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When you find out you are expecting, the initial excitement is followed by a lot of planning and a long to-do list! One of the things you should include on that list is a decision on who will care for your child (or children) if you are no longer able to do so. While most children will be raised to adulthood by one or both parents, you must take steps to ensure your children are protected in the event of your death or disability.

Here are five things to consider when you name a guardian for your minor children. Note many of these considerations also apply when naming a guardian for adult dependents.

  1. Don’t presume a family member will be the best choice. Many new parents just assume their parents or siblings will be the best guardian. This may be true in many cases, however you need to consider the person’s physical and emotional health, lifestyle, religious beliefs, financial situation, etc. Look also at extended family members and friends who may be a good match. Perfection is a myth, so decide up front which values are most important to you.
  2. Talk to the person or people you’re considering and make certain they are able and willing to take on this responsibility. Everyone is put in an awful position if you name a guardian who is unwilling or unable to raise your kids. Ask them to let you know if their situation changes down the road. It’s not a bad idea to name a back-up guardian, just in case.
  3. If the person you would like to name is wonderful in every way but is not financially responsible, you do have several legal options to control the funds you leave to raise your children. Speak with an estate planning attorney about options.
  4. Consider how well your children know the person you plan to name as guardian. Do they see this person frequently? If something happens to you, your children will be dealing with this trauma. Having to go live with a guardian they don’t know will make it that much harder, especially if the move also means a change in their school and friends.
  5. Your initial choice is not set in stone. Over the years, your needs and your prospective guardian’s lives will shift. If, say, after five years the first person you name is no longer able to handle the responsibility of raising your child, revise your legal documents and name a new guardian.

If you have not named a guardian for your dependents, the courts will do so. As a parent, you should be the one making this important decision. While it’s awful to think you might not be able to raise your own children, do NOT put off estate planning, and remember to schedule a periodic review and update of your legal documents. This should happen at every significant life change or every 2-3 years. Questions? Contact us or set an appointment with one of our estate planning attorneys.