Choosing a possible guardian for your children could be one of the most important gifts you ever give your kids. Planning for your own death is depressing and unpleasant, but for parents with young children, selecting a guardian is a way to extend your love, share your child care philosophy, and ensure your children's future if you aren't there.
Sometimes it is a good idea to nominate or select two people to care for your children. They might work together or one can be a guardian, while the other can be a trustee of the funds dedicated to care of the children. This is a great ways to place checks and balances to make sure your assets are used as you want — for the care of your kids. In addition, it is a good idea to select a backup for each of those people in case something happens and they are unable to perform their duties. Oh, and don't forget to ask them if they are willing to take on the responsibility of being a guardian!
Dig deep when considering the options when selecting guardian(s). Family members may not necessarily be your best option. Sometimes a friend may be a better fit than a family member – especially where your assets and financial situation are concerned. Ask yourself hard questions like, “Does your chosen guardian reflect your parenting philosophy, religious or personal values? Do they live nearby? How will your children fit into their home and lifestyle? Is the household stable?”
Don't exclude someone because he or she might not have the financial resources to care for your children. You can establish a trust, funded through assets or life insurance that can ensure the guardian does have the proper funds to care for your children.
Once you select a guardian(s), be sure to discuss your plans and expectations with him or her (including any financial or trust arrangements). You must allow your guardian(s) time to consider your request.
While it isn't necessary to have an attorney create your Will or Estate Plan (although, of course we recommend it), where young children are concerned, it is probably a good idea. The legal documents you create should be clear and legally binding since you won't be around to clarify details.
Here is one other thing to consider: If you die intestate (without a Will) it'll be up to state law to decide what happens to your assets – more often than not they split equally among surviving children if there is no surviving spouse. But what if one of your children is mentally or physically challenged and requires more care than the others? It's up to you to create an estate plan to care for that child and to make sure the assets are available to do so.
Writing a Guardianship Letter
Most parents think about who might be a good guardian for their children based on their relationship to them. But most parents do not have a discussion about what they actually want the guardian to do in raising the children. There is usually just an assumption of what will be done. A Guardianship Letter is a way to communicate your values and desires for your children.
One of the ways you can help someone who might have to take over for you is to create a letter of instruction for the potential guardian.
The types of things that can go in such a letter are:
• Detailed information about your child's healthcare.
• Information about your children's activities
• Where your child's important papers are…i.e., birth certificate and social security number
• Your religious beliefs, practices and preferences for your child.
• Your views and expectations for your child's education;
• Information about your family and important people.
• Information about your child's personality and preferences.
Just imagine how your child will be raised without this information. The guardian will make these decisions which may or may not be consistent with your wishes. While a guardianship letter is not legally binding, it can provide useful insight to both guardian and children. It should be stored with the parent's last will and testament or trust.