Did you ever see the movie, Terms of Endearments? Do you remember the scene when the young mother, dying of cancer, says good-bye to her sons? It is such a tear-jerker. I wasn't even a close to motherhood when I first watched that movie but I still understood just how heart-wrenching it must be for a parent of young children to have to say good-bye to them. Of course, I would never, in a million years, wish that upon any parent. Since I have become mother, I could not imagine anyone else raising my sons. No one can do that better than me.
However, it is very important to take a moment and decide who could be a capable of raising your children if you and their other parent where unable. When your minor children do not have parents capable of caring for them, that is when your children would need guardian. If such a time ever came to pass, you would probably like to be able to decide who that person should be. Without your estate plan, the person you believe would be the best candidate may never get appointed as your children's guardian.
Arguably, choosing the ideal potential guardian for your minor children is one of the hardest yet most important decisions that you will ever have to make. I believe that this list can be very helpful to you when deciding who should be nominated to be the guardian.
I suggest that you consider the following before nominating a guardian:
- Who else loves your children, no matter what? This question makes it to the top of my list because a guardian steps into the shoes of the parents and we all know that parenting is a hard job. I imagine that life will be harder for a child whose parents are gone, so nominating a person who can love your child regardless of what happens would be ideal.
- Who will empower your children to live their best life? As parents, we want only the best for them. We have ideas and opinions of how to help our children become amazing and fulfilled adults. We do the best we can for our children. Having a guardian whose ideals mostly align with yours can help you find some peace of mind.
- Who has a family most like yours? There are so many ways to even define what “a family” is but, if you can find family that has a structure similar to yours, it may make your child's transition easier.
- How is the health of your potential nominee? When you consider who would most love your child, “no matter what,” you may believe that our own parents would make the ideal guardians. Before they become your first choice, you should consider their health, their age, and the age of your children. Would it be a good idea to ask your 70-year old parent(s) to become the guardian of your 4-year old? Will your nominee be able to keep up with a youngster until your child reaches age 18?
- How is their financial situation? In the best of situations, the person that you nominate would be able to support your children in comfort without the funds that you will leave to your children. However, if that isn't the case, you may wish to consider if the potential nominee has money problems or spending issues. Will the guardian be struggling to get by because of this? How is this going to affect your children?
- What is their lifestyle like? Consider whether your child's potential guardian's job requires frequent travel? Who will care for your child during those days? What if your nominee is a workaholic? Will your child regularly be home alone or with a babysitter? Will the guardian's lifestyle affect your child negatively?
- What is their religion? If raising your child in a chosen religion is very important to you, the guardian should also be a member of the same religion. It is important to consider this because it is likely that, if your guardian's views on religion do no align with yours, then your child is not going to be raised in your chosen religion.
- Are you satisfied with their education level? What are your thoughts about the importance of your child getting a college education? Will your nominee be able to convey this to your child? Will your nominee be able to help your child understand how important grades are? And help your child apply for college and financial aid?
- What is their own family situation? Most often we do not know what happens behind closed doors but, you can look for clues when you are with your nominee and their family. How do they speak to one another? How do their own children behave? Even if they appear to be the ideal family, what if you nominate a couple that ends up getting a divorce? Who “gets the kids”? It is likely that you would not want your children to be part of a custody battle. I strongly recommend that you consider naming only one individual to be the guardian so that there can be no question of “who gets the kids.”
- Do they have extended family that would welcome your children? This question also depends on how you define family, but it will be easier for your child if your nominee for guardian has a welcoming and accepting extended family.
- Have you discussed the nomination with your potential nominee? In real life (as opposed to Hollywood), your nominee for guardian should not be shocked that they were nominated because they have never even spoken to you about it. Ideally, the nominee(s) should be willing and able to start caring for your children right away.
- Who will you nominate as a back-up, in case your first choice is no longer able or willing? Having one or two alternate choices is a very important, especially if it has been a long time since you asked your first-choice if they are willing and able to accept the responsibility of being children's guardian.
- Will someone you don't name try to start a custody battle? You should note that the person you nominate must still be approved by the probate court. In California, a probate court oversees all guardianships. If there is a chance that someone else in your children's lives might consider fighting the nomination, we can prepare, in advance, for that too. This way the judge will know all your reasons why your nomination is best one for your child. Your estate planning is an excellent tool for helping to solve that problem.
It is likely that you will not find the “perfect” guardian after running through this list but if you can find someone who is willing and capable plus meets many of the qualities that are important to you, then you may want to nominate that person. Besides, it is doubtful that your children would actually need to be raised by anyone but yourself since, statistically speaking, it is more likely that you will live until your children are well into adulthood.
Remember, your guardian nominations are not set in stone. You may need to revise your choices from time to time. I advise you to update the guardianship planning at least every 3 to 5 years, because life happens and circumstances change.
If you would like to start a conversation with me, please feel free to contact me.