How to choose a guardian
Written by Michelle N. Ogborne

How to choose a guardian

When you choose a guardian, you select someone to care for a person or persons who are your responsibility. In a legal document, the person or child for whom you will choose a guardian is called a “ward.” If something should happen to you – incapacitating injury resulting in the inability to express your desires or death – your legal guardian will assume responsibility for your loved ones. Examples of guardianships needed may include:

  • Developmentally challenged relatives
  • Elderly parents
  • Minor children

As parents, the pressure to choose a guardian for your children begins at their birth. Why do parents procrastinate in taking such an important step to protect their children?

‘Politics’ and Pain When You Choose a Guardian

In the U.S., two-thirds of parents have not chosen a guardian for their child/children. One of the reasons might be to avoid family drama or hurting someone’s feelings. When you choose a guardian “…there are so many toes you can step on – not only your siblings’ toes but your spouse’s, your spouse’s siblings…” as well as two sets of grandparents and close friends, says

Is having your relatives fighting in open court for custody of your children a better scenario? And what if, a judge was to choose a guardian, he or she picks the last person you would have wanted? Sometimes another couple – good parents themselves or childless – would be a better choice for your kids than a relative. If you don’t “put it in writing,” it could be a fight among family members for guardianship.

How to Choose a Guardian

You can’t imagine not being there with your children as they make life decisions and reach milestones. If you make the decision to choose a guardian for them, at least your children will know you wanted the best for them. Who is the “right” choice? Your best friends adore your children, but they are already maxed for time. Your sister is a good choice, but she lives far away . . .

You can’t assume a judge would automatically choose a guardian based on familial closeness. A judge can decide your parents are too old. One of your siblings could “win” over a better choice. Why would you let a stranger make such an important decision?

Here are five tips to help you choose a guardian:

  1. List your values – kindness, spiritual, cultural, extracurricular activities, education.
  2. List potential candidates – Ask yourself:
    • Are they capable?
    • Do they love your children?
    • Is their location favorable?
    • What is their current family structure?
    • Will your children feel safe and loved?
  3. Picture your children’s lives with each candidate – Are they happy?
  4. Ask your guardian for permission.
  5. Put guardianship into a legal document

Choose a Guardian Because the Future Isn’t Guaranteed

Planning for life shouldn’t be a negative experience. Taking care of the people you love should something happen to you is not only smart, it’s kind. Don’t make the mistake of leaving your children wondering, “Why wasn’t I important enough to protect?”

You should prepare for the unexpected and safeguard your children if the unthinkable happens. Naming a permanent guardian in a legal document is one of the steps in estate planning. Perhaps it’s the most important step. It is also something we recommend when preparing a Parenting Plan during a collaborative divorce.

When you choose a guardian, you can settle disagreements among family members before they happen. You can ensure your kids – your legacy – will be well cared-for “if…”

Contact Ogborne Law with any questions about how to choose a guardian. You can’t gamble with your children’s future.