Have you chosen a legal guardian for your child? A legal guardian is someone who will step in and assume your role if you and your child’s other parent, if applicable, die before the child reaches the age of majority. If you have not yet chosen a legal guardian, read on to find out why it’s important as well as factors you should keep in mind when making this important decision.
Why Legal Guardianship Is Important for Parents of a Minor Child
You might have a verbal agreement with, for example, your sister: If she dies before her children are adults, you will raise them, and if you die before your children are adults, she will parent them in your absence. While this is a common arrangement, it’s not one that will legally stand: You might not realize this, but a judge can place your child with someone else if you do not have a legal agreement in place.
Nobody wants to think about the possibility that they will die while their child is young; most of us envision seeing our adult children march at their college graduations, walk down the aisle at their weddings, buy their first home, and maybe have grandchildren. We might also expect to see those grandchildren grow up and graduate from high school or college. The thought of leaving our children orphans at an early age is devastating.
With that being said, it is somewhat common for children to lose a parent before reaching the age of 18. Some children lose both parents. While you don’t want that to be your child, there is the possibility that you will be in a terrible car accident, acquire a deadly disease, or otherwise face a death before you are in your senior years. If this happens, legal guardianship will prevent your child from being placed with a family member (or even a stranger) that you don’t want raising him or her. It will also prevent them from becoming a ward of the court.
Why Legal Guardianship Is Important for Parents of an Adult With Special Needs
Most parents want to be around for a good, long time after their children become adults, but if you have an adult child with special needs, you need to think about who will care for them throughout their adulthood. Again, if you do not choose someone to oversee your adult child’s care, a judge will do so. If your child will need lifelong care and is expected to live an average lifespan, then it is likely that you will pass away before they do. In this case, chances are extremely high that they will need a legal guardian at some point, particularly in their elder years.
Considerations to Keep in Mind as You Choose a Guardian
Choosing someone else to raise your child is often difficult. You might love your siblings and cousins but disagree with some of the ways they have chosen to parent their own children. Or you might not have any close relatives who would be suitable to raise your children. In that case, you might need to ask a close friend or someone else that you know. How can you make this potentially irreversible decision? Keep the following considerations in mind:
- Think about your values. Is religion an important part of your life? You might want to choose someone who follows the same religion or who will encourage your child to continue following the religion. Think about what is most important to you when it comes to things like education, serving the community, and other values, and try to narrow down your options by choosing someone who has similar values.
- Consider financial ability. The reality is that the person you choose to bye your child’s legal guardian is going to have higher expenses once your child moves in. If you have life insurance, this will help substantially. Still, you will want to choose someone who has the funds available to raise your child the way you would.
- Consider their health. While your aging parents love your children, they might not be healthy and active enough to take on raising them. If your best friend struggles with mental health issues, this could be a reason to consider not asking them; the dynamics that come with adding bereaved children to their household might be too much. You do not want to put your children in the position of potentially losing their new legal guardians after losing you.
- Think about the kind of life they would provide for your child. Will your child be loved and treasured? Will they fit into the family? What will their day-to-day life look like? Will they be able to continue with the activities that they enjoy and see their friends? Will the new guardian be able to support your child as they go through their bereavement? Location can play a part in this; sometimes, children have no choice but to relocate, but if they can stay local and remain in the same school, that could help them acclimate to life without their parents.
How to Make Legal Guardianship Official
Once you choose the perfect candidate, it’s time to ask them to be your child’s guardian. Do not allow it to be a surprise in the event of your death! Also, do not simply tell them and assume they will be willing. Your intended legal guardian will need to think about it, so don’t expect an automatic “yes.” If you do get an immediate answer of yes, encourage them to think about it for some time so they can be sure.
When it has been decided, see an attorney or a legal resource group to help you put together a will. This is the document that will make it official. You can also use a website to complete your will. Remember that while it might feel like a final decision, you can update your will at any time; if the guardian you choose turns out not to be a good fit several years down the road, you can change your mind and pick someone else. Take care of choosing a legal guardian now, then you won’t have to worry about it anymore.