Choosing a Legal Guardian for your Child

What if?

It is no secret that way we are living now means that for some, close family live far away or are not as present in our lives for one reason or another. On the other hand, some families are a close nit unit where children are raised with a family approach. Whatever your situation it is important to consider who would care for your children if both parents pass away before your child has reached adulthood.

Traditionally, Godparents have fulfilled this role where necessary however, it is now becoming less common to name Godparents as guardians particularly as it is popular to have more than one Godparent from different families for the same child. A legal guardian is the person you feel would be in the best position to raise your child or children if you were not there to do so yourself. If the worst were to happen and you don’t have a named legal guardian, the courts may appoint someone on your behalf. No parent wants to consider the possibility of not seeing their children through to adulthood however, no one knows what the future holds and this is a very sensible decision to address.

If both parents have separate wills or are no longer in a relationship, then it is important to discuss this and agree on a legal guardian together, possibly including a back-up named person if the first is unwilling or for any reason unable to fulfil your wishes.

It is a huge decision to face and your initial decision will be driven by emotion before practical considerations. If you are considering your own parents, will then be able to do so physically or are they approaching an age where caring for young children may be challenging. Do your siblings have the capacity to step in and help or would you prefer that a close family friend is the most sensible choice. If you have more than one child, who is best placed to have the children together?

Once you have worked through the difficult possibility of considering that another human being may need to parent your children if the worst happened, you can then move on decide who would be the next best person other than yourself, to do the job? It can be useful to sit down with your partner or if you are the only parent in your child’s life, you may wish to talk through your options with a close friend or family member. Make a list of all the people who you may consider as appropriate. List the advantages and disadvantages of each, weighing up the best options until you have your short list.

What about your children’s views?

Depending on age, it may be an idea to discuss the possibility with your children. You don’t need to bring the idea of death into the conversation but you may be able to casually enquire about who they would choose to stay with if Mum and Dad were, for example, going off on a short holiday or needed to travel away for work. You can use whatever scenario would be most relative to your own family life. You can then build on their comments with questions about why they made that choice and give real thought to their views when you make your final decision. You may find that if you’re having trouble deciding between those on your short-list, their input may just offer the clarity you require to make your final decision.

You may feel that another family with children of a similar age may be the best option. Consider the family’s own situation and decide whether they would cope. If a parent or your own sibling is a front-runner, will you be offending another parent or sibling and how could you ensure that they also have involvement if there is for example, a rift in the family meaning your children may no longer see other family members that they have regular contact with. You may wish to write a statement or letter to other family members explaining your choice if you feel that they may be upset or not understand the reason behind your decision.

Before you make your final decision, consider the following first:

✔ Will your children be happy with your decision

✔ If you have more than one child, who will be the best option so that they are able to stay together

✔ If you have an only child, they may benefit from an environment where they learn to be part of a “sibling-unit” or perhaps given the circumstances they would feel overwhelmed. You know your child best

✔ You will want to maintain as much stability as possible, if your child can remain local to your area and schools etc… this may be a consideration

✔ Do you have a similar parenting style and similar values to those of the person you want to nominate?

✔ Would your chosen person have enough time, energy and financial capacity to care for your child until adulthood?

✔ Consider whether or not the person you’re considering would be happy to fulfil the responsibility

The individual or family you select to have guardianship of your child or children will have a huge responsibility on their shoulders. The ongoing care is one thing but the initial period following the death of a parent will be challenging and uncertain. The children will be at the mercy of those who will be their caregivers for the foreseeable future and it is a decision you need to be completely comfortable with. Your children will know that you made your decision with their best interests in mind. You may also want to write a letter to your child or children explaining your reasons for your choice.

Once you are confident that the individual or family you have chosen to care for your child or children is the right choice, you may wish to discuss your decision with them openly before naming them in your will. You would want to ensure that they would be happy to fulfil the role necessary and give your reasons for doing so. Some may shy away initially but accept your request once they understood your reason for nominating them. Others would accept without question and if appropriate, may ask the same of you in return.

There are other considerations too. You should seek legal advice once you have decided on your child’s guardian, how your property or any possessions you leave behind are distributed. It may be worth considering whether you would want the same guardian managing any property or money left to your child or whether it would be best to appoint an executor or other individual to oversee any inheritance your child may be entitled to. If you decide to appoint two separate individuals to manage the will and the care of your children, consider their current relationship and how that may change in the future. Problems may arise and it is best to ensure that there are responsible parties involved in decision making on your child’s behalf if necessary.

Finally, it is worth reviewing your decision over time as your choices may change. As with your will, keep your decision as current as possible ensuring that if they worst happened, your child would be placed in the care of someone with whom you have a good relationship and who is still prepared to take on the responsibility.

As a parent, there will never be a perfect solution to this scenario but it is your job as a parent to ensure that in your absence, there is someone who will care for your child with their best interests at heart. Once your decision is made, be certain to have it noted within your will.

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