Without question, the single biggest challenge to couples contemplating their will is deciding whom to choose as their children’s guardian. If you have many family members nearby, it may be a matter of figuring out which person would be the best choice. If not, you may have trouble coming up with someone who would be appropriate. You and your spouse may disagree, each believing someone from your own family would do a better job.
While choosing a guardian for your child can seem overwhelming, there are a few things to keep in mind that might help you come to a decision.
1. The most important aspect of choosing a guardian is simply making a decision.
Your priority should be to prevent the worst case scenario. The worst case scenario for your kids wouldn’t be that you chose the second-best person. It’s that you didn’t choose anyone at all. Without a will designating a guardian for your children, you’re leaving the choice up to a judge and increasing the likelihood of a messy, public court dispute. A judge may even order your children to be placed in foster care while family members fight it out in court. THAT is the worst thing that can happen and what you really want to protect your children from. Naming ANY reasonable guardian is better than having your kids end up in foster care or being subject to a bitter family dispute.
2. Remember: There is no perfect guardian.
It’s important to remember that there is no perfect guardian. The best person to raise your children will always be YOU. It can be difficult to imagine someone else raising your children without you. Instead of thinking about it as a calamitous event, think about whom you’d be comfortable leaving your kids with if you went on long trip. You can easily eliminate anyone who doesn’t pass that test.
3. Your choice of guardian doesn’t mean choosing one side of the family over the other.
Leaving your children with one friend or family member doesn’t mean that they will never see the other side of the family. Many parents are worried that their children will be cut off from one or the other side of the family, depending on the guardian they choose. You should choose someone who understands your desire for your child to continue to be part of both families. It’s unlikely that the guardian will want to “hoard” your child. Guardians (like parents!) need breaks, and having welcoming aunts, uncles, and grandparents will make it that much easier on your chosen guardian.
4. A Letter of Intent can fill in the gaps.
A letter of intention is a way to provide your guardian with guidance on how you want your children to be raised. You can express a desire for your children to spend summers with certain family members or travel to certain locations. The letter can also indicate your preference for schooling, religious upbringing, and cultural activities to which you’d like your children to be exposed. Knowing that your guardian would have this guidance may help you to feel more comfortable with your decision.
5. You can always change your mind.
While choosing a guardian is an important decision, it is not an irreversible one. As long as even one parent is living, the individual designated to serve as your children’s guardian can be changed. As your children and your relationships evolve over time, you may decide that a person that you didn’t name originally is the better choice. Or you may simply change your mind. Changing the guardian you’ve named in your will is a simple exercise that the attorney who drafted your will is likely to assist you with at little or no charge.
6. If all else fails, flip a coin.
Yes, you read that right. One of the most important decisions you make as a parent may come down to a coin toss. If you’ve narrowed your potential guardians to two individuals and you simply can’t decide between them, your children will, in all likelihood, be fine with either of them. Any minimal disadvantage that might result from choosing the second-best person is far outweighed by the risk of not choosing anyone and leaving the decision up to a judge. So if it really comes down to it, pull out your trusty quarter!