Why Do I Need To Name a Guardian for my Children?

Ever asked yourself why do I need to name a guardian for my children? When our children are young, our goal is to see them grow up to graduate high school, maybe go to college, get married and one day have children.  Unfortunately, that may not be the case for some of us.  That is why it is important to do your planning to make sure that your kids are taken care of in the unlikely event of your death.

What is a guardian?  For a minor child, if their parent is no longer alive, a court can appoint a legal guardian over the child until they turn 18.  This is necessary so that someone has the authority to enroll a child in school, make medical decisions and other major decisions.  Parents have the ability to choose this person ahead of time, rather than allow a court to decide who gets legal custody of the minor child.  Here are some suggestions for selecting a guardian:

1.Location, location, location.  If possible, try to avoid a major geography change.  Sending your child to live on the other side of the country, after they have already suffered the loss of a parent, could be equally traumatic.

2.Consider the age of the potential guardian.  While you might want your parents to be the guardian over your children, if they are much older, it may be difficult for them to care for young children.  If your parents have their own health concerns, it might be a good idea to consider someone else.

3.Ask.  If you have not talked to the potential guardian about the fact that you are considering naming them as guardian, it might be a good idea to ask that person if they are up for the job.  If they appear hesitant, you might want to reconsider.

4.Who does your child have a good relationship with in your family?  That might be a good person to consider as a potential guardian.  And if your child does not already have a good relationship with the potential guardian, then try to foster a relationship between your kids and that person.

5.State it in writing.  Make sure that you and your spouse have signed paperwork that names who your guardian will be in the event of your death.  It is also a good idea to name a back-up should that person be unable or unwilling to serve.  This is usually done in a Last Will and Testament, but can also be done in a separate writing known as a “Designation of Guardian Over a Minor Child.”

6.And keep writing.  Also, it is a good idea to have a trust set up so that, should you pass away, you can designate who will take over your assets for the benefit of your children.  It does not necessarily have to be the same person as the guardian, but it can be the same person.  Otherwise, if you do not have provisions specifically stating how the money is to be used for your minor child, a guardianship court will appoint someone to handle the assets and that person will need to account to the court for all expenditures made on behalf of the children.  This can be an expensive process, and then, under the guardianship laws, once the child turns 18, the assets will be given to them outright.  How many 18 year olds do you know that could handle receiving a lump sum of money and not spend it all in one place?

Planning for your minor children is an important part of the estate planning process.  It is not something we like to think about, but it is something that should be done to insure that your kids are taken care of if you can no longer do so.   To schedule a complimentary phone consultation with Attorney Laurie Ohall, please contact her office at 813.438.8503.