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How to Choose a Guardian for Your Minor Children

By Howard C. Stross
November 04, 2013

One of the most important reasons that parents with minor children should have a last will and testament is so they can name a guardian to take care of their children if they cannot.  In the movie, Life as We Know It, two single adults are named as joint guardians to take care of their mutual friends’ orphaned daughter. Despite the movie’s happy ending, the two were probably not the best choice as guardians. Below are some issues to consider when choosing a guardian for your minor children.

Consider the health of the guardian. When your children are very young, you may naturally want to name your parents to take care of your children. However, while your mother’s health may be fine now, do you expect it to be good for the next eighteen years? In Life as We Know It, the characters first try to convince the grandparents to take care of the little girl only to discover that her grandfather is on oxygen and cannot handle a toddler. This is one reason some people choose not to name grandparents as guardians.

Will the guardian have a similar parenting style? Another issue to consider is whether this person will follow your rules for your children. Perhaps you originally chose your mother to serve as guardian for your minor children when they were babies. Now, they may be teenagers and a firm disciplinarian may be a better choice so your mother can continue her role as their doting grandmother.

What is the guardian’s lifestyle? In Life as We Know It, one of the characters had to travel for work. Will the guardian be available to take over parenting your children?

Where does the guardian live? Consider the guardian’s location. Will your child have to move to another state? It may be traumatic enough to lose their parents without losing all of their friends as well. You may prefer to name someone as guardian who lives nearby, perhaps in the same school district. In addition, consider the guardian’s home. Does your sister live in a one bedroom apartment? Will she be able to rent or buy a larger home in order to accommodate caring for your children? Your trust can provide money to the guardian in order to buy a larger home. In that case, you should also consider if this is a gift or whether the guardian will need to downsize and pay the trust back when your child moves out.

No surprises. Although it may make for a good movie plot, it is unwise to surprise someone with this role. You should talk to this person ahead of time. This can also prevent arguments in the future. Tell your family your plans now, which may avoid disagreements later on when you may not be able to speak for yourself.

Review and update if needed. As we go through life, things change. You can name your mother as guardian for your children now. If her health declines in the future or when your children become teenagers, you can update your will and name a new guardian at that time. It is important to periodically review your estate plan and to review the people you have named as guardian for your minor children. Stross Law Firm offers an estate planning maintenance program, Peace Of Mind A Life Plan for Everyone, so you can make sure that the people named as guardian for your minor children and in other important positions are kept up-to-date. We previously discussed issues that you should consider when choosing a trustee, executor and healthcare surrogate. Click here to read that article.

This article is not intended to provide legal advice or encourage anyone to do estate planning without the guidance of an estate planning attorney. Call us at 813-852-6500 to schedule a free 30-minute consultationwith an estate planning lawyer.

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