As an estate planning attorney, I work with parents all the time to make sure their minor children will be protected if the death or incapacity of one or both parents should occur.
One of the ways we do this is to name short-and long-term guardians, who are essentially the people with legal permission to take custody of your children if tragedy strikes.
Yet in my work as an estate planning attorney, I can honestly say that making a guardianship nomination legal is the easy part! It’s choosing the actual people you feel comfortable with to provide your kids long-term care which is the hardest decision for most parents.
Not to mention the complications (and stress) that can arise when it becomes clear that the kids would fare better if left in the care of different guardians (and yes, perhaps even be separated from one another) if the death of one or both parents occurred.
Of course this is a decision that’s not to be taken lightly, but legally, there is nothing stopping you from leaving your children to the care of different people if it seems necessary for their future well-being.
If in your conversation with an estate planning attorney you feel such a move is necessary, I urge you to make your wishes known and don’t feel bad or even guilty about your decision. Sometimes it’s clearly for the best.
Not sure when this would be an appropriate choice for your family? Let me give you an example as to when the decision to name separate guardians would come into play.
Let’s say you are a mother of 3 children. You have two girls from your first marriage and your third child, a boy, is from the 2nd. If something unexpectedly happened to you, the law dictates that your youngest son would be placed in the care of his father, provided he is still living.
Yet you know that living with your current husband would not be the best arrangement for the girls. The girls have never been close to your new husband and you can’t imagine the situation getting any better if you were gone. Worst of all, the girls have no relationship with their biological father. In fact, he signed over his rights in lieu of paying child support years ago. So in your mind, leaving the children to him is not an option either.
Based on this scenario, you decide to make your sister the guardian of the girls, while your husband would continue to raise your son if something happens.
Of course that’s just one of MANY examples in which the decision to appoint separate guardians for your children comes into play. As I tell parents all the time, YOU and only you know what is best for the physical and emotional well-being of your children in a time of need. While the ideal situation is to leave the kids together if possible, family dynamics or life circumstances may dictate that alternative plans be made.
Fortunately, that’s the beauty of estate planning. It gently forces you to think about such situations in advance so your children are given the best chance to thrive if something unexpectedly happens to you. You can then document your wishes so there is no question as to who you want to care for your children in your absence.
Haven’t made plans yet to legally appoint someone to care for your minor children if something happens to you?