Five Tips for Naming Guardians for Minor Children

One of the most important parenting jobs is naming a guardian for your minor children. It is the only way you can ensure your children are taken care of if you become incapacitated or pass away.

Many couples understandably put off the guardianship discussion. It involves serious conversations about scenarios no one really wants to dwell on. Such a delay, however, could make a difficult situation worse. With no guardian directions, an already distraught family could face expensive and disruptive court battles if relatives can't agree on the best home for the children.

Naming a guardian can be as easy as leaving instructions in your will or signing a designation of guardian form. And while guardianship often is part of overall estate planning, the decision can be made separate from that process.

Regardless of which method you choose, here are five important issues to consider in making the critical decision of who will care for your children if you are no longer available.

  1. The ex-spouse: A biological parent of the children is usually presumed to be the guardian unless there are compelling reasons not to name him or her. If these reasons exist, be explicit in your declaration of why do you not want the other parent to be a guardian.
  2. Characteristics of the guardian: Consider the candidate’s current age, health, family and financial situation. How could these change over the next several years until your youngest child reaches the age of 18?
    Where does the guardian live? Would the children need to move? If so, perhaps naming local, temporary guardians would help during the transition to the new locale.
  3. Values of the guardian: In looking at potential guardians, ask yourself which people most closely share those values and philosophies with respect to your religious beliefs, moral values, child-rearing philosophy, educational standards and social values.
    Also consider which candidates have the personality traits that would work for your children. Are they loving and patient, or more strict and rules-oriented? What is the guardian’s relationship with your other family members?
    Even after you find a good match, make your own parenting values and hopes and dreams for your children clear. Write them down and attach the document to your will or guardianship declaration.
  4. Name alternate guardians, not co-guardians: Many people would like to designate a couple as co-guardians of their children. But what happens if there is a divorce or a disagreement about how to handle certain situations? There needs to be one final decision maker with the legal authority to act. The alternate can step in if the primary guardian is unable or unwilling to act.
  5. Have the conversation now, then follow up: Confirm with the candidate that he or she is willing to take on this responsibility. As things change in the guardian’s life, such as having their own children or caring for sick relatives, reconfirm that your choice is still willing to perform the role.

Considering your children’s lives after you are gone is never easy. But thinking through what you want for your family and communicating your wishes to the people who will love and care for your kids will provide much peace of mind.