If you’re expecting or if you’ve had a baby, you know there is an endless list of things to do before they arrive—some fun and some less-than-exciting. Sure, putting together a baby registry and decorating a nursery are important tasks, but there’s one thing you definitely don’t want to overlook: selecting a legal guardian for your child(ren) in the event that something unexpected should happen to you.While it’s not something we like to think about as parents, one of the best things we can do for our kid(s) is designate a legal guardian to raise them if we were no longer in a position to do so ourselves. Knowing how to do this and where to get started can be confusing. That’s why Trust & Will has modernized the estate planning process—including assigning guardianship—so that you can do it all digitally without having to hire an attorney.
While it’s not something we like to think about as parents, one of the best things we can do for our kid(s) is designate a legal guardian to raise them if we were no longer in a position to do so ourselves.
Trust & Will’s process is simple, secure, and customized for your specific needs and state requirements. Plus, all of their documents have been designed and approved by estate planning attorneys to meet the highest legal standards. All you do is answer a few simple questions from Trust & Will’s online quiz, which usually takes about 15 minutes. Then, they create a customized plan to meet your needs. Whether you’re looking to create a complete trust-based estate plan, a will, or designate a guardian, Trust & Will can walk you through the process, starting at just $39.
Selecting a guardian for your little one(s) is obviously a big decision. We talked to Meg Palazzolo, Head of Member Success from Trust & Will, to help break it down for us. Below are 5 important things to keep in mind when selecting a guardian for your child(ren).
1. How Old Are They?
Age and life stage is an important factor in choosing a proper guardian. Will they be fit and able to care for your children until adulthood? If your parents or grandparents are an option, and you have very young children, think about how old the guardians you select will be when your child or children reach the age of 18.
At a certain point, it’s important to consider where the children want to go as they get older over time. For example, if the children are young, it may be in their best interest to be with their grandparents. Once the children are in their teens, they may feel as though they want to live with an aunt, uncle, or family friend.
2. Are They Financially Stable?
Raising kid(s) is a financial commitment, making financial stability an important factor to consider when selecting a guardian. Adding a child or multiple children into their life will raise the guardian’s living costs significantly.
That’s not to say finances are the only thing to take into account—after all, someone can be well-off financially but not a right fit for other reasons—but it is important to consider whether it is possible for the guardian to take on the additional expense that children bring. In thinking through guardianship, many people opt to set up a trust for their children to help with the financial costs of raising them, too.
3. Where Do They Live?
It’s also important to keep in mind the location of where your child(ren) may end up living and how that can impact their life. Does the guardian live nearby or will a big move be involved? You’ll have to seriously think about and weigh the pros and cons of what each scenario would mean for your child(ren). Would they be leaving absolutely everything from their former life? Would they be moving far away from friends, family, and the support they have? If your nominated guardian lives in New York, but the child’s relatives live in California, it may be difficult for the child to transition to a new life 3,000 miles away.
The legal guardian you appoint for your children can live in a different state than you, though there are some restrictions to be aware of. For example, in Florida and Oklahoma, the laws require an out-of-state guardian to be closely related to the children. In other states, there are laws that require an in-state agent, or a person who still resides in the original state, to receive legal paperwork on behalf of the guardian.
4. What Are Their Values?
Legal guardians have legal and physical custody of minor children. They are responsible for making all of the decisions regarding their upbringing: education, discipline, medical care, religious practices, and more.
Selecting a guardian who has similar views in these areas will give you peace of mind that your child(ren) will be raised in an environment similar to what they are used to and that you would be comfortable with. While you may not have the exact same views on everything, you can identify certain aspects that are most important to you in a guardian for your kid(s).
5. Are They Physically and Mentally Healthy?
Raising a child is no easy feat. It is a mental, physical, and emotional challenge. An ideal legal guardian should be capable of taking on the physical and emotional day-to-day challenges of raising a child. When you think of a potential guardian’s day-to-day life, you should be able to see your children fitting into it seamlessly. They should feel wanted and worthy.
