Naming a Guardian for Your Minor Children

Contact: M. David Steffensen

Backup parents are just what they sound like – someone you trust to raise your children in a way that you would want should the unexpected happen to you and your spouse.  While the odds of that actually happening are low, not naming someone to take care of your children will cause considerable difficulty for your family should the unthinkable happen.

If no backup parents are named in your Will, a judge—someone unfamiliar with your children, relatives, and friends—will decide who will raise them. Anyone can ask to be considered the backup parents (legally called “guardians”) of your children and the judge will select the person he/she feels most appropriate.

However, if you name backup parents in your Will, the judge will most likely go along with your choice so long as they are willing and able.

Considerations When Choosing Backup Parents

When choosing a potential guardian, you should consider the following characteristics of the individual(s):

  • parenting style, values, and religious beliefs;
  • current location – if he/she lives far away, you are possibly moving your children from their friends, school, and neighborhood;
  • age in relation to your children’s ages – grandma and grandpa may have the time, but not the energy to keep up with your kids. While someone younger, such as an adult sibling, may be too focused on college or a career; and
  • emotional stability.  Ask yourself, how prepared is he/she to take on this added responsibility? Someone who is single may resent having to care for someone else’s children. Someone with a houseful of their own children may not want more around.

Note: It is not necessary to name a relative to serve as the guardian.  However, you should ask the top candidates if they would be willing to serve, and name at least one alternate in case the first choice becomes unable or unwilling to serve.

Admittedly, naming backup parents can be a difficult process for you. The obvious reason is that no one wants to think about such a scenario.  Keep in mind that these people will probably not raise the child because odds are that at least one parent will survive until the child is grown.

However, by naming a guardian, you are planning ahead for an unlikely, yet possible, situation. This process alone can relieve stress when it comes to thinking about the unknown.  Knowing you have a plan to provide for your children helps quite a lot.  And a great thing about this plan is that it is flexible.  Should you change your mind, you can (and likely should) change the guardian as your children grow and if situations change.

Call to schedule, or come in for a free initial consultation to discuss in further detail the importance of having backup parents and putting together a Will.  We will discuss all of the options, and determine what next steps are required to move forward.