A comprehensive estate plan can protect the things that matter most. When we say “what matters most,” we’re talking about the ones we love most – our family. Not only is planning about passing things on, but it also can provide protection. One of the most important protections involves planning for minor children and providing for legal guardianship just in case tragedy strikes. Knowing this is taken care of can provide tremendous peace of mind.
Why Doesn’t Everyone Name Guardians For Their Children?
Unfortunately, so many parents struggle with trying to decide who to name as a legal guardian for their children. That struggle is understandable, though. There are many factors to consider. Some of those factors are:
Do they have the values you want for your children?
Will your children be most comfortable with them?
Is their family situation (the number of children in their household) good for your children?
Is there a loving atmosphere in their house?
Though you’ll provide for the children, do they have the resources needed?
What Happens If I Don’t Designate Legal Guardians?
If you and your spouse die without having planned for legal protections for your minor children, there could be a few unfortunate consequences. It is possible your children, at least temporarily, could be placed, by the government, into the hands of strangers. Also, conflict could ensue between relatives who believe that they would be best suited to care for the children. In the end, without planning ahead, a court – specifically a judge – would make the decision and appoint guardians for your children, and it might not be whom you would appoint, and in some instances, it could be a total stranger.
What Do You Need To Do To Get Started?
First, you need to recognize that naming a guardian for your children is part of a larger process – the process of estate planning. A guardian is appointed through a will, where you specify your wishes for the care and custody of your children. The process really begins by gathering information for all of your assets and making decisions as to how you want them distributed after you are gone.
Next, you need to plan the best way to legally manage those assets, even while you are alive. This may mean putting the assets in a trust so they can be protected and easily distributed after you are gone without the involvement of a court. Also, you would want to consider your financial planning, at this point, to make sure your family would be taken care of properly. This could include buying insurance and creating funding options for your children’s future.
After you’ve made those decisions you can focus on who would best be the guardians for your children. This is an emotional decision, but you and your spouse need to do your best to take the emotion out of the process. One concern my clients raise is hurting someone’s feelings. It may be true that a close relative would have an expectation to be named as guardian, but you need to get past those considerations and do what is best for your children.
You and your spouse should separately write down who each of you think would be the proper guardian, in order of priority, and why you think so. Compare lists and go over the reasons for your picks. By going through the names, one by one, you should be able to dispassionately identify and name one or more legal guardians for your children in your estate plan – those who are acceptable to both of you.
Once You’ve Done The Preparation, What’s Next?
Next, find a professional, caring counseling-based estate-planning attorney to help you put your preparation into action. The big mistake at this point is trying the DIY (do it yourself) method. While the Internet offers many DIY opportunities, doing this the wrong way may result in wasted efforts and having no plan at all. The government, in order to make sure the process is controlled and standardized, has passed volumes of laws, rules, and regulations governing how you need to legally document your estate-planning wishes. Only an attorney, who is focused on what your specific needs are, can make sure all is done legally, properly, and in a manner that will ultimately work – the way you wish – for you and your family.
It is so important that you don’t put off naming a legal guardian for your children. While thinking about what will happen to your children, if you die, is difficult, your children deserve protection should something happen to you and your spouse. You deserve the peace of mind that this estate planning will give you.
The good news is: When you are taking care of your children, you will also be taking care of your whole family. Isn’t that really our obligation and responsibility?