If you're a parent, few decisions are as important as choosing a legal guardian for your child. It's often said to be a tough plan for the unthinkable, but being prepared for the event of a death is critical, especially for maintaining peace of mind. If something were to happen to you, you'd want to be sure your child or children are in the best hands. Here's what you should bear in mind as you declare guardianship for your child in your last will and testament.
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What Is A Legal Guardian?
A legal guardian is someone who is appointed or selected to care for a child when a parent is either dead or unable to continue providing care. A guardian typically takes over the responsibilities to take care of a child's needs. This typically includes overseeing things such as:
Providing food and medical care
Additionally, guardians manage the finances of the child until they are able to take control of their own. Every state has different laws as it concerns guardianship, but a guardian is typically named by a parent within their will.
Who Becomes Guardian If A Will Is Not In Place?
If a natural parent dies without setting a will, the court will typically appoint a guardian. As a rule, family courts often nominate family members, such as a grandparent, even if this is someone you don't want raising your child. Without knowing your wishes, the court acts in the best interest of the child. Alternatively, a third party, such as a family friend, can petition the court to be appointed guardian. If the child has no surviving family members, they can become a ward of the state and enter into the foster care system.
Further, in most states, a child age 14 or older has a say in who is appointed guardian. The court will usually give priority to a child's preference in the event of their not being a will. In general, a parent should take the time to nominate a guardian that they find suitable for looking after their children. How does choosing a legal guardian for your child work?
How To Choose A Legal Guardian For Your Child
In general, there isn't a one-size-fits-all when it comes to selecting a guardian for your child in the event of your death. Everyone will have different factors and family members to consider. Certainly, there's plenty to think about as you think over different loved ones who would be equipped and capable of caring for your child. Most parents consider someone who will love and care for a child, but someone who is also responsible and able to provide necessities such as a stable home, financial management, and to some degree, discipline and carry out other parental duties.
You can opt for relatives or even close friends. It's not a bad idea to consider alternates in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to do the job. Think about the following factors when considering how to choose a legal guardian for your child:
Age & Health
It's a common misconception that grandparents are the ideal candidates for watching over your children. After all, they did raise you. However, it's important to consider the age and health of loved ones. Grandparents who are sick or getting older may not be able to provide as much attention, as they may be focused on their own obstacles. Children, especially young ones, are demanding both physically and emotionally.
It's also possible to nominate multiple people to care for your child. For example, you can appoint one guardian for a specific length of time and designate another when your child reaches a certain age. Being specific within your will as it concerns these matters is highly important.
Figure Finances & Family Factors
Unfortunately, death is a difficult subject to broach. Not many people are open to considering all of the possibilities that can happen when you pass on. Still, it's not something that shouldn't be taken lightly or overlooked. If you're thinking about how to choose a legal guardian for your child, don't just consider how suited they are for raising your child. You should also consider other family dynamics as well.
If you're fortunate enough to have other family members who love and care for your child, there should be mutual respect among loved ones. Civility and communication among different family members can help ensure that your child receives stability and care after you pass. Selecting a guardian that can maintain relationships and allow your child to thrive with others is an important factor to consider.
Further, the person you appoint as guardian should have a handle of their finances. It's not a surprise that children cost money. While you may also leave your child with assets, money, or other inheritance, the person you appoint as guardian will typically be overseeing this estate until your child reaches a certain age. The person you select should be ethical and responsible enough to understand how to manage these assets.
Avoid Letting the Courts Decide
As mentioned above, in the absence of a will the courts will be enlisted to appoint someone as guardian. However, courts don't have the inside knowledge of your child's specific needs, nor do they know your family members, friends, and loved ones as you do. It's usually a bad idea to allow the courts to take charge of this matter.
Creating a will can help avoid these situations altogether. A will can also help you outline how your assets will be distributed and what guidelines you would like a guardian to follow when it comes to caring and raising your child in your absence.
Married Couples Are Not Always Best
It's a common misconception that when choosing a legal guardian for your child, you should automatically decide to go with a married couple. Marriage tends to be a more suitable choice as it gives the possibility of your child having two legal guardians to oversee your child's needs. However, marriages are not fool-proof. There are many obstacles to consider and the dynamics of marriage differ with every couple.
Rather than automatically choosing a married couple to appoint as guardians, consider who they are individually and whether you believe their marriage to be healthy and strong.
Location & Living Situation
As with most things concerning children, there are factors that are highly important to their wellbeing. Things such as:
If something happens to you, your child would move into your guardian's home. It's extremely rare that a guardian would move into your home. Consider the following questions:
Does the potential guardian live in a dangerous neighborhood?
Is it an ideal living situation?
Are there good school districts nearby?
Is the household stable?
There's a good chance that your child will be growing up in that particular environment so these factors are extremely important.