?
Yes, you can. You are perfectly within your rights to name a different guardian for each child. Depending on the family situation, you can also choose to keep them all together. It all depends on your circumstances.
Every family is different. And every child is unique. Acknowledging that each child is different, may require different personalities when selecting a guardian.
8. What if your first choice doesn’t live near you or out of state?
Having an out-of-state guardian does pose some challenges. The main issues become financial. An out-of-state guardian might have to post a sum of money to ensure that they will follow through on performing their new responsibilities.
In addition, the guardianship proceedings would have to relocate to the state where the guardian lives. This move will also increase legal fees.
However, you have the right to choose someone out of state. If you choose to do that, make sure that you have a discussion with that person. Let them know there may be additional costs and more to the legal process.
If you choose to do this, also consider having a local temporary guardian. This person can take care of your children in the short term while the court proceedings play out. Name this person and leave clear instructions as to your wishes.
If you do not do this, then the state will have no choice but to place your child in Child Protective Services until everything is settled with the court.
After You Make Your Decision
Once you have made your decision, talk with your first choice. Make sure they agree to this monumental commitment up front.
As you talk with them about your expectations, you may realize they aren’t the best match for your child. You can clear up any questions they have.
It’s better to work through the particulars beforehand. Then write a detailed letter or record a video expressing your hopes and desires for your child. Have that letter or video attached to the Will or Guardianship Designation. You might outline your wishes for their education and what religious experiences you want for your child.
Is Selecting a Guardian for Your Children Necessary?
Selecting a Guardian for your children might seem like something from a movie. You may procrastinate making the decision because these type of issues are uncomfortable. It may seem that no one is good enough.
In the end, it is better to face this head on and choose for yourself. You know your children. You know their needs. If you don’t designate a legal guardian for your children, anyone can volunteer and the courts may appoint someone you would not have chosen.
For more information on selecting a guardian or other estate planning needs, contact our Jacksonville Estate Planning Attorneys at Harris Guidi Rosner. Estate planning isn’t just about protecting yourself. It’s something you do to protect the ones you love, and we are here to help you.