Your kids are your everything. From the moment they arrived on this planet, nothing became more important than their health, happiness, and future successes.
That’s why you understand the importance of planning ahead and choosing the right legal guardian for your children in the event of the unimaginable. Of course, we all hope both parents will be around to support your family well into the future—but tragedy does happen.
In the Western world, about 4% of children will have at least one parent pass away before adulthood, according to a study released by the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Losing both parents is even more rare, yet still an unfortunate reality.
The same study found that adolescents who lost a parent were “at increased risk for psychological and behavioral health problems.” This makes choosing the perfect guardian essential for your children’s wellbeing. However, it’s not enough to simply think about who to pick—you need to make it official. Failure to do so could equals even more chaos for the ones you love most.
No one can ever replace you, but if the worst happens, wouldn’t you want the peace of mind that they’ll be in the best hands you’ve personally chosen? Neglecting to legally choose a guardian not only adds tumult to an already impossible time, but also gives the courts the power of your child’s future.
This means your children could wind up in the foster care system, or with a guardian you’d never leave your kid with in a million years. Nobody knows your children—or their possible guardians—like you do.
Honesty and communication between yourself, your partner, and potential legal guardians are key. Carefully weigh every question, concern, pro and con while ensuring no one else is influencing your decision.
Every family and circumstance is different, but here are a few critical questions to consider:
You may be closest to your peppy soccer mom sister with her five athletic kids that never slow down—but how will your shy, bookworm son fit into the shuffle? Just because you love someone dearly doesn’t mean they’d be right for your child and their unique personality.
This doesn’t mean throwing out those with different interests, but do consider other trusted friends or family members that perhaps you’re less close to, but could be a fantastic match for your kid.
Raising a kid takes a massive amount time and attention. Think about whether the potential guardian say, regularly works 80-hour weeks or constantly jet sets around the globe. Or do they already have multiple kids to juggle? If they don’t have free time now, how will they fit your child into their life?
For many people, their religion or lifestyle is extremely important. If the thought of your child growing up without your beliefs is distressing, choose a guardian dedicated to raising them as you would.
Whether due to age, chronic illness, or other issues, it’s important to choose a guardian likely to stay in decent health until your child reaches adulthood. Obviously life is unpredictable, but after already experiencing the loss of their parents, minimize the likelihood of your kids going through this cycle again.
During an already trying time, choosing a trusted guardian in the same area as your kids is ideal. There’s already enough to adjust to without the added stress of moving, making new friends, changing schools, etc.
If the perfect guardian lives in or is willing to relocate to your city, wonderful! However, avoid picking a subpar guardian because of location alone. If your brother lives on the opposite coast but he’d hands down create the best, most stable home environment—choose him. Never underestimate the resilience of kids.
Not necessarily. Though traditionally the role of a Godparent did include the responsibility of acting as a legal guardian, that no longer is always the case. Today, the modern Godparent often acts more as a role model, support system, extended family member, and trusted adult. Guardianship may be one of those roles as well, but ALWAYS discuss your wishes clearly with the chosen Godparent either way.
Prefer your adventurous, creative, whip smart best buddy to guide your daughter through life as their Godmother—but know if anything happened, your sister would be a more stable guardian? That’s totally fine! Just make sure they BOTH understand their expected responsibilities in detail. With roles varying from family to family, any assumption can mean confusion, disappointment, and even disaster on both sides.
After you’ve officially decided who to assign as your children’s legal guardians—make it official. Verbal communication is the right place to start, but it’s NOT enough.
Never assume that whomever you choose as your kid’s legal guardians will say yes. For various reasons, they may decide that raising your child isn’t feasible. It may be surprising, but it must be respected.
While talking, you may also uncover reasons resulting in you deciding against choosing them as a guardian. If this happens, don’t hesitate to change your mind and head back to the drawing board.
If it still seems like a great match and they say yes—great—but don’t stop there. Make sure to speak with them in-depth about what you’d expect from them as a legal guardian. Are the prepared to step up immediately? Do they know where to important documents, keys, passwords, etc.?
Also, make sure to choose a secondary legal guardian as back-up, just in case your first choice falls through.
Completing a will is essential in ensuring your intended legal guardian receives custody of your children. Without it, the decision will go to the courts. Thankfully, creating a free, legally binding will is surprisingly easy to do online, so there’s no excuse to wait.
A will is also important in regards to allocating life insurance payouts, inheritance, belongings, property, and other assets. It may specify a certain amount going to a college education fund or into a trust. Assuming you have life insurance, a portion may be set aside for the guardian for financial assistance as raising a child is expensive. Whatever your financial wishes may be, document it in your will—and protect it for your children.
Lastly, a will is the ideal place to include your wishes for how you’d like the legal guardians to raise your kids. Ideally in the form a letter, describe your dreams, expectations, and desired outcomes for your children under their trusted guardianship.