Like many people, you may be considering updating your estate plan in order to provide security for your children. Yet one of the most difficult parts of estate planning can be choosing a guardian for them. When you first begin the process, you may have many people in mind who could serve as guardian. After all, you have many friends and family members who love you and your kids. But when you get deeper in, you may find that the decision is not as easy as you expect it to be. The likelihood that your chosen guardian will have to step into that role is small. But if they do, the commitment, and the impact on your kids, is great. Here are ten considerations when choosing a guardian for your children.
Before naming a guardian in your estate planning documents, list the people you would realistically consider for your children’s guardians. At this stage, your concern is identifying all potential guardians. You may rule them out as the process continues.
If a guardian needs to step in to care for your children, that means they have already lost both parents. If they have to move across the country to live with Aunt Barb, they will also lose their neighbors, friends, school, and church community. You may want to choose a guardian who lives nearby, or who is willing to relocate for the kids (a big ask).
Again, in the scenario you are considering, your kids have just lost their parents and had their world turned upside down. Choosing your parents as guardians may seem logical—after all, who loves a child like their grandparents? But if grandma or grandpa are older, especially if your kids are small, there is the risk they will be losing their caretaker all over again far too soon.
This relates not only to their likely longevity, but also to their ability to give your children the care they need. If your proposed guardian has a chronic or disabling illness, for example, and your children are young and energetic, it may not be an ideal match.
If your proposed guardians are married, who would end up with the children in the event of a divorce? If you are considering your brother and his wife as guardians, it may be best to name only the biological relative as guardian in case of a later divorce.
You might think that this question is suggesting that an unmarried guardian isn’t suitable, but you’d be wrong. Instead, the real issue is this: marriages sometimes end in divorce. If your proposed guardians are married, who would end up with the children in the event of a divorce? If you are considering your brother and his wife as guardians, it may be best to name only the biological relative as guardian in case of a later divorce.
If the proposed guardians do have children, ask yourself how your children would fit into their household. Would they and their children be able to handle the sudden addition of more children? If their children are older and yours are younger, might the guardians be looking forward to an empty nest and resent being tied down again with young kids? If the proposed guardians don’t have children, are you confident in their ability to parent? Might taking on your kids interfere with their plans to have their own children?
Especially if your children are small, serving as their guardian will be a time-intensive and years-long commitment. Does your proposed guardian have the time and energy to raise not just children, but children who are grieving and in need of extra attention?
Your proposed guardians are not just going to be feeding, clothing, and sheltering your children; they will be teaching and caring for them. How do you want your children to be educated? Do you want them to be raised in a religious tradition? How likely are your proposed guardians to comply with your wishes, especially if they do not share your values?
If you are making an estate plan, you are probably planning to leave some of your assets to your children, and some for their care. You already know that raising children is expensive, and raising yours will put a financial burden on your proposed guardians. You want to choose guardians for whom raising your children will be manageable financially, and whom you trust with the funds you leave for your children’s support.
All of the issues mentioned above are sensitive, and your thoughts about them are not the only ones that matter. Can you envision having a discussion about values, finances, and the commitment of being a guardian with the person you’ve chosen?
It is likely, after considering these ten issues, that no perfect candidate will emerge, or that some candidates are strong on some issues, while others have different strengths. Take some time to sit with your thoughts, and understand that just because there is no perfect solution, that doesn’t mean you can’t identify a good one.
It may also help to discuss your concerns with an experienced Michigan estate planning attorney. Your attorney will discuss the specifics of your situation with you and help you reach a decision that ensures the best possible future for your children. We invite you to contact our law office with any questions you may have about choosing a guardian for your children.