An important part of a comprehensive estate plan is the designation of a guardian for minor children in each parent’s Last Will and Testament. Without such a designation, a court will decide who will care for your children in case of your death or incapacity.
When meeting with an attorney to create your estate plan, you will want to discuss who will take care of your child or children if you are not able. One person should be named as guardian. You don’t want to name two people because they may end up in a custody battle over your child which you would not want to happen. Some obvious choices of guardian for your child is a family member or a close friend. You may also name a successor guardian in case the first guardian is unable or unwilling to act.
Deciding who will take care of your child when you are not able can be a difficult but important decision. Once you make that choice, you will want to discuss the possibility of being the guardian with the person you have named. If you have more than one child, you will want to discuss with the guardian your desire to keep your children together. You may also want to let other people know who you have chosen as guardian so that they are not wondering if they will be the responsible person. If your child is old enough, you may also want to discuss the decision with your child to get their input.
What does a guardian do? It is the guardian’s responsibility to care for your child or children. Being guardian does not always mean that the guardian is living with the child but the guardian oversees the care of the child for the child’s best interest. The guardian will make sure that the child has food, clothing, shelter and education. You may also want to consider a guardian who will be able to provide the love, support and guidance you wish your child to have.
In addition to the designation of guardian in your will, it is also a good idea to leave a letter of intent for the guardian which outlines your wishes as to how you would like your child raised. Important information to put in the letter of intent is your educational desires for your child, religious wishes, medical information, your child’s talents, and your child’s friends and relatives so close relationships can be maintained.
In the State of Maryland, a child can decide who they want to be their guardian once they reach the age of 16 years old. However, I still encourage my clients to name the guardian in their Wills. Leaving your teenage child written direction will help them make this important decision if needed when you are not there.
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