No matter the age of their child, every parent needs to appoint a guardian for their child in case the parent dies or is unable to care for the child. Parents who are married rely on the other parent to raise the child – but you need to plan for both parents dying simultaneously.
Parents can appoint a guardian through their wills. Usually, the guardian clause will state that if the other parent dies first or cannot as a guardian for some health reason, a specific person or people will be named the guardian of any children. Provided your will is approved by the probate court and the person named as the guardian is competent, the court will approve the choice and the appointment of the guardian.
If you and the other parent do not choose a guardian, then your child may be placed in a foster home – unless a relative petitions the court to be appointed the guardian. The guardian is responsible for raising your child, including providing love, support, guidance, and discipline. Nobody plans to die, but you should plan for your child’s future in case you do die before your child turns 18.
Who should you choose to be your child’s guardian?
Most people choose another family member such as their parents, spouse, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins. Family members are preferred because they already should bond with the child. In addition, children are going to be traumatized by your death. Children need people they can trust to care for them. You can also appoint a friend or any adulty – provided the person you choose agrees to act as the guardian. Generally, you and the other parent should try to decide who will be the guardian if both parents die.
Some of the factors that should be considered include:
- The ability of the guardian to raise the child. While many people choose the child’s grandparents, some grandparents are relatively old. The grandparents may have serious health problems.
- The finances of the guardian. While you can leave your estate to the child, you want someone to manage the funds you leave for the child and not themselves. It may look great that your sister has two children of her own – but if your sister is barely getting by financially, the financial difficulties can affect your child.
- The values of the guardian. Generally, parents choose someone who has similar religious and cultural values.
Forbes recommends that you consider love, kindness, education focus, moral character, love of the arts, and other factors. Location is a factor. It’s generally desirable for your child to stay in the same school and community. You should feel whether the guardian and child already love each other. Forbes recommends that you choose a single person – even if they’re married. Many marriages, sadly, do end in divorce, and you don’t want a contest over who raises your child/children.
Why you need to speak to the guardian you choose before you prepare your will
Never assume that the person you select as guardian wants to raise your children. Your brother may be the perfect person. He loves your kids. He’s financially comfortable. He has children of his own. However, your brother may have different plans for his life than raising another child. If you choose your brother and he declines, then your child won’t have a guardian unless another relative agrees to act as guardian. It’s best to talk with the person you choose and obtain his/her spouse before making the selection official.
Prepare your will
You need to make your selection of a guardian for your child official. You do this by preparing and signing your will. Our skilled Harrisburg wills and estate planning lawyers will draft the right will document for your needs.
You can also modify your will or prepare a new will if circumstances change. The circumstances can include:
- Your preferences
- The desire or ability of the guardian to act
- The needs and health of your child
At Antanavage Farbiarz, our Harrisburg wills and estate planning attorneys understand that estate planning is confusing. You want the best for your children and family. Our lawyers explain which legal documents are right for you. We don’t just explain the legal considerations. We also explain the many practical issues you need to consider. To discuss the appointment of a guardian for your children, call us at (610) 562-2000 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment.