Choosing a Guardian in Five Simple Steps

Not having a basic will is especially risky for parents of young children. Why? Because the only way you can choose who will be your children’s legal guardian is to specifically designate that person (or persons) in your will. When you don’t have a will, you are leaving it to the court system to decide who the most appropriate caretaker is for your children- and their finances- when you pass away. Often, it’s not who you would have chosen.

Choosing a guardian is a major issue for parents. (I had a hard time myself!) Naming a guardian can be so difficult, that most of us put it off entirely. Here are five simple steps to help you make that tough decision right now:

1. Brainstorm candidates. Include any candidate–even people outside your family–who you trust, love and respect and who you think would raise your children in a manner consistent with your child-rearing approaches.

2. Prioritize the values and attributes that are important to you. These can include religion, stability, personality, availability, access to preferred schools, their current relationship with your child, proximity to other family members, and parenting style.

3. Match candidates with these priorities. You may end up choosing one person or couple to take care of the children and another person or couple to be responsible for your children’s finances. That’s OK. Just make sure that these two sets of people get along, live near each other and communicate well.

4. Talk about it. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s often skipped. It is very important to communicate with the potential guardians of your choice. Ask them if they are comfortable with the responsibility, and discuss any potential issues (family backlash, special needs, financial concerns) and how to handle them.

5. Complete your will. There are two common ways to get it done: attempt to do it yourself or hire an attorney. I strongly recommend hiring an attorney. It doesn’t cost too much and you want to ensure that you have satisfied all the legal requirements of your state.

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