Choosing a person or family to care for your children is difficult. In fact, for many families, it is the hardest part of planning their estate. It’s not easy to think of anyone else, no matter how loving, raising your child. Yet, you can make a tremendous difference in your child’s life by planning ahead. Many people get stuck and can not make a decision because they want to choose someone who is a clone of themselves. That is impossible. However, by tackling this issue and making this decision, you will be putting your children in the best possible situation.
While it is difficult enough to think about not being there to raise your children, imagine a court choosing their guardian with no input from you. Imagine your relatives arguing in court over who gets your children, or having them agree but not on the people you would have chosen. That's why it's important to nominate a guardian while it's still up to you. Here are some tips to help you make your best choice.
Tip 1: Think beyond the obvious choices. Make a list of all the people you know who you would trust to take care of your children. When considering whether someone should be on the list, ask yourself, would they provide a better home for my children than the foster care system? If the answer is yes, put them down. If the answer is no, note that too, for you may wish to express that under no circumstances should these people be made the guardians of your precious children. Your list could contain dozens of names but should have at least 3 or 4 people or couples before you call it a day.
You don’t need to limit your list to close family members. While siblings and parents can be excellent choices, consider also extended family members who are old enough to raise your children such as cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, even second cousins once removed. Parents have also chosen as guardians child care providers, business partners, and close friends. Non-relative candidates may share similar philosophies about child-rearing. Do not eliminate people from your list for financial reasons unless they lack basic money management skills. Sufficient life insurance in a well-drafted Trust can ensure your children’s material well-being.
Tip. 2: Focus on love and consider values and philosophies. Consider whether each couple or person on your list would truly love your children if appointed their guardian. If they have children of their own, will your children be second fiddles? Or is the couple sufficiently loving that they will make your children feel loved no matter what? Ask yourself which people on your list most closely share your values and philosophies, choose a few factors that are most important to you. Here are some to consider:
-presence of children in the home already
-interest in and relationship with your children
-ability to meet the physical demands of child care
-presence of enough “free” time to raise children
-religion or spirituality
-marital or family status
-potential conflicts of interest with your children
-willingness to serve
-social and moral habits and values
-willingness to adopt your children
Obviously, the perfect choice would score highly on every measure. But because we are all imperfect, you will likely have more success in choosing the few characteristics that are most important to you. Consider, as you make your choice, that some factors can be influenced by you and others cannot. Integrity is something you cannot change. But if having an at-home parent is important to you, your prospective guardian might be willing to come home to raise your child if you make it possible through a well-structured and funded plan.
Tip 3: Personality counts. Consider whether each of your candidates has the personality traits that would work for your children.
_ Are they loving?
_ Are they good role models?
_ Do they have the patience to take on parenting your children?
_ How affectionate are they? (If your family is particularly affectionate, a guardian who is loving but not physically affectionate could be damaging.)
_ If they're fairly young, how mature are they?
Tip 4: Consider practical factors. For example:
How would raising children fit into their lifestyle?
_ If they’re older, do they have the necessary health and stamina? Do they really want to be parents of a young child at their stage in life?
_ Do they have other children? How would your children get along with theirs? Are there potential problems if your children were to live with theirs? How easily could the problems be dealt with? (For instance, do you want to place a child who struggles in school with a high-achieving child of the same age for whom everything comes easily?)
_ How close do they live to other important people in your children’s lives?
_ If a couple divorced, or one person died, would you be comfortable with either of them acting as the sole guardian? If not, you need to specify what you would want to happen.
Tip 5: Look for a good but not a perfect choice/ Match People to your Priorities. Most likely, no one on your list will seem perfect that is, just like you. But if you truly consider what matters to you most, you will probably be able to make some reasonable choices. Use the factors you choose above to narrow your list of candidates to a handful. Congratulations! You can relax knowing you have many good choices to choose from. Listen to your body and feelings as you consider each person or couple as guardian. You’ll have to use your gut to rank order this short-list into the people you would want first, second, and so on. If you select an attorney experienced in helping parents of minor children, be prepared to answer the following question whenever you have named a couple: if the couple divorces or, because of death or incapacity, only one can serve, would you like either one to be guardian? Or would you prefer to move to the next name on the list?
In the end, trust your instincts. If one couple or person meets all of your criteria, but doesn’t feel right, don’t choose them. By the same token, if someone feels much more right than any of the others on your list, there’s a good reason for it. Make your primary choice, then some backup choices. It’s essential that both you and your spouse agree. While you can each name different guardians, most parents are happier when they reach agreement. Explore the disagreements to see what information about values and people you should both understand. Use all your strongest communications skills and empathy to understand each other’s position before you try to find a solution that you can both feel good about.
Regardless of which spouse’s family or friends appear more frequently on your final list, it’s important to keep both families involved. One way to do that is to name members of one family as guardians to care for the children, and members of the other family as trustees, to manage the assets for the children. If there is a likelihood of conflict between these family members, be sure to share this with your attorney so that your guardianship can be customized to encourage them to keep the lines of communication open.
Tip 6: Select temporary as well as permanent guardians. Temporary guardians may be appointed if both parents become temporarily unable to care for their children, for example, as the result of a car accident. Depending on your choice for permanent guardians, you may want to designate different people to act as temporary guardians. If your choice for a permanent guardian lives a considerable distance away, choose someone close by to serve as temporary guardian. If you're temporarily disabled, you'll want your children close by. And you won't want their lives unnecessarily disrupted by moving them to a new town and school. If you have no relatives or close friends nearby, consider families of your children’s friends.
