It’s a tough question, but proper planning creates peace of mind, in the unlikely event that you cannot care for your children.
Your first step is to name a “personal guardian” for your children and one alternate in your Will. If something should happen to you, the court will appoint this individual to care for your children. If no personal guardian is named, any interested individual can petition the court for guardianship. The judge must then make an educated decision in the best interests of your child.
Questions to Ask When Naming a Personal Guardian
- Does this individual have true concern for the welfare of my child(ren)?
- Is this person physically and emotionally capable of serving as guardian?
- Can this person afford to raise my child(ren)?
- Do we (you and the prospective guardian) share similar religious and moral beliefs?
- Will this person be able to keep my children together? Will my children need to move?
Talk with individuals whom you are considering for guardianship. Some people don’t want this responsibility. This conversation becomes especially important if parents can’t agree on who to name. If conflict exists, the judge will decide based on the best interests of the children.
Naming More Than One Guardian
What if your children are not close in age, are from previous marriages, are strongly attached to different family members, or have special needs? You may choose to name a personal guardian for each child.
In the case of divorce, where one parent vehemently opposes the other as caregiver, attach an explanation to your Will. Because the judge must act in the child’s best interests, your opinions will be considered in making a final guardian determination. Keep in mind that it is difficult to prove another parent is “unfit” unless evidence exists of chronic drug or alcohol abuse, mental illness, or a history of child abuse. Your attorney can guide you best in these decisions.
Finally, consider writing a letter to your chosen guardian outlining how you hope your child will be raised. Don’t include so much detail that your guardian feels constrained in raising your child, or has feelings of guilt for not doing exactly as you have instructed.
Choosing a guardian for your children is no easy task. You can ensure the best results by selecting an individual whom you trust to navigate your child’s life, and who knows and loves your children.