By Laird W. Green, CFP®
While no one wants to think about the possibility of not being there to raise a child, naming a guardian for your child is of the utmost importance to ensure your child’s well-being. According to the Purposeful Planning Institute, there is a 11% chance that you may die before your child reaches the age of 20. Tragedies occur and being prepared for your untimely death will provide stability and a sense of security for your child.
There are two types of guardians: a legal guardian (who has physical custody of your child) and a fiduciary (who manages the deceased parent’s financial assets for the child). You may want the legal guardian and the fiduciary to be the same, or you may choose different people. You may have a sibling who would be the ideal legal guardian for your child, but who doesn’t have the skills you would want as a fiduciary. In that case, you may want to name a cousin or close friend as a fiduciary. If you name different people for the legal guardian and fiduciary, consider not only how they will interact with your child, but also how the two will work together for your child’s best interests.
If you die and you have not chosen a guardian for your child, the court system will work to appoint who it thinks is the best guardian for your child. A judge may end up choosing a family member that you might not want to raise your child. Family members may not agree with the judge’s decision and may begin a legal battle to overturn the court’s custody decision. While waiting for a court decision, your child may be turned over to foster care. Any of these outcomes would bring disruptions and further emotional angst to your child. Naming a guardian for your child avoids all these issues and simplifies an emotionally charged time.
When choosing a guardian, many people consider immediate family members (parents or siblings). However, you may also want to consider extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins) and close friends. The following is a list of questions to ponder as you think about picking a guardian:
Longevity. How old is the adult now, and how old will the adult be when the child reaches adulthood? Is the adult in good health? Does the adult have the energy and physical ability to take care of the child?
Values. Does the person have similar moral and social values as my family? Would this person be willing to raise my child in a particular faith? Will they be a positive influence on my child and make sure certain family values are instilled my child? Does this individual have a parenting style like mine?
Location. Does the guardian live in the same town? How close does the guardian live to other important family members or friends? If the guardian lives in another town, how hard will it be for the child to relocate to another city?
Personal fit. Does my child have a strong relationship with this person? Does this individual have other children? If so, how does my child interact with those children? Would the mesh of children be a good fit? Does this person enjoy spending time with my family members and close friends?
Type of guardian. Do you want to have a couple raise your child, or would an individual be all right? If you name a couple, you may want to also note who would become the guardian in event of a divorce. (Or, in the event of a divorce, would you want a new guardian all together?) You may also want to name at least one alternate guardian in your will.
Before you name a guardian(s) in your will, have an in-depth conversation with them. Ask if they would be willing to be the guardian for your child and get their permission to name them in your will. Determine what questions they have. Consider providing them with more information about how you would like them to raise your child. You may consider including the following items as a “roadmap” for child-rearing:
The key routines for your child (morning, bedtime, school, chores, etc.)
- Important traditions to pass down (birthday, holidays, religious, etc.)
- List of the most important people or providers in your child’s life.
- Programs or activities for your child.
- Special events you want to make sure are celebrated in the future (trips to take, 18th birthday, adventures to try).
- Challenges your child faces.
- Your child’s likes or dislikes?
- Description of your family’s values and faith.
As you review your estate plan every 5 years, take time to review your choice for guardian. Someone you named years ago may not be the best fit as guardian any longer. This person may have gone through a major life event (perhaps illness or divorce) and is no longer fit for your plan. You can change whom you name as guardian at any time without much hassle.
In order to ensure stability and a sense of calm to your child in an uncertain time, name a guardian for your child in your will.
*Roadmap items are from the Purposeful Planning Institute.
Laird W. Green, CFP® graduated from Furman University in 1992 with a BA in History. She received a Master of Arts in Public History and a Master of Library and Information Science from the University of South Carolina in 1998. Laird received the CFP® designation in 2002 and began working for Abacus Planning Group in 2016. Laird is one of seven Abacus shareholders.
Abacus is a financial advisory and investment counsel firm known for its passion in creating abundance for clients and family businesses through skillful listening and smart financial decision making. Managing over a $1.7 billion on behalf of its 250 plus families, Abacus consists of a team of multi-disciplinary experts who work collaboratively to serve its clients.