Choosing a guardian for your children answers the following question: Who will look after my children if I die?
Most people consider a will is something you write in order to decide who receives your money. However, if you are a parent, a will also means deciding who will look after your children if you were to pass away. The person/s who will look after your children is called a guardian and they will assume the role and responsibilities of being a parent. Like a parent, they will have legal responsibility and custody over your child. They will be considered legally a parent and will have full responsibilities. It’s therefore not a decision to be made lightly.
A guardian can be whomever you choose in the will, and is most likely either your spouse or a relative. In some circumstances, if you and your spouse both pass away at the same time, then the person who is the guardian can be whomever you both feel comfortable with and is someone you both state in your wills.
If your spouse is still alive, you still have the option of naming a guardian. This guardian can act in joint responsibility of the child with the surviving spouse. Therefore, if the other spouse was to pass away, it is an easy transition for both the child and guardian when the guardian assumes full responsibility and care. It is best for the guardian to be someone you are both happy with and both trust. This is your child’s potential future carer and this is an important decision. It’s also important to make sure your nominated guardian is aware of your choice and is happy to take on the role.
The child may not necessarily live with the named guardian; however, this person will still have full responsibility if the other parent is alive and can sign legal documents and make healthcare decisions. They can also assist in choosing education and religious services for your child. In most circumstances, the person you choose is related to the child – a grandparent, an aunt or uncle or an adult sibling. However, this is not a necessity.
You may also choose to have more than one guardian, but you should be aware that this may cause some conflict. If there is a dispute, it may end up in court, who will consider the best interests of the child. It is important that you trust whomever you choose to be your child’s guardian, understand the gravity of parenting decisions and reflect your parenting style for the child.
You should be aware that this decision can have a huge effect on your child as well. It is best to choose someone your child is comfortable around and enjoys spending time with. Even if you choose someone who you believe is trustworthy and will reflect your parenting style, if your child dislikes this person, this can cause conflict, resentment and trauma for all parties concerned. If they’re old enough, you may choose to discuss this element of estate planning with your child, so that you can hear and understand their thoughts on the matter. Remember too that it’s likely that your death will cause great shock and grief to your child, and the guardian should be someone who can handle this difficult time sensitively. Instead, be sympathetic and understanding of your child’s needs and wants. This decision could affect their entire future life and shouldn’t be considered lightly.
The person you choose will no longer be required when your child reaches the age of 18. Of course, your child may choose to continue living with their guardian. Whatever the circumstances, your child and guardian should have a close relationship.
When writing your will, ensure you have addressed one of the most important parts of your life: your children. When deciding on who will care for your children in the event of your death, ensure you have discussed this with your partner and children, if they’re old enough. Their opinions are valid and this is a hard decision to make. Also ensure that you have discussed your decision with your nominated guardian because they too must be aware of and comfortable with your decision. You should seek legal advice to ensure you know the legal responsibilities of a guardian.
To discuss all your estate planning needs, including who you want to nominate to care for your kids if you were to die, contact us today. We offer a free, 10-minute phone consultation.