It is important to name someone to raise your child if the unthinkable happens and both you and the child’s other parent pass away before becoming an adult. While the likelihood of that happening is slim, the consequences of not naming a guardian are great. These tough conversations must take place so that the court does not decide your child’s fate for you.
A Nomination of Guardian is simply a document where you name your preference for who would raise your child under these unlikely circumstances. A judge makes the final determination but is free to consider all sorts of factors. At the very least we urge parents to make their preference known. Keep in mind that if you are divorced, the judge will usually name the child’s surviving parent as guardian unless it is not in the child’s best interests.
Choosing a Guardian
The person you name as guardian does not have to be a relative, so consider all of your options. As you begin to list and evaluate your candidates, consider the following:
A person's parenting style, values, and religious beliefs should be similar to your own.
How far away from you do they live? Would your child have to move far away from a familiar school, friends, and neighborhood at an emotionally difficult time?
How comfortable is your child with your candidates now?
How emotionally prepared are your candidates to take on this added responsibility? Someone who is single may resent having to care for someone else’s child. Candidates with a houseful of their own children may not want more around, or conversely, they may welcome the addition.
Do they have the time and energy? Your parents may have the time, but consider if they would have the energy to keep up with a toddler or teenager. Someone who works long hours may not initially seem to be the ideal candidate at first, but this candidate may be willing to change his or her priorities if needed.
If your candidates have children of their own, would your child fit in or feel lost?
Consider your child’s age and that of your candidates. An older guardian may become ill or even die before your child is grown. A younger guardian, especially an adult sibling, may be concentrating on finishing college or starting a career. If your child is older and more mature, you should consider your child’s input in your decision.
The Financial Part
Raising your child should not be a financial burden for the person you select, and a candidate’s lack of finances should not be the deciding factor in your decision either. You will need to provide enough money (consider your own assets, life insurance money, or both) to provide for your child the way you want. These funds could then help the guardian buy a larger car or add on to their existing home, if needed.
Consider whether it is appropriate to name someone else to handle the finances. Naming one person to raise the children and handle the money can make things simpler because the guardian would not have to ask someone else for money. However, if the best person to raise your child is not necessarily the best person to handle money, you may select another person to manage your child’s inheritance.
Many parents set up a trust for the child’s inheritance and name someone other than the guardian to be the trustee of the trust. There can be disagreements over expenses, so be sure to name people as guardian and trustee who can work together for the best interests of your child.
Provide a Letter of Instruction
Consider writing a letter to the guardian explaining your expectations and hopes for your child’s upbringing. Include your desires about your child’s education, activities, and religious training. Read and update your letter every year as your child grows and develops interests. You should also discuss these desires with your selected guardian.
Call us today to ask about how your Nomination of Guardian fits into your estate plan.