Why Picking a Guardian for your Child is Important & How to Actually Make a Decision

Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

by Carmen Rosas

Have you thought about what would happen to your child if you weren’t around to care for them?

If you’re out on a date night with your honey and there is a freak accident? You’re traveling and there is an emergency?

I’ll tell you that a verbal agreement or understanding as to what will happen to your little one is not going to cut it.

Picking a guardian early on is one of the most important things you could do to protect your child. Making this decision now means avoiding the foster care system and avoiding adding more emotional stress to your children.

By not picking someone, you leave it up to the courts to decide.

It’s not like the movies. It’s not as easy as someone simply taking custody of the child.

No, there’s a process. And that process could mean the foster care system gets involved, family and friends fighting over who will step up, a court system that is overflowing with cases, and lots of uncertainty, especially for your child

When you don’t pick a guardian ahead of time, your child will have to wait until a judge determines who they should stay with. This process is called a guardianship proceeding.

Sometimes the child goes to foster care temporarily until this is decided and the state basically becomes your child’s guardian. Now, not only is your child confused about where their parents are, they are in the care of strangers. This can be really scary!

By picking a guardian, you have a voice in deciding who will raise your child. You maintain your power to make a choice that will protect your child from any additional uncertainty.

I get it. Thinking about mortality or not being around to actually raise your child is not fun. I know you’d much rather think about anything else than dying.

As a parent, you know it’s your responsibility to protect your baby (or babies) – no matter how old they get. Thinking about their security doesn’t just mean college, financial savings, etc. because what happens when you can’t be around to guide them or help make decisions about education or investments?

So it all comes down to this – If you don’t make the decision, you leave the courts to decide for you. You are essentially allowing a judge – who you probably do not know, who does not know you and who does not know your child – decide who your child will live with.

Trust me when I say, it won’t just fall into place. Like I said, that’s for the movies. You need to make a decision.

Having a hard time deciding who to pick? Bad news here. There isn’t one straight answer. There are lots of things to consider when appointing a guardian, however they aren’t the same

When thinking about guardian options, you should first make a list of important people- those people you would pick without thinking.  It could be parents, siblings, cousins, college roommate, godparents, friends, or neighbors- anyone you think your child would be comfortable with.

Then, think about what your values are as a parent and pick your top three. Some examples are:

  • Potential for love
  • Temperament
  • Religion
  • Education
  • Finances
  • Age
  • Parenting Style
  • Marital Status
  • Honesty
  • Relationship with you and/or your children
  • Location
  • Have other children
  • Values

Once you have your potential guardians, see who matches your top 3 parenting values. If you have a match, that individual is probably a good option.

If you don’t have any matches, you can try again. The important thing however is picking someone you and your child would be comfortable with and then getting it down on paper to make it binding.

One thing I suggest to clients is that they not select their guardian based strictly on someone’s financial ability. There are other options, like life insurance and savings plans, that could supplement the guardian’s income to provide for your child.

And one final note- whoever you decide will be best as your child’s guardian, make sure you get it on paper. Without proper legal documentation there will be a guardianship proceeding.

If you have any questions regarding Guardianship Appointment or other estate planning needs, feel free to contact my office and we can discuss how we can best serve you. Visit my website for upcoming workshops, events and promotions. You can also download the “5 Common Mistakes When Appointing a Guardian”

Carmen Rosas is an attorney, mama to 20 month old Jacqueline and owner of Carmen Rosas, Esq.. Carmen works with families to protect their assets and their legacies through estate planning, coaching and business law.  To learn more visit www.carmenrosaslaw.com or call (650) 503-3770.