How to Choose a Legal Guardian for Your Child

Corey —  June 29, 2010 — 13 Comments

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by Katie Tegtmeyer on Flickr - not my sister       My youngest sister will be having a baby soon. We were discussing wills recently, and she wisely brought up the question of how to choose a guardian for your child. I gave her some basic tips in an email, but I thought it would make a good topic for a post. This is an expansion of the advice I gave my sister.

What Is a Legal Guardian? Why Should I Choose One?

       A legal guardian is an adult who is designated to care for your child if both you and your spouse die or become incapacitated. If you don’t choose one, the courts will choose one for you.

       You shouldn’t assume that family will automatically get custody of your child. Unless you have a named guardian in your will, a judge will choose the guardian for your child. While the courts look most favorably upon choosing family members, they are free to pick anyone they choose. If they can’t find someone who is capable and qualified, your child could end up in foster care. If that’s not reason enough to designate a guardian, I don’t know what is.

       It’s also wise to name an alternate guardian in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to accept the responsibility. This can be easily handled in your will.

Choosing the Right Guardian

       The first thing you must realize is that you won’t find a perfect guardian for your child. Your job is to find the best guardian you can – not a perfect one. Start by making a list of all the possibilities. Then discuss each possibility with your spouse. Here are a few factors to consider when narrowing down your list:

  • Do the person’s religious values, beliefs, and parenting style & technique closely match yours?
  •  

  • Will the person be able to manage the responsibility of caring for your child? (financially, physically, and emotionally)
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  • Is your child comfortable with the person?
  •  

  • Does the person have other children? Will your child fit in well with the family?
  •  

  • Does the person live close to you, or would your child have to move far away? (changing schools, losing friends, etc. in the process)


Should I Choose a Different Person to Manage My Estate?

       Hopefully, you’ll leave behind an estate that can help cover the costs of raising your child. If you do, you must decide if you want the legal guardian to also be the manager of those funds or if you should pick someone else. Having one person do both keeps things simple and makes it easier for the guardian. However, there are cases where you might want to pick a different person.

       Clearly, if the person you’ve chosen as your child’s legal guardian is not good at managing their own finances, you probably don’t want them to manage your child’s inheritance either. (Although, if this is the case, why would you pick them to be the guardian?!)

       You might also select a different person to be the trustee so you can keep them involved in your child’s life. Your parents could be a good example. They might be too old to raise your child, but by choosing them to be the trustee you can keep them involved in your child’s life without the day-to-day responsibilities.

       In either case, you’ll want to make sure that both the legal guardian and the trustee can work together well. Any complications could make a difficult situation worse.

Get the Person’s OK Before Signing Your Will

       Finally – and this should be obvious – make sure you’ve discussed this with the person you’d like to select as your child’s legal guardian. You don’t want them to be caught by surprise after your funeral. It would be quite foolish to pick someone without discussing it with them first.

       This is also a good way to narrow down your final list. One person may decline the responsibility. Another may be more than happy to take on this role. This makes your choice much easier.

Your Thoughts

       What advice would you give to my sister as she goes through the process of choosing a legal guardian? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Provident Planning is a partner in GRABBBR, Giveaway Reaching All Bible Based Blog Readers. This is my featured GRABBBR blog post. By leaving a comment on this post, you will gain 5 ENTRY POINTS and may win cash or prizes.

Discussion is encouraged! However, only 1 comment per person will be counted towards GRABBBR, so please, no spam. For more information about GRABBBR, including how to gain additional entry points, visit the official GRABBBR page.

Corey

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Corey is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in religion. While he enjoys learning and writing about Christianity, another one of his new passions is writing about personal finances in order to help others make wise decisions with their money.

13 responses to How to Choose a Legal Guardian for Your Child

  1. This is a really important issue. We have 3 children, and I think the age & health of the guardian you designate is crucial.

    Probably the trickiest thing is finding a guardian with the same values/beliefs you hold. I’ve heard of people “interviewing” family members to figure out who would be the most suitable guardian.

  2. great post! I’ve some kids also and the post gave me some things to think in deciding their legal guardian.

    Thanks

  3. Thanks. This is a very great post. We’re still discussing options. I do like the idea of an alternate, that way if things do change there are other options.

  4. Thanks for your comments everyone. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. The most important part of this is to actually do it. Too many people never get around to it despite its importance. Don’t be one of those people!

  5. Paul,
    Thanks for writing on such an important and often overlooked responsibility. If just one reader acts on this post, you have done well. And good job helping your sister think it through!

  6. Thanks, Joe! It’s something we don’t think about very much, and I hope no one ever has to actually have it go into effect. But things do happen and its best to be prepared. As much as parents love their children, this should be one of their top concerns in estate planning.

  7. Excellent. I plan on reading all that is posted and then some. This needs to get out to more people.

  8. Thanks for your comment, Cathy. Are you entering GRABBBR or did you just want to leave your comment?

  9. For many people, it’s difficult to find a good guardian. It is hard enough to take care of your kids and when you have added responsibility of taking care of someone else’s kid, it’s something most people don’t want to do. In many cases, rather than brothers/sisters, loving and sincere guardian’s happen to be grand-parents.

    PS: I will also like to enter GRABBBR

  10. Thanks for your comment, Rakesh. It can be difficult to find a good candidate to be a guardian for your child – especially if you don’t have a strong family network. Many people do choose their parents (the kid’s grandparents) to be the guardian, but you should make sure they’ll be able (physically & financially) and willing to take on this role.

    I’ve added your entries for GRABBBR as well.

  11. You brought up some very interesting ideas. As of right now, I do not have any children. But I can be preparing for in the future. Thank you for bringing this very important reminder.
    I would love to be entered in the GRABBBR giveaway please?
    I became a follower on Twitter-kingsdaughter24
    I tried to become a follower on Facebook but it kept pulling up an error message. If you get it fixed, please let me know:)
    I became a subscriber through the RSS Feed and MyYahoo.
    I also subscribed to the email newsletter and activated it:)
    Thanks so much!

  12. Thanks for your comment, Charity. You can always be preparing by thinking about who you might choose as a guardian even if you don’t have children yet.

    I’ve added your entries for GRABBBR. I think I’ve fixed the Facebook problem. If it still won’t work for you, let me know. Thanks!

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  1. Personal Finance RoundUp: GRABBBR Edition - June 15, 2012

    [...] a a serious note, it’s important to establish a legal guiardian for your child.  Have you thought about who will care for your child if something were to happen to you and your [...]

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