If you have children under the age of 18, you should name a guardian in your will. If something happens to you and your child or children are left without a caregiver, the court is going to choose a guardian for your children; wouldn’t you rather have the say over who that person will be?
What is the Role of a Guardian?
The guardian’s job is to do what you do now as a parent; care for your children and act in the best interest of your children. The guardian you name will care for your children physically and mentally after you are gone. If your child has another biological parent that is alive and part of his or her life, then s/he will in almost all cases get guardianship, whether you name someone else in your will or not. But in cases where you are the sole provider for your child or children, you should plan for who will take care of them if you are gone.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Guardian
1. Consider choosing an alternate, or backup guardian, in case for some reason your first choice does not work out.
2. Provide custody arrangements for each of your children individually in your will; don’t just name one child and assume the court will make the legal guardian you chose guardian for all of your children.
3. If it is important to you that your children remain together after you die, you should specify this in your will. If you do not specify, the court may split them up.
4. Make sure the guardian you choose can handle all of your children, if you want them to stay together. Also consider if the guardian you choose has his or her own children, and how those kids will interact with your kids.
5. If you want to ensure your children are raised in a two-person household, name co-guardians. For example, you can name your brother and sister-in-law as co-guardians if you would like them to jointly raise your children.
6. Consider the age of the guardian you are appointing, and whether the guardian will be able to handle the physical demands of raising your kids if something happens to you. This can be very important when there are younger kids involved.
7. The location of the guardian you choose is also important. If they are not in the same town as you, will the children have to deal with moving on top of dealing with the loss of a parent, and if so, how burdensome will it be?
8. Will your child or children have to change schools to live with the guardian? Losing a parent is already exceedingly traumatic; moving to a new school district midyear can be yet another source of stress. It is an important consideration when deciding on a guardian.
9. Is your chosen guardian financially stable? Children are expensive, and hopefully you have paved the way for your child’s future through estate planning. It is important to consider the financial resources of your chosen guardian.
10. Are the personal and religious values of the guardian you have chosen reflect your own personal values and religious values? If you are choosing someone to raise your children, it is important to choose someone with similar values than you; at least the values you hold most dear.
11. Most importantly, what type of parent will the guardian be? Will he or she be patient and kind? Mature and sophisticated? Do the already get along with their own children or your children (or any children!)
12. Before you include a named guardian in your will, sit down with the person you have chosen and make sure they are amenable to taking custody of your child in the event you die.
Whitaker Hagenow & Gustoff Can Help
Many of the estate planning lawyers from Whitaker Hagenow & Gustoff practice trusts and estates in both Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, as we have offices in both. The experienced estate planning attorneys at the Iowa law firm of Whitaker Hagenow & Gustoff can help you plan your estate in a cost-effective way, and can advise you and help you choose a guardian for your minor children. Call or email us today for an initial consultation.