Many parents put off estate planning because they do not think they have substantial assets to protect. This view is common among young adults who think they have plenty of time to accumulate wealth and plan for it at a later date. However, in failing to create a proper estate plan, many parents cannot adequately protect their children. All parents, with or without a great deal of assets, should have an estate plan in place to set forth their wishes for their children. This should include the nomination of a guardian in the event that they have an untimely passing while the child is still a minor.
In your estate plan, you can appoint a guardian (also known as a conservator) for your children upon your passing. If there is no plan in place, the court will appoint a guardian to raise your children based on what it deems to be in the best interest of your children. Unfortunately, the court appointed guardian may not be your first choice and could actually be your last choice. From just a few brief hearings, it is often impossible for the courts to determine who is best suited to care for your children in your absence.
In some cases, where no clear-cut guardian is named, children may be sent to Child Protective Services to remain with a foster family until the court decides on a suitable guardian to take on the responsibility. For many parents, this scenario is reason enough to create an estate plan to protect their children.
Nominating a guardian can be a very difficult decision and one that should not be made without serious consideration. The individual selected should provide stability for your children in the difficult transition and ultimately continue care in a fashion with which you are comfortable. You should consider the following traits and circumstances when determining who is best suited to raise your children:
- Age: You will want to make sure they are old enough to provide proper care (at least 18 years of age in most states) but young enough to remain in good health until your children reach adulthood.
- Commitment: Ensure that the guardian does in fact want to take on this responsibility.
- Temperaments: Carefully consider what kind of person will mesh well with your children. If you have young or energetic children, you may want to make sure the guardian exhibits patience.
- Religious and moral beliefs: Do they share the same values as you and your spouse? Would they instill these in your children?
- Nature of existing relationship with children: You will want to make sure that this person has a good bond with your children and that there is a mutual comfort level.
- Location: If you prefer that your children not move out of their current home and/or school district, you will want to make sure that the appointed guardian resides close to you and intends to stay there until your child reaches the age of majority.
- Children: Does the proposed guardian have other children? If so, does the guardian have enough time and resources to devote to his/her own children in addition to yours?
- Finances: Can the candidate financially provide for your child if there are not enough funds available from your estate?
In the event that the guardian you have selected in your estate plan is unable to raise your children upon your passing, you should have two alternates who also meet the aforementioned criteria. This will ensure that your children are left in the hands of trusted relatives or friends and not in the court system.
If you have multiple children and would like to appoint different guardians to raise them separately, you may also outline multiple guardian appointments in your estate plan; however, this situation is generally not regarded as ideal for close siblings.
All appointed guardians must ultimately be approved by the court at the time of the parents’ passing. If a biological parent is still living, they will usually be named the guardian of the children unless evidence is presented that this individual is unfit to provide care to the children in question.
An experienced estate planning attorney can help secure the future of your children by properly establishing guardianship for them. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.