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Choosing a guardian is often one of the most difficult choices my clients have to make. It’s terrible to imagine not being able to care for your children as they grow up, especially if your children are very young.
But not choosing someone is a much worse option. If you don’t designate a guardian for your children, a court would make the decision for you. And although Judges do their very best to decide what would be in the best interest of your children, they don’t know your children, or you family, like you do. As hard as it might be, it’s much better for you, your children, and, quite frankly, your entire family, to make this decision yourselves rather than leave it to someone else.
That said, what should you look for in a guardian? The first advice I give my clients is to think about people who share your values and parenting style. This may mean looking outside of your family. This is okay. There’s no rule that says your guardians have to be blood relatives, and some people find they have much stronger bonds with the family they chose rather than the family they’re born into.
Second, think about your children. Is their sense of place and home very important to them, or are they free spirits up for an adventure? Do they have a strong support network where you live? When my husband and I talked through our options, we felt that we wanted to pick a person who lived in Boise so that our children wouldn’t have to be uprooted from their friends and their community. For other people, however, this may not be an important consideration.
Third, talk to whomever you’ve chosen to make sure they’re up for the job. Perhaps your younger sister who is still single and living on her own in San Francisco isn’t ready to take on the responsibility and sacrifice that comes with raising children. Or, maybe your dearest friends are having problems in their marriage and aren’t able to manage anything more. In most cases, people are honored to be asked and happily agree. But it’s much better to know now that they are unwilling than to put someone in a difficult position down the road.
Fourth, and perhaps most important: you can change your mind. Pick someone and see how you feel about it. If you’re still worried about your decision a month after signing your will, you may not have picked the right person. Also, people and children change over time. Perhaps your parents were the right choice when your children were young, but may not be suited to raising teenagers. Or perhaps your younger sister has settled down and is now in a position to be a guardian. Regardless of the reason, changing your guardian is a simple (and inexpensive) thing to do.
So . . . hire a babysitter, go out to dinner, and have a long discussion about what feels right. Then make your decision, check your estate plan off your to do list, and devote your energy to something more pleasant!
For more information on Estate Planning for Parents, please click here.