Why parents need to name a guardian

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Having children forces difficult conversations. When you have children, it’s hard to think about some of those long talks you’ll have over the years: about dating, bad news and life choices. But you also know that it’s important to sit down and be open about your beliefs because the alternative is even worse. Guardianship is one of those topics. The uncomfortable conversations won’t be with your children, but about them instead. If something were to happen to you and the other parent, who will take care of your kids?

Nobody wishes to plan for the worst, but the situation is much more serious if advance plans aren’t made. A guardian is an adult you choose to care for your children if you are unable to—either through death or incapacitation. There are two kinds of guardians: guardians of the person and guardians of the estate. The first example cares for and raises your child, the second looks after their financial resources. One person can do both jobs.

Consider the long-term commitment, not just the relationship

When most people consider a guardian, they think of a close sibling or the child’s grandparents. These may be great options, but not always. There are many issues to consider, including:

The age and health of the person
Connection or bond between your children and the adult
Location of the adult (if a move to a new city would make sense)
Family size of the potential guardian
Lifestyle of the guardian
Religious beliefs and values
Financial stability

Ask the hard questions now

While a grandparent may have a close connection to your child, they may be aging and unable to keep up with young ones on a daily basis. Similarly, maybe the child’s aunt is very close but has three children of her own. How would a fourth child affect that home’s dynamic and financial stability?

These are challenging questions to answer, but they need to be addressed to avoid problems further down the road. Once you’ve narrowed your list to a few candidates, parents should talk about guardianship with the people you’ve selected. Discuss parental goals and the candidate’s availability. Some may not be interested and the discussions will open new topics that will give you deeper insight.

Looking at the future, today

Few things are as rewarding or as challenging as raising children. While you will never be ready for every possible scenario, appointing a guardian lays a strong foundation for your child in case of emergency. While the concept is relatively straight forward, there are choices to make about how the process will play out, such as who will manage finances, how to leave inheritance to your child’s estate (children under 18 cannot directly receive inheritance) and how your choices may change as your child ages. While you only need to choose a guardian once, many families revisit and revise plans every few years to keep up with changes in your life and in the lives of your chosen guardians.

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