Tip 7: Talk with everyone involved. If your children are old enough, talk with them to get their input as well. And be sure to confer with the people you'd like to choose, to ensure they're willing to be chosen and would feel comfortable acting as guardians.
Creating Guidelines for Your Guardians
How to Convey Your Values & More
Now that you have decided on WHO to nominate as potential guardians of your minor children, how will they know what important values, ideals, morals, goals etc. that you want to impart upon your children? How would you like your children to be raised if you were not there? "The same way we'd raise them!" But what exactly is that way? And how could you express all of that without being there?
To help you "guide" the guardian you have selected on what matters most to you, following is a series of questions to help you discover and express for yourself what you'd say if you were there. Take your time. Some questions will be easy to answer, some may pose a significant challenge. If you think of additional questions, all the better. The list is not meant to be 100% comprehensive for everyone. But it will get you started on the important road to conveying your wisdom and values to the people you have chosen to raise your children if something happened to you.
You are about to embark on a "voyage of clarity," bringing into focus your core ideas and values about parenting, and even life. The process will give you clarity with respect to your own parenting. You may even experience a renewed connection with your children, having taken the time to consider what is most important to you about parenting. Enjoy yourself.
As you work your way thru this exercise, write your thoughts down. Ultimately you would have a letter or a memo that your guardians, and perhaps even your children would be able to review and learn from.
What Are Your Values? Can you make a list of the values you want your children to grow up with? What values are most important to you? Are there certain books or "must see" movies that embrace those ideals?
If religion is important to you, what role do you want it to play in your children’s lives? What relationship would you like your children to have to their religion as they grow older? What spiritual activities do you want them to participate in? If you and your spouse don't share the same religion, is there more than one religion to which you'd like them exposed?
If your family's ethnic or cultural background is important to you, how would you want your guardian to foster your children’s experience and knowledge of that heritage?
Who Are the Important People in Your Children's Lives?
Assuming you approve, who does each of your children look to as mentors or role models? (What about a minister or rabbi, teachers, relatives, family friends, or older children outside your family?) Are there relatives other than the guardians you've selected with whom any of your children have a special relationship? Would you want your child to be able to spend special time with them? (For example, if they live far away from your guardians, you can specifically instruct your trustee to allow trust funds to be used for visits to those relatives.)
Who are the people who know your child or children better than anyone? How would you like these specific people to participate in their upbringing?
Who are the people you would implicitly trust to guide and advise each of your children in making difficult life decisions?
Who are your children's best friends? What continued role would you like them to have in your children's lives? Would you like them to have an expanded role? Or perhaps less of a role?
You can designate “mentors” consisting of special people in your children’s lives to help guide them in ways for which the "mentor" is particularly well-suited. For instance, the person you choose for trustee may also be a good A financial mentor for your children. Or you may want to designate a A spiritual mentor, particularly if the guardians you choose have religious philosophies that differ from yours. You can also name in your estate planning documents people who you simply want to have ongoing involvement in your children’s lives. This can be a good way to include both sides of the family.
What Are Each of Your Children's Traits?
For each of your children, how would you explain, "These are the things that are unique about this child"? For example...
What are each of your children's special gifts, skills, talents and loves?
What are each of your children’s favorite hobbies?
What qualities in your children make you the most proud?
How does each of your children learn best? What's important for their guardians to know in order to help them get the most out of school? (You may have letters you’ve written for teachers about your children to which you can refer.)
Do any of your children have significant personality traits that are important but may not be obvious? (For example, does Charles take criticism too personally? Or is Anna particularly proud of her athletic prowess?)
What is the most beneficial day-to-day support or advice you give to each of your children? What is the most effective way of giving it?
What do each of your children find particularly comforting if they’re having a bad day? What special toys, stuffed animals, music or DVDs comfort them?
What are your children’s bedtime routines? What helps them fall asleep peacefully?
Can you think of any other unique needs your children look to a caretaker to meet?
What Are Your Family's Traits?
What does your family do for fun? What hobbies or activities do you all do together?
Is there a special time or day you reserve for "family time?"
How physically affectionate is your family? Is it important that your children be around people who will be physically affectionate with them?
What are some things that are "special" or "unique" about your family that you'd like to preserve?
What Are Your Goals for Your Children?
Are there particular activities in which you’d like your children to be encouraged to participate or particular skills you’d like your children to be encouraged to develop (e.g., playing a musical instrument, excelling at a particular sport, pursuing a particular hobby)?
What are your feelings about education? Is it important that your children go to college? If so, are there particular schools you’d like your children to consider (for example, your alma mater)? Are there particular courses of study you'd prefer your children avoid?
What are your hopes, dreams, and aspirations for your children? What kind of man or woman do you want each of them to grow up to be? If you were reading a letter that lovingly, yet accurately, described your grown up children ... what exactly would you read?
What Are You Waiting For?
Now that you have some guidance on Who to nominate as potential guardians, and some ideas on How to inform them of your thoughts and dreams, Act! In order for any nomination to be valid, it must be in writing and in the proper format. Don’t wait another minute to ensure your children will be taken care of, if you are not able to physically be there for them.