Many people are under the impression that the most important decisions you make in your estate plan are decisions regarding the distribution of assets upon death. If you have minor children, however, the most important decision you make in your estate plan will likely be nominating a guardian for those children.
As a parent, you undoubtedly worry about what would happen to your children should a tragic accident or illness take you away from them. While you may not be able to control the future, you can plan for all possibilities through a well though-out estate plan. Your Last Will and Testament, for example, allows you to do much more than just gift assets. In your Will you can nominate a guardian for your minor children should both parents be unable to care for the children at some point in time.
Ultimately a court will have to decide who to appoint as guardian of your children should the need arise at some point in the future. If that does occur, the only opportunity you have to influence that decision is a nomination in your Will. The judge charged with appointing a guardian will usually give your choice of guardian considerable weight when making the decision.
Because of the importance of the decision you make regarding a guardian, you should take the time to give the matter a great deal of thought before reaching a decision. Some things to consider include:
- Relationship – does your choice of guardian already have an existing relationship with your children that would help ease the transition?
- Geography – if you guardian lives close, or is willing to relocate, that will help your children adjust during an already stressful time.
- Capacity – does your guardian have the maturity and stability to raise your children?
- Finances – your guardian should already be financially stable and you should provide as much funds as possible in your estate plan to help cover the cost of raising your children.
- Philosophies – does your guardian share your parenting philosophies and religious views?
- Desire –never assume someone is willing to accept the nomination. Always sit down and discuss the matter with them before you nominate them in your Will. Even a family member or close friend might not really be willing to accept the job and while it may not be what you want to hear now it’s better to know now than for the court to find out later.
Once you have decided on a guardian, be sure to sit down with your estate planning attorney and incorporate your selection into your estate plan.
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