If you die and have children under the age of 18, how do you decide who will raise them? Updating your estate planning documents should be a priority. If you don’t prepare the proper documents, New York State can wind up dictating what happens to your children. Now is the time to think about appointing a “guardian”.
You need to decide who the right person is to take on the important role of raising your most precious possession—your child. Many families don’t have that ONE person to rely on should a situation arise. And if they did, they likely are already someone else’s guardian. Plus, there are TWO parents and TWO sets of family—a lot to consider.
The worst decision is to procrastinate until it is too late. You can always change your mind and documents. It isn’t an easy decision, so here are some tips for weighing the pros and cons and selecting your guardian or, at the very least, eliminating people from your list.
- Where does the potential guardian live? It is unrealistic to think someone will move into your home, so you will want to think about where this person is living and if that will work for your child, or children.
- How old is the potential guardian you are selecting? You don’t want to put your child into a situation where their guardian may not be around when they are older. You don’t want to put them into a position to lose another set of parents. Aside from health, someone older may not be on the same page as you are with parenting, or handling situations that may arise, or, if your kids are very young, being able to keep up with them. However, someone younger may not be focusing on a family right now and may be more interested in their career and socializing.
- What is their family situation? Are they single? Married? Have young children? Adult children? No children? If they have no children, do they want them? If they have children, what are their ages? How stable is the marriage? A stable family life is likely important to you and you will want to consider what situation you feel would provide constancy for your child(ren). Are you satisfied with the way they raise their children?
- What is their financial situation? Raising a child is a big responsibility financially—children are expensive. Most of us don’t have wealthy family that can step in and help out—if you did, someone else likely already asked them to be a guardian. So, instead, you will want to choose someone with a stable job, a steady income, is good with money management and/or someone who has spouse that meets that criteria. You would not want to select someone that would need to get another job just to raise your child.
- What kind of parenting skills do they have, and do they align with yours? If they have kids, have you observed how they parent their own children? Are they involved with their kids’ lives? What are their views on education, sports and extracurricular activities? Is there a spouse or significant other in the home? How do you feel about them?
- What are their political and religious beliefs? Do you have strong feelings about religion or politics? For some, this is VERY important. If it is imperative that your child(ren) continue to be raised with your values, choose someone who is on the same page as you are with either or both OR, that you can trust to shape their beliefs to meet your expectations.
Once these questions are answered, now it is time for the final, and arguably, the most important step—asking your potential guardian if they are up for the job. After that, put your wishes in writing and contact your attorney to create the necessary documents to be sure your wishes are heard and implemented. Remember, it is your most prized possession and you cannot worry if someone else is offended that you didn’t ask them. Making your selection based on these six points can help you make the right decision.
Like everything else in your will, you will want to review your selection periodically and make any updates should anything happen, or change. “It is always a good idea to review all of your estate planning documents every five years as life is constantly changing and evolving. From wills, to health care proxies and powers of attorney, you want those documents to reflect your current needs and wants.” says Stephen E. Diamond, Partner in charge of the estate planning at Stenger, Diamond & Glass LLP (Stenger, Glass, Hagstrom, Lindars & Iuele LLP).
If you have any questions about guardianship, or your Estate Plan, please contact us for a consultation.