Family of 5: grandparents and grandchildren, teenage boys and toddler girl eating eggs and pastry enjoying family breakfast on Easter day sitting together in sunny kitchen with big garden view window
Written by Michelle N. Ogborne

What to Consider When Naming Guardians

Naming guardians for your children is an important part of the estate-planning process. While their financial wellbeing may be your main concern, that’s only one piece of the pie.
If both of you die before they turn 18, what will happen to them?

For some families, the most obvious choice is to have the grandparents raise your children at the event of your passing. Or maybe it’s your brother or sister or best friend?

But are these the best options? How can you tell?

Here are some of the things you should consider when naming guardians.

The Age of the Involved Parties

Ideally, you’ll create your estate plan around when your children are born. If you started early, and your parents started early as well, then you may have some active parents to handle young children.

But what if you’re an older parent and grandparents are also older? It might not be a good fit to hand over a toddler to a 60-year-old grandmother.

Likewise, think of your older children. Teenagers can be a handful; is the person you’re naming as a guardian prepared to handle teens? Grandparents might not be willing or able to take on that responsibility.

Similarly, when it comes to your siblings, they may have kids of their own to handle. How will they be able to deal with adding your kids to the mix?

Special Needs

Do you have a child with special needs? Whether it’s ADHD, autism, or cerebral palsy, special needs require special attention. Is the person you’re naming as guardian up for the challenge? Your special-needs child will need financial and emotional support.

Before appointing a guardian their abilities and concerns associated with raising your children. If they are ready to be there for your kids, start talking about what they would need to be successful. Losing a parent is hard enough for your children, so you want to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Personal Desires

Are you raising your children as vegan Buddhists, while your sister (a potential guardian) is a Paleo Catholic? Though such differences may not be deal breakers, they are considerations.

What if you consider a guardian whose belief system and lifestyle vary considerably from the way you’re raising your children? You will want to have some conversations with them now. Perhaps you will all decide the option isn’t viable. Or you may discover you’ll be leaving your children in a loving, supportive household despite their differences.

Outside the Family

For many parents, the logical choice of a guardian is a grandparent, aunt, or uncle. But what if your family is out of the question? Maybe you don’t communicate with your children’s extended family. Or maybe your family members have issues leaving them unable to care for your children.

It is possible to name a guardian who is not a blood connection to your children. Naturally, you’ll want to have that conversation with your friend to ensure they are aware of your wishes and want to take on the role. And make your wishes explicit in your estate plan to avoid legal issues after you die.

Temporary Guardian

Often, it is a smart idea to include a temporary guardian into your estate plan. If the guardian you’ve chosen lives out of state, then a temporary guardian who lives nearby would be an optimal choice. If both you and your spouse die, the children will go into state care until the guardian retrieves them.

Losing a parent is traumatic enough. You can avoid more heartache by ensuring your children go directly to the home of a loved one. Talk to your attorney about adding this option to your estate plan.

Maintain Open Communications

It’s imperative that you let others know about your thoughts for your children’s care when you die. Make sure your children’s guardians understand their roles and how you would like them to raise your children. If you’re not naming your parents or in-laws as guardians, let them know why that is to avoid misunderstandings or hurt feelings.

Once you’ve developed your will and estate plan, you’ll also want to stay in contact with your attorney. As children and guardians grow, you may want to make amendments to your initial plan. What worked for 50-year-old grandparents and one toddler might not work when they become 60-year-old grandparents with three kids.

As you build your estate plan and name guardians, you can trust Ogborne Law for all your needs to protect your family.