Choosing a Guardian for Your Children

Nancy and Nick have three children — Emmitt, Nicole, and Alexa. Very warm and loving parents, Nancy and Nick make education a top priority, and hope to instill their deep-rooted culture and values in their children. Neither Nancy nor Nick want to think about not being there to raise their children. If Nancy and Nick choose not to make a decision and take no action, who will care for their children should the unthinkable happen to them?
Various scenarios, none of them ideal, could happen should Nancy and Nick not choose a guardian for their children. Their relatives could end up arguing in court over who gets the children — or their relatives could agree but not on the people that Nancy and Nick would have chosen. Even worse, a court could end up choosing their guardian for them. That’s why it’s important for Nancy and Nick and for your family to nominate a guardian while it’s still up to you. Here are some actions to take to help you make your best choice:

  • Make a list of all the people you know who you would trust to take care of your children, including family members, extended family, close friends, people you know from your place of worship, or even child care providers with whom you and your children have a special relationship.
  • Consider values and philosophies. Ask yourself which people on your list most closely share your values and philosophies with respect to your religious/spiritual beliefs, moral values, child-rearing philosophy, educational values, and social values.
  • Consider whether each couple or person on your list is a good fit. Would they truly love your children, be good role models, have patience parenting your children, show affection, and are they mature enough to take on the guardian role?
  • Think about how raising your children would fit into their lifestyle.
  • If they’re older, do they have the necessary health and stamina? Would they really want to be parents of a young child at their stage in life?
  • Do they have other children? How would your children get along with theirs?
  • How close do they live to other important people in your children’s lives?
  • If a married couple divorced or one spouse died, would you be comfortable with either of them acting as the sole guardian, or would want an alternate married couple to become guardian instead.
  • Trust your instincts.If one couple or person meets all of your criteria, but doesn’t feel right, don’t choose them. By the same token, if someone feels much more right than any of the others on your list, there’s probably a good reason for it and you probably want to trust your gut instinct. Make your primary choice, then some backup choices. Ideally, both you and your spouse agree on your choices.
  • Use a Child Protection Plan to select a temporary custodian as well as your Last Will and Testament to nominate your permanent Guardian. Temporary custodians may be appointed if both parents become temporarily unable to care for their children – for example, as the result of a car accident. Depending on your choice for permanent guardians (for example, if your permanent guardians work and live in another state or another country and will have to take leave and make travel arrangements to come and care for your children), you may want to designate different people to act as temporary custodians. Temporary custodians are designated via a Child Protection Plan rather than via your Last Will and Testament.
  • Consider a guardianship panel. Because it’s difficult to predict what your children’s needs will be as they grow older, consider appointing a “guardianship panel” to decide who would be the best guardian when and if it becomes necessary. Choose trusted relatives and friends to make up the panel. The panel can consult with your children and assess their needs and desires to make the most appropriate choice based on the current situation.

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, talk to everyone involved. Be sure to confer with the people you’d like to choose to ensure they’re willing to be chosen and would feel comfortable acting as guardians. If your children are old enough, you may even want to talk with them to get their input.  Create a Letter of Intent to convey information about your children, your parenting values and your hopes and dreams for your children. Set up an appointment with our firm to prepare the legal documents that are required to put your wishes into action.
If you’ve chosen friends over relatives or a more distant relative over a closer one, be sure to explain your decision in writing. That way – in the unlikely event your choice is challenged by people who feel they should have been chosen – a court should readily uphold your decision, knowing you’ve made your choice for good, solid reasons.
Set up a trust that will hold the assets you pass to your children, and instruct the trustee to provide necessary financial assistance to the guardians. Create specific instructions about special things you’d like the trust funds used for (for example, a particular summer camp, piano lessons etc.).
Having children means always planning ahead and thinking about the future, even as you try to enjoy the present and watch your children grow and thrive. Nominating a guardian (and, if necessary, a temporary custodian) for your children gives you the peace of mind that your children will be protected if something happens to you. Call 703-691-1888 and make an appointment for a no-cost consultation at The Fairfax Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C.