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Parental Priorities: How to choose a guardian for your child

Financial Planning

For parents, naming a guardian for their minor children isn’t optional. This article helps parents choose the best candidate based on shared values and practical issues, such as physical proximity. It also makes the case for naming separate guardians for children in blended families.

How to choose a guardian for your child

If you’re a parent, naming a guardian for your minor children in the event something happens to you and your spouse isn’t optional. You may know instantly whom you want to choose, or you may need to think about it. The important thing, if you haven’t yet made this decision, is to formalize your choice as soon as possible with the help of an attorney.

Don’t let the court decide

If you fail to name a guardian in your will, a court will appoint one should it become necessary. The court will base its decision on its assessment of the best interest of your child. But that assessment may be different from your own, and its selection may not be your first choice. So it’s important to name your candidate. This is typically handled through a will, though procedures can vary from state to state.

When it comes to choosing the best candidate, you probably already have a short list consisting of members of your immediate family. This is an excellent start, but don’t forget about extended family members and trusted friends.

Values and practicality

There are many issues you’ll need to consider in making your decision. For example, your parents as guardians may seem a natural choice, but keep in mind that older parents may not be up to the task of raising a young child. Also remember to be practical. You may consider your sister an ideal surrogate parent, but what if she lives across the country and isn’t in a position to move? Relocating could further traumatize your child.

Perhaps the most important issue to consider is whether you and your guardian choice share similar values, such as parenting philosophy, religious and moral beliefs, and educational values. Usually, a family member or friend who shares your values likely is a good candidate. But even if your brother, for example, doesn’t share your religious beliefs, it doesn’t mean you should cross him off your list. You likely won’t find a person who shares all your values.

Separate guardians

If you have more than one child, it’s probably best to name the same guardian for each to ensure that they’ll remain together. However, there can be circumstances when you might name separate guardians. For example, if you have a blended family, you may want to consider one guardian for your children with your ex-spouse and another for your children with your current spouse.

In other cases, it may make sense to name one guardian for your children’s care and another for their assets. The person best suited to raise your children may not have the financial acumen to manage investments — or may simply have a different philosophy about money. Consider placing your financial assets in a trust for your children’s benefit, so that a trustee will have responsibility for managing their financial affairs.

Making the decision

After giving it some hard thought, it’s time to make a final decision. In addition to your first choice, select one or two alternatives. If your first choice decides he or she isn’t up to the responsibility, you can turn to others. When asking the person to be your child’s guardian, ensure he or she clearly understands your expectations and a guardian’s responsibilities. Also, give the prospective guardian time to consider your proposal. It isn’t a responsibility to be taken lightly.

Most parents select a guardian during the process of making a will or estate planning. Ensuring adequate financial support, including money for college, is just as important as naming a guardian. You may need to work with multiple advisors, including an attorney, financial expert and insurance agent.

The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. Our employees and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel. Individuals involved in the estate planning process should work with an estate planning team, including their own personal legal or tax counsel. CRN202406-284454