If you have young children, selecting someone to care for your minor children may be one of the most difficult aspects of planning your estate. It's difficult to choose someone to raise your child, no matter how loving someone might be. But should the unexpected happen, you can avoid potentially disastrous court hearings and make a tremendous difference in your child's life by planning ahead. So take some time now to think about what you value most in life, and in childrearing.
First, to determine the best guardians, make a list of all possible caregivers. Brainstorm and even think creatively; write down anyone who comes to mind who might be a possible guardian for your child.
Next, decide what matters most. Prioritize the factors that are most important to you. Consider these:
• presence of children in the home already
• interest in and relationship with your children
• ability to meet the physical demands of child care
• enough "free" time to raise children
• child-rearing philosophy
• religion or spirituality
• marital or family status
• social habits and values
• willingness to adopt your children
Obviously, the perfect guardian would rate high on every measure. Yet, no one is perfect. Focus in on the few characteristics that are most important to you. Keep in mind that although a potential guardian may lack in some qualities, if they possess the qualities you rated as most important, they may still be a very good guardian candidate. Try to focus on the "big picture" of the individual.
And remember, some things you can't change, such as a persons' integrity; other factors you could influence. If it's important for you to have an "at-home" parent care for your child, you could make that possible for the person you choose by having sufficient life-insurance and a properly funded estate plan.
Finally, match people to priorities. Use the factors you chose in step two to narrow your list of candidates to a handful. Listen to your heart as you work through selecting a potential guardian. Use your instincts to rank order this short-list into the people you would want first, second, and so on. Select an attorney experienced in planning for minor children, and be prepared to answer the following question if you have named a couple: if the couple divorces or if only one of them can serve, would you be okay with your child being raised in a single-parent home? Or would you prefer to move to the next name on the list? For this reason, it may be best to simply name one member of a couple, rather than both, or name a contingency in case of divorce, death or separation.
For many families, it's as easy as it looks. For others, however, these steps are fraught with conflict and disagreement between spouses is common. Although it is possible to each name different guardians, most parents are happier when they reach an agreement, so use your best communication skills to really talk it through.
If you just can't choose from among those on your "short list" consider using a Guardianship Panel. This is a panel of people that you select who would together choose the guardian of your child from your pre-determined "short-list" with the information available at the time.
Regardless of whose spouse's family or friends appear more frequently on your list, it's important to keep both families informed and involved. One way is to name members of one family as physical guardians to care for the children, and members of the other family as financial trustees, to manage the assets for the children. Another way is to name members of both families to the Guardianship Panel.
Nominating guardians is one of the most important tasks you have as a parent. The nomination of guardianship can be a very short document, a paragraph in a will, or detailed provisions in a comprehensive living trust. Once you complete the process, you will find a new level of peace of mind!
Darlynn Morgan is an aunt, writer, speaker and Personal Family Lawyer. Darlynn makes it super easy for your family to talk about and plan for sticky subjects like money, death and taxes. Find out more about how you can protect your kids at: http://www.MorganLawGroup.com.
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