How to Choose a Guardian for your Minor Child

Jackie Bedard
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If the unthinkable were to happen to you, have you thought about who you would want to raise and care for your children? Who should be called in an emergency? Who should it be in for the long-term?

Who would you want to raise your children?

What values are important to you in raising your children?

Who actually determines who will care for your children?

A lot of parents struggle with this decision. So much so, that many put off their planning. The reality is that there is no perfect guardian. To your children you are irreplaceable.

If you haven't legally named guardians for your children yet, I strongly urge you to get started!

I’ve run into many parents who say “Oh we’ve chosen my sister and her husband as guardian” or “we told my parents that we wanted to raise our children if anything happens to us” but then when I ask, it turns out that nothing was ever put in writing!

You might be surprised to learn that unless you have legally documented your guardian nominations, a judge will be the one to decide who will raise your children—and it might not end up being the person you would have chosen!

You see, despite the judge’s best efforts to choose the guardian that is best for your children, people can look very different on paper, or before a judge, compared to what might actually go on at home.  Without knowing what values are important to you, a judge might select a guardian that is contrary to your wishes.

For example, my friend Amy and her husband, Brian, once shared we me an example from their family:

On the surface, Brian’s sister and her husband appear to be the best option—Brian’s sister is a stay-at-home mom and her husband works a steady job with a good salary. They live in a nice neighborhood and have 3 children of their own. However, Amy and Brian also knew that the couple were having marital issues and Amy and Brian didn’t agree with their parenting style. 

Amy’s younger sister, Laura, on the other hand, is still single, lives downtown in a small apartment, and has yet to settle on a long-term career.  That being said, Laura understands Amy and Brian’s parental values and their children absolutely adore Laura.  Amy and Brian have no doubt that if needed, Laura would make a wonderfully caring and responsible guardian for their children.

Without the right documentation in place, a judge would almost certainly choose Brian’s sister and her husband as guardians rather than Amy’s sister, Laura.

By taking the time to legally document your wishes, you can make sure that your children would be raised by who you would want and in the way that you would want.

Free Guide for Parents with Minor Children:

If you have minor children, make sure you check out our free guide, on Children's Safeguard Planning, that covers the unique issues involved in estate planning when you have minor children, including naming guardians and protecting their future. Or, contact us to discuss the best way to get started at 919-443-3035 or via our contact form.