While decisions regarding the distribution of one’s property tend to be the focus of estate planning for most people, decisions regarding the selection of an appropriate guardian for minor children should be equally important. If both parents die or for some other reason are unable or unavailable to raise their minor children, it is the nominated guardian(s) who will supervise and care for the minor children until they reach the age of majority.
Depending upon the state in which you reside, the appointment of a guardian is done either by the court or in the parents’ wills. In Michigan, guardians are appointed in the parents’ wills. However, if a minor child resides in Michigan and is over the age of fourteen at the time of a guardian’s appointment, the child can object to the nominated guardian and nominate one of his or her choice. In such event, a probate court would make the final determination as to whom will serve as guardian.
Choosing the best suited guardian and successor guardians is a difficult decision. Once the initial list of potential candidates is determined, the following factors should be considered in the final selection of guardians and the order of succession in which they should be named: the ages of the children, the guardian’s ability to serve, the religious/political/philosophical beliefs of the guardian, the guardian’s family structure (i.e., single or married, children or no children), and perhaps most importantly, the guardian’s willingness to serve.
Once the choice of guardians is made, thought should be given to the economics of the guardianship. For example, parents should consider what financial resources will be available for the health care, education, maintenance, and support of the minor children, and whether the guardians or a separate person will manage such resources. Parents should also decide whether the guardians will be paid for their services, and/or provided with special funds if the guardian must expand their residence to accommodate the children. Lastly, the parents should consider whether they want to provide visitation rights for other family members.