Choosing a Guardian for Your Children
If you have minor children, it’s crucial to choose a legal guardian who will care for them in the unlikely event something happens to you. While it’s not an easy thing to consider, you must take measures to protect your children if you and the other parent cannot raise them for some reason. By making a few arrangements in advance, you can have peace of mind knowing that your children would be well cared for, should the unexpected arise.
Name a Legal Guardian in Your Last Will and Testament
Naming a legal guardian is simple — you can simply designate one in your last will and testament. In the event a court would be required to step in for a guardianship matter, the judge will appoint the person you named in your will, unless it is not in your children’s best interests. If you don't name a guardian in your will, anyone who has an interest in the welfare of your children can request the position. The judge must then decide, without your input, who would raise your children.
You should name one personal guardian and one alternate (in case your first choice can't serve) for each of your children. Legally, you may name more than one guardian, but it's generally not a good idea because of the possibility that the co-guardians might later disagree about important matters.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Personal Guardian
It’s vital to choose someone who you believe would raise your children in the manner you wish them to be bought up. The best way to guarantee that you would approve of the manner in which the legal guardian raises your children is to choose someone who knows you and your children well — and who you trust to help your children navigate the complexities of life.
You should also consider the following factors when choosing a personal guardian for your child:
- The prospective guardian’s age and stage of life — You must choose a guardian who is 18 or older. But just because they are legally an adult doesn’t always mean they are prepared to raise children. You should also consider the prospective guardian’s stage of life.
- Your children’s welfare — You should be mindful to select a prospective guardian who has a genuine concern for your children's welfare.
- Physical and mental health — Be sure to choose a prospective guardian who is physically and mentally able to handle the job.
- Time commitment — Raising children is a 24/7 commitment. While someone might make a suitable guardian, their work schedule might not be conducive to raising children. Make sure your prospective guardian will have the time to care for them.
- The guardian’s family unit — Consider the guardian’s family unit and whether they have children of an age close to that of your children.
- Financial stability — It’s critical to choose a guardian who will have the financial resources necessary to care for your children.
- Shared values — Choose a guardian who would raise your children with your moral beliefs, values, and parenting style.
- Location — Think about whether your children would have to move to a new town, city, or state when deciding on a guardian, and if the transition would be difficult for them.
In addition, if you have opinions regarding who you would not want to raise your children, put them in writing. Not only is it important to properly document who you would want to be the legal guardian for your kids — you should specify who wouldn’t want to have guardianship as well. If you’re divorced and have sole custody, you should also make it clear how much influence you wish your former spouse to have when it comes to the children. Although the law generally favors a child’s natural parents when it comes to custody rights, there may be specific reasons why this would not be in a child’s best interests. It might not be appropriate in cases involving drug or alcohol abuse, mental illness, abandonment, or a history of child abuse.
Choosing Different Legal Guardians for Different Children
Most people want their children to stay together if the unexpected should occur. If this is the case for your family, be sure to name the same guardian for all of your kids. However, there may be various reasons you might wish to name different personal guardians for each of your children.
Parents may choose different guardians if their children are not close to the same age, or if they have strong attachments to different adults outside of the immediate family. For example, one child may spend a considerable amount of time with their grandparents while another child may be closer to an aunt and uncle. This can also be the case if you have children from different marriages. Every situation is unique — but first and foremost, you want to choose a guardian who you believe would be best able to care for each of your children.
Choosing a Different Person to Handle Financial Matters
If you pass away unexpectedly, you might be leaving your children a monetary inheritance. However, they would not be able to inherit the assets in their own name until they turn 18. This means that someone else would have to manage the property for the child until they have reached the age of majority. Some parents name one person to be the children's personal guardian and a different person to take care of financial matters. This is often because the person who would be the best personal guardian would not be the best person to handle issues concerning property and assets.
For instance, you might feel that a family member would provide the most stable, loving home for your kids, but you do not believe in their abilities as a financial manager. Perhaps you have a close friend who cares about your kids and would be better at handling the economic aspects of raising them. If your family member and your friend agree, you can name one as a personal guardian and the other as custodian to manage your children's inheritance.
Contact an Experienced Family Law Attorney
If you are facing a guardianship matter when it comes to your children, it’s best to have the advice of a knowledgeable family law attorney. Divorce and family law attorney Mark A. Wortman provides knowledgeable representation to clients in the greater Kansas City, Missouri area who are facing guardianship and child custody matters. To schedule a confidential consultation to learn how he can help, please contact him today online or by calling (816) 523-6100.