If you have children, the most critical component of your estate plan is appointing a guardian for them. Should you die unexpectedly or become incapacitated, you want to ensure there’s someone designated to step in and care for them. Because establishing legal guardianship can be a complex issue, it’s beneficial to have the help of an New York estate planning attorney to provide guidance on the documents required to appoint a guardian for your child and how the process offers peace of mind.
Essential Considerations for Appointing a Guardian for Your Child
Although being unable to raise your children isn’t a scenario you want to consider, it’s vital to assign guardianship now as a precaution. If you don’t, the courts decide—and the individual they choose may not be your preference or be detrimental to your child’s overall well-being.
Without question, your first concern is that your children are loved and cared for, but there are other factors to weigh before making a final guardian designation.
State Your Parental Preferences Upfront
Just because you’re unavailable doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to outline specific aspects of how you want your child to be raised. Here are a few vital considerations to review with your attorney when updating your estate plan.
- Think long term. A backup plan is important to address all the “what-ifs” and “what could happen” situations. To help ensure that things go according to your plan, don’t leave decisions to chance. Make sure you think through all the possibilities and address them in writing.
- Provide instructions on how you want your child to be raised. If you’re vague on specifics, the new guardian may make decisions you don’t want. Be sure to detail your religious beliefs, where you want your child to attend school, and where you want them to live. It’s essential to make your wishes known.
- Name more than one guardian. It’s possible the person you choose as guardian might not be able to accept the position, move to another state, or suddenly become ill. Designate a backup guardian as well, and talk with both parties about the responsibilities.
- Specify who you don’t want to raise your child. Even the best-intended family member or close friend isn’t always suited to being a guardian. If your first and second choices can’t fulfill guardianship, be sure to put in writing who you absolutely wouldn’t allow to raise your child.
- Don’t designate someone based on their expectations. It’s possible that a family member may expect they’ll fulfill this role because they’re close to you and you share a positive relationship. Being a relative doesn’t mean you have good parenting skills. Don’t let someone pressure you about guardianship if you know they’re not suited to the position.
Evaluate Attributes You Want in a Guardian
As you try to imagine your child’s life without you, keep in mind that, just like your preferences, other characteristics must be considered.
- Parenting skills. Raising a child is no small task. Being a “fun aunt” who takes your child to the movies vs. being a parent 24/7 are two very different things. You may want to choose someone who’s also a parent who understands both the joys and challenges of the role and whose approach aligns with yours.
- The guardian’s beliefs. It’s unlikely that you’ll find a guardian who shares all of your beliefs, moral and religious views, principles, and fundamental standards. But it’s essential to appoint someone you believe your child will feel comfortable with and treat your child with love and respect.
- Their financial situation. When you ask someone to be a guardian for your child, you’re increasing their living costs rapidly. But conversely, someone who’s financially solvent may not be good with children or the right person to become your child’s parent. Consult your estate planning attorney about establishing a trust fund or a bank account to help the guardian raise the child in a financially stable environment.
- The guardian’s residential location. It’s possible your child would grow up there until they reach adulthood. Is the neighborhood safe? Are there good schools in the area? These and other points matter in your designation.
- Their age. You should consider the guardian’s age and focus in life. An older person might not want to become a parent again, and a younger person might be too focused on starting a career and having a family to think about taking care of someone else’s children.
Why You Need an Attorney to Assign Guardianship
A skilled estate planning attorney guides you through the process of deciding on a guardian for your children and answers all your questions. Because this can be an emotional and complicated endeavor, you need professionals who will listen, understand your values and what you want from a guardian, and help you make the best decision for your family.