We try to protect our children from potential dangers – rain, sleet and snow to more ominous worries. What if the worst actually happened, and you were not there to care for your child? Who would do it? It’s a decision you want to plan calmly in advance, not leave to the courts – the judge won’t know that your charming sister-in-law is crazy – or even your own wits during or following a crisis situation.
Choosing a guardian can be difficult and filled with emotional and other nuances. In addition, differing opinions between spouses about who should serve as a guardian, in the unlikely event that both parents die while any of their children are under the age of 18, stops many an estate plan in its tracks. While no guardian will ever replace a child’s own parents, a thoughtful choice will help a child cope with his/her loss and readjust to a new life and home.
[Note: This post was written while I was a practicing attorney running a solo law practice. Since April 2015, I have been working with attorney, executive and entrepreneur clients as a career coach and writer, and I am not currently available for legal engagements.]
Factors in Choosing a Guardian
There are a number of factors that affect guardianship decisions, and the weight given to each depends on your personal situation and possible choices. Here are some common points to consider:
Other Parent. If the child’s other parent is still living, there is a “rebuttable presumption” that the parent will be the child’s guardian, absent extenuating circumstances such as abuse.
Willingness to Serve. Of upmost importance is the guardian’s willingness to take on such responsibility. Has or would the guardian agree to serve? Willingly or grudgingly?
Parenting Philosophy. Your choice of guardian should share your parenting philosophy. With what value set do you want your child raised? Can and will your potential guardian take your wishes into account?
Home Life. What type of home life does the potential guardian have right now and is it compatible with your children?
Geography. Where does the guardian live and (if applicable) will your children be able to adapt to a new geographical location? (Special issues, including immigration, are presented with international guardianship.)
Child’s Preferences. What are your child’s preferences, if any? Be aware that Connecticut courts give children a role in the process at age 12. In New York, that age is 14.
Religion and Spirituality. Choice of religion, religious observance or spirituality may be an important factor.
Special Needs. If a child has special needs (or severe allergies), will the guardian be able to address them in a loving way?
Health. Are there health issues to consider, either of your children, the guardian or the guardian’s own family?
Money Matters. Can the guardian manage the child’s inheritance or can you choose another individual or institution for money matters (e.g., a financial guardian or trustee)? If the latter, will the guardian be able to interact well your choice for financial management, and vice versa?
None of the information posted on this site constitutes legal advice or forms an attorney-client relationship.