Selecting a Guardian
One of the most difficult decisions a parent can make is whom to select as a guardian of their minor children in the event of the untimely death of the parent. This decision is so much more than a legal decision and requires a parent to take an honest look at their family relationships, their own parenting style and their hopes and dreams for their children. While there are some clients that have an obvious strong choice for guardian (often a married sibling who is close with the child/children and is a parent themselves), many clients struggle with naming the right guardian in absence of the perfect candidate. Some common issues I see: Grandparent as Guardian: Grandparents play an important role in many children's' lives. This is very true for my own family as well. But should a parent consider naming a grandparent as guardian when the grandparent is in their sixties or even seventies? In some cases, the answer is yes. However, I always advise clients to take into consideration the age and health of the grandparent. How old will the grandparent be when the child is eighteen? Does the grandparent have ongoing health concerns that would prevent him/her from being able to effectively parent a young child? Some clients cannot imagine naming anyone other than the grandparent as guardian. Nevertheless it is important to consider the potential issues with naming an older guardian. Family or non-family member: Most clients prefer to name a family member as guardian. Family is family, right? But there are some circumstances when naming a close friend rather than a family member makes sense for the client. Often times I find that a client chooses a non-family member guardian for reasons involving parenting style. Being family doesn't necessarily guarantee that you share the same views on how to best raise a child. Sometimes a close friend is a good choice when you have a long-term close relationship, share the same values and have a similar parenting style. Geography: Some client hesitate to chose an otherwise qualified guardian when the person does not live close geographically to the client. While the benefit of living in close proximity cannot be discounted, I encourage clients to look more at the overall home environment rather than location when considering a guardian who lives a distance away. In the end, it matters less whether the guardian lives in Cleveland or Denver and more whether the guardian is the best choice to provide a loving, nurturing and supportive home environment. Husband and wife: In my opinion, choosing a married guardian is preferable. However, I am often asked when choosing a married sibling as guardian whether the client should name both spouses as guardians. In the absence of a strong reason to name both husband and wife, I always advise clients to name the blood relative only as guardian. As strong as you think your siblings' marriage may be, I like to play it safe and leave the in-law out of the will. Of course every situation is unique. It is important the both parents are on the same page when it comes to making this important decision. I assist my clients by providing information, asking questions and understanding their particular situation, but this is a decision that really lies with the client. There is no more important job than being a parent which makes naming a guardian one very important decision.