A Walk-Through on Selecting Back-Up Parents, i.e., Guardians for Minor Children

Selecting “back-up” parents (“Guardians”) for your children is one of the most difficult, but important decisions you will make as a parent. While difficult, it should not be delayed. By making the decision now and implementing the necessary legal framework, you fill that black hole of uncertainty as to the life your children would have in your absence. 

Most likely you have not gone through this process because frankly you have not known where to start. Or, since you have managed to live your life and raise your beautiful children without much (wanted) interference, selecting a guardian may not have been on the top of your mind. Regardless of the reason, the simple fact is that you have chosen to start thinking about it and taking action now, and want to fill the control vacuum — so let’s get started.

First Step

Start with your list of family members who are old enough to raise your children.  At this point, don’t eliminate anyone.  Then consider adding close friends who are like family, or have a personal interest in your child, and other potential choices. 

Second Step

Now ask yourself or consider the following about each prospective choice:

Things to Consider:

Parental Characteristics. Do they have the necessary maturity, experience, temperament, patience, and stamina to raise your children?

Genuine Interest – Aptitude to Love Your Children. Do they have a genuine interest in your children’s welfare, either through family relationship or personal friendship?

Confidence. Do you and your children have confidence in the prospective guardian?

Character and Values. Do they have integrity and stability? Are they dutiful? Will they adhere to your educational, religious and child-rearing instructions? Do they share your values?

Religious Beliefs. Do they have the same religious beliefs as you, or at least compatible beliefs?

Profession. Is their job situation compatible with raising your children?

Physical Ability. Are they physically able to undertake the care of an additional child or children? 

Age of Guardian. Will their age pose any problems? List the potential problems you foresee.

Availability & Time Commitments. Do they have the time, or will they make the time necessary to devote to the task of raising your children?

Guardian’s Children. Do they have children of an age close to that of your children? If they have children close to the age of yours that can make life easier in some ways. It may also present challenges if the children are not comparable in maturity level.

Financial lifestyle. Do they have a financial lifestyle comparable to your own?  If your estate planning leaves your children with considerably more money, creating careful guidelines and instructions for the guardians or other trusted individuals (i.e., a trustee) managing money for the benefit of your children are essential.

Geographical Area. Do they live in the same geographical area as you, or would your children have to move to a new city or state? Be aware that it will be additional stress on your children if they have to move away from their friends too. This may be unavoidable, but at least consider it.

Divorce Considerations. Would the divorce of the person, or the loss of either of the spouses through death, cause you to change your mind about the order of your choices?

Things Not to Worry About:  

Size of Home. If the person would need a larger home or need to increase the size of their home, do not automatically eliminate them. We can provide for that in your planning documents. For example, we can provide a certain sum for improvements or modifications.

Compensation. Yes, the guardian could receive money for making improvements and purchasing things for the children. How specific you want to be is your choice, and something that we can factor into your guardian instructions. You may consider paying more for a stay at home parent. If you have concerns about where your “child” will call home when they area legal adult in college, also consider paying someone who will provide a permanent type home for your child while they pursue their degree.

Financial Management Skills. While a definite consideration, if the potential guardian’s money management skills are not advanced enough to handle the management of your child’s inheritance, do not automatically disqualify them. Oftentimes the best guardian choice is a lousy choice to manage the money.  It is actually best to separate these two jobs.

Disparate Financial Circumstances. The best choices are in very different financial circumstances than you are.

* Just keep in mind that all of your concerns above can be managed in the ultimate design of your plan.

Third Step

Put it in writing. I get it, I am a parent – it is just plain hard to think about your own death, or incapacity. While selecting a guardian is difficult on you, not selecting a guardian is difficult on your children and family. Avoidance has never caused anything to go away – but I promise that creating legal documents that nominate a guardian in the event of your death or incapacity will give you peace of mind and will calm the anxiety of the unknown.