This person should be relatively healthy both physically and mentally to provide a safe and stable home environment for your child(ren). Somebody who would make a good guardian would also be compassionate, loving, responsible, dependable, and trustworthy.
Additional Guardianship FAQs
Appointing a guardian for your children is one of the most important tasks you’ll ever do. Naming a legal guardian for your kids can help provide a safe and stable environment where a grieving child can heal. As your child’s current legal guardian, you know what’s best for them. So what else do you need to know about choosing a guardian?
Why do I need to choose a legal guardian? What if something happens to me/my partner and I don’t have one for my child(ren)?
This is not a thought most new parents want to think about, but typically, parents appoint a legal guardian to be responsible for raising their child(ren) in the event of the parents’ untimely deaths. However, legal guardianship can also be beneficial in situations involving illness, disability, and incarceration.
It is still crucial to put a legal guardian for your child into writing. If you do not formally name a guardian, and you pass away, a probate court will ultimately appoint guardianship. The decision is based on what the court believes is in the best interest of the child or children. There is also the possibility that your child could be placed in a foster home, even temporarily, while a court evaluates what is in your child’s best interests.
When should I assign a guardian for my child(ren)?
Ideally, you would assign a guardian to your child when you find out you’re expecting or shortly after they are born. All children under the age of 18 should have an appointed legal guardian in the case that something happens to their parents or current guardians.
Other times to consider finalizing guardianship:
- Before you travel for the first time without your children
- Before a major medical procedure or treatment
- After a divorce
- After a remarriage
Do I need to have a conversation or get approval from the guardians I select for my child(ren)?
It’s definitely a good idea to have the conversation with the individuals you have in mind before officially naming them as guardians for your child(ren). This is an important role that this person may play in your child’s life, and it’s critical that they are on board and ready to take on the responsibilities that come with being a caretaker. Let your nominated guardians know what exactly the role of guardian entails and what it means to you and your family.
Although it may be uncomfortable, having a conversation with the person or people you select to be your children’s guardian can help alleviate any surprise or shock should the time come that they need to step in. Also, having that conversation upfront means they’ll have time to prepare emotionally so they’ll be better able to focus instantly on your children when they will need it most.
How often should I revisit my estate plan or guardianship documents?
You’ve put a lot of careful thought and consideration into choosing the perfect legal guardian for your child. But just because they are the best choice today, doesn’t necessarily mean they always will be.
Trust & Will recommends that you review your estate plan every three to five years. Even if nothing about your family, career, or living arrangements has changed, the laws that impact your estate may have. Keeping your documents up-to-date will ensure their validity with banks and other financial institutions.
Does a guardian have to be another family member? What if I don’t have family I feel comfortable with for this role?
A Guardian can be whoever you feel is best suited as a caretaker for your child(ren), whether that be a family member or trusted friend. Every family’s situation is different and they may not have relatives who can give your child the life you’re wanting for them if you’re no longer there.
You can appoint virtually anyone who is of sound mind, over the age of 18, and who has never been convicted of a serious crime to be a guardian. Some states require a guardian to be a legal U.S. resident.
I have more than one child. Should all of my kids have the same guardian?
It’s most common to name the same guardian for all of your children. That most often ensures the children will be raised together and that your assets can provide for your children collectively much in the same way you do as a parent.
Some may choose to name different guardians. That decision is typically reached due to some specific reason. If the children have different parents (i.e., they are half-siblings), the children may each go to their other parent. Or if the children have different specific needs they may go to different guardians (e.g., one young child may go to a sibling to care for the child long-term in a different city but an older child may stay with local grandparents for less disruption on that child’s established life).
What if I (or they) change my mind? Is this set in stone?
You can make changes to your guardianship election in your estate plan as often as you like. However, Trust & Will recommends that you consider any complications or circumstances of your proposed guardian when initially selecting them. This is why creating a digital estate plan, like those offered by Trust & Will, is beneficial for new parents. You have unlimited access to make changes to your plan in an instant versus having to go into an attorney’s office and pay higher fees.
This post was in partnership with Trust & Will but all of the opinions within are those of The Everymom editorial board. We only recommend products we genuinely love.