Having a child is a very exciting time in one’s life. There are many new firsts not just with the baby, but with the parents too. While the baby’s current needs take priority, the parents need to think about the future. What if something happens to you and your spouse? Who will care for your child? These are important decisions that should be made as soon as possible with the help of an attorney.
Do Not Let the Court Decide
One of the first steps is to create a will and identify a guardian for your children. If you fail to do this, a court will appoint one should it become necessary. The court will base its decision on their assessment of the best interest of your child. But that assessment may be different from your own, and their selection may not be your first choice. So it is important to clearly state your intentions. This is typically handled through a will, though procedures can vary from state to state.
When it comes to choosing the best guardian, you may already have a short list consisting of members of your immediate family. This is an excellent start, but do not forget about extended family members and trusted friends.
Values and Practicality
There are many issues you will need to consider in making your decision. For example, your parents as guardians may seem a natural choice, but keep in mind that older parents may not be up to the task of raising a young child. Also, remember to be practical. You may consider your sister an ideal surrogate parent, but what if she lives across the country and is not in a position to move? Relocating could further traumatize your child.
Perhaps the most important issue to consider is whether you and your guardian choice share similar values, such as parenting philosophy, religious and moral beliefs, and educational values. Usually, a family member or friend who shares your values likely is a good candidate. But even if your brother, for example, does not share your religious beliefs, it does not mean you should cross him off your list. You likely will not find a person who shares all your values.
If you have more than one child, it is probably best to name the same guardian for each to ensure that they will remain together. However, there can be circumstances where you might name separate guardians. For example, if you have a blended family, you may want to consider one guardian for your children with your ex-spouse and another for your children with your current spouse.
In other cases, it may make sense to name one guardian for your children’s care and another for their assets and/or inheritance. The person best suited to raise your children may not have the financial acumen to manage investments — or may simply have a different philosophy about money. Consider placing your financial assets in a trust for your children’s benefit, so that a trustee will have responsibility for managing their financial affairs. Utilizing a trust can also protect the assets from misuse and abuse and help ensure the assets are used as intended.
Making the Decision
After giving it some hard thought, it is time to make a final decision. In addition to your first choice, select one or two alternatives. If your first choice decides he or she is not up to the responsibility, you can turn to others. When asking the person to be your child’s guardian, ensure he or she clearly understands your expectations and a guardian’s responsibilities. Also, give the prospective guardian time to consider your proposal. It is not a responsibility to be taken lightly.
Most parents select a guardian during the process of making a will or estate planning. Ensuring adequate financial support, including money for college, is just as important as naming a guardian. You may need to work with multiple advisors, including an attorney, financial expert and insurance agent.
For more information, contact Tanya Gierut at [email protected] or 312.670.7444. Visit ORBA.com to learn more about our Wealth Management Services.