As soon as a person becomes a parent, you begin to worry about everything. Your concerns are varied, but often center around what would happen to your child if you weren’t around. Most parents understand the need to set up a Last Will and Testament in order to name a Guardian for their son or daughter, but getting them into the estate planning office to put pen to paper can often be a difficult task.
Choosing a guardian is an important decision and not one to be taken lightly. Often couples cannot agree on the person who should be responsible for taking care of their child in their absence. His parents or her parents? A sibling, a friend? What if they choose a couple and the couple separates? What if you don’t think the person is very good with money, but good with everything else, can you name two different Guardians? The answer is yes you can.
Parents often plan for retirement with IRAs or 401ks, and plan for death with life insurance or beneficiary designations on bank accounts, but that is only part of the process. Your child is a minor and if you both pass away, someone has to make both daily decisions regarding where your child is going to live and go to school, and decisions for the long run involving finances and savings. A comprehensive estate plan including a Will and a Living Trust is going to make things easier for your Guardian(s) and Trustee(s) to focus on the most important part of their job, your child’s wellbeing.
Choosing the Guardian should involve asking yourself some tough questions:
– Do your children know and like the person?
– Does the person share similar moral values to your own?
– Is the personal mentally and physically capable of raising a child?
– What is the person’s lifestyle with regarding to work, travel, etc.?
– Does he/she have other children?
– Does he/she have a home, or are you going to need to make sure your home is available?
– Is he/she able to handle the financial responsibility?
– Will your child have to move or be uprooted? Perhaps moved from other family members?
The person needs to be someone you trust implicitly. It does not have to be a family member, but keep in mind that any choice can be contested. Perhaps making your family aware of your decisions ahead of time, could avoid this possibility. It is your decision, remember.
Choosing Co-Guardians can result in conflict if you do not choose the right people. If there is a potential for serious disagreement, you want to rethink your choice. Anything you can do to make things easier for the Guardian and to guide him/her is essential to the success of the relationship you are creating. We encourage our clients to prepare a Letter of Intent, which is a letter to the Guardian or Trustee expressing your desires and wishes for your child’s future. You could give the Guardian guidance on your parenting style. You could lay ground rules for education or other expenses. Communication is the key.
It is difficult to imagine that something could happen leaving your child an orphan, but it happens everyday. Leaving your child parentless without a loving and capable Guardian is worse than just leaving your child parentless.
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