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How to choose a guardian for your children when no one can parent like you?

Posted by Anthony Serra | Jun 11, 2018 | 0 Comments

I am convinced that the number one reason most young parents don't execute Wills is because they cannot agree on who should be the guardian for the minor child or children. I know this because when I meet with young parents to go over their estate plans, the discussion flows smoothly, until the dreaded question:  Ok, assuming you both die in a common accident, who do you want to raise your children?  I usually get smiles, or smirks, or grunts or eye rolls, since it is inconceivable to most people that anyone else can raise their children as well as they can (and certainly no one from HIS family or anyone from HER family)!

Without a doubt this is a difficult issue to deal with, but it's one of those things in life that we hate to think about but is so critically important in the event of a catastrophic event.  So, the reality is, you need to give this question some serious thought and agree on who this person will be and put it in writing.  If you don't and something tragic happens, you will leave this decision in the hands of your family to work out and believe me, you don't want that.  Rather, you want to control that appointment, and while your choice may not be perfect, at least it will be YOUR choice and not an arbitrary decision by a Judge who will not fully understand your wishes and preferences in that regard.

As you consider the right person to be guardian of your children until they turn 18, here are six points to consider:

  1. The person should be around your age since if you have very young children, they could be guardian for many years.  It certainly can be a grandparent, but you want to take into consideration their age and health condition since again, you are projecting out potentially many years.

  2. The person should share your parental values and style.  For instance, how they approach discipline, how they demonstrate respect, their work ethic, their views about education and money, their approach to nutrition and a healthy lifestyle, and the like. These are core values that you want to make sure are in sync with your values and belief system.

  3. The person has the temperament and inclination to raise your child or children.  In other words, their personal life style is open to receiving more children into their existing family.  If they seem overburdened now, adding more children may exacerbate an already stressed environment.

  4. Make sure the person you name wants to serve as guardian.  Just because you name someone in your Will to be guardian does not mean they must do so. The person must accept that position and agree to do so when the time comes.  So, it's a good idea to run this by the person you are considering and get their okay.

  5. If you are considering naming a couple to raise your children, it is best to name one person in that relationship (and not the couple as co-guardians) since it is possible they may not be together when the time comes. If you want, you can name one as the primary guardian and the other as an alternate.

  6. You should always appoint at least one alternate guardian, in case something happens to the first person you picked (or the person elects not to serve).  I know, it was hard enough to pick the first one . . .  now I'm telling you to pick a second one!!

A final thought to keep in mind is that Wills are not permanent in nature and they are intended to be updated from time to time as your circumstances and preferences change.  So, if your thinking changes over time and you now want someone else to serve as guardian, you can easily change that by doing a new Will or codicil to the original Will.  That's very simple to do.  The key is to get that first will done!

About the Author

Anthony Serra

Tony Serra is a passionate advocate, especially for the elderly, disabled and those of modest means who need the services of an experienced and caring attorney. For more than 30 years, Tony has been helping common, everyday folks navigate their way through life's turbulent waters. Through innovation and utilizing modern technology, Tony and his law firm are now able to offer quality legal services that at one time were prohibitively expensive, at a fraction of the cost. If you need basic legal services, such as a Will, Power of Attorney, Living Will, Special Needs Trust, real estate transactions, uncontested guardianship pleadings and much more, please visit our website and our SMART LAW legal services platform. You will be pleasantly surprised by what we offer and glad you did! Tony is also an experienced mediator and founder of the Conflict Resolution Center of NJ. Tony has specific training in family matters as well as elder law and contested guardianship and estate cases.  


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