We want to share some practical considerations with you–things you should consider before naming one or more people to serve as guardians for your children. The intent is to encourage you to engage in proactive planning, and also to take some pressure off of you. The latter comes from realizing that until you actually die, your planning is quite flexible and can be changed to meet your wishes.
Not Permanent Until It’s Permanent
Naming one or more people to serve as a guardian for your children in the event of your death or incapacity might seem very permanent, but again, it’s not. You can change the named guardians in your plan at will . . . right up until the time you pass away or become incapacitated. For that reason, it’s not enough that you set up a great plan initially. You must also review that plan and the continuing suitability of the people you’ve chosen. As circumstances change and people evolve, so might your choices.
That’s where our law firm is unique. We have options available whereby we conduct an annual review of your plan each year just to make sure that our planning is still appropriate. We want you to sleep well at night, but we also want your children to receive the best care possible if something happens to you. It’s very important.
Really, Really Know The Appointees
Make sure you know the person or people you’re appointing very well. That means you need to spend a lot of time with them. Perhaps you might want to choose someone who is already a parent. That way you can observe and get comfortable with their parenting style. It’s also great if your children feel close to, and a sense of support from, the person you’re going to choose.
You need to know and feel comfortable with things like religious beliefs, habits, where the person lives (so your children aren’t uprooted if that’s important to you), and how equipped the person is to help your children through a very difficult time.
Does the person you’re considering have a home that is big enough to include your children? How about his or her relative health and financial stability? Financial issues can be overcome with additional planning on your part, which might include something like a term life insurance policy. But the real question is whether the person you’re appointing manages money well enough to make the inheritance last.
You do have the option to name two guardians for your children, because it just so happens that raising children and managing money requires two different skill sets! One guardian would be the caretaker (“Guardian of the Person”), and the other would manage the money (“Guardian of the Estate”).
If you have a living trust in place, you have already named individuals to manage the money (the “Trustees”). If you consider this option, make sure the two guardians or the guardian and the trustee get along well, and make sure that they’re on the same page with respect to your wishes and what you believe to be in the best interest of your children.
DO NOT WAIT
It’s very important that you act right away to name a guardian for your children. Remember, until you die, the decision can be “undone,” but if you die without having named a guardian, then the fate of your children will be left to the discretion of a total stranger . . . a judge.
You have the ability to take control right now, and your words and planning will have the effect of law. In other words, a less than perfect choice is better than no choice at all.