Choosing Guardians, Part 1: Why It's Important

This is the first of a three part series on choosing guardians for your children.  I’ll be covering the importance of choosing guardians, how to choose your children’s guardian, and other considerations that should be made in selecting guardians.

Why is choosing a guardian for your children so important?

While there are many benefits of estate planning and having a proper last will and testament, one of the most motivating benefits to children is the desire to name a guardian to care for their minor children.  The process of selecting a guardian can be difficult and emotionally draining.  However, if the unthinkable happens and you have not appointed a guardian for your children, the court system will appoint a guardian for you.  The court will use what is known as the “best interests of the child” test, reviewing a variety of factors in an effort to select a guardian for your children.  Applying such a test can be problematic in many situations such as:

  • When you have no family members available to serve as guardian.
  • When you do not want certain family members raising your children.
  • You are concerned about the likelihood of a legal battle within the family, for example, between the children’s grandparents or between your siblings.
  • You would want the children to be raised by a step parent.  Step parents do not automatically receive custody rights.
  • Your family members live out of state.You come from a nontraditional family.

Why leave this important decision to a judge that doesn’t know you, your children or your family?  If you do not have family members capable of serving as guardian or if your family lives out of state, there is a risk that your children could be placed in foster care until a custody decision is made. In some cases, custody battles can drag on for years if there is a conflict among family members.

Make sure you have a backup plan

It is imperative that you appoint a guardian to make your wishes known regarding who you do and do not want raising your children.  Not only should you decide on your first choice guardian, but you should also name at least one contingent guardian, preferably 3 or 4, as backups in the event that your first choice is or becomes unable to serve.

See also:

Choosing Guardians, Part 2: 5 Steps to Choosing Guardians

Choosing Guardians, Part 3: Additional Considerations

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