Here I am keeping my promise to talk more about guardianship vis-à-vis estate planning!
Yes, with an estate plan, you do not only get to distribute your hard-earned properties the way you want them to be distributed (among its many other purposes), but you also get to nominate a guardian for your children, a designation necessary in the event that you are no longer able to care for them yourself.
I am a parent myself, and I totally get you. The thought of not being able to care for our kids can be a little too much—I had a lump in my throat just imagining it, too! It’s hard to imagine and doubly hard to accept as a possible reality, but, as parents, what we must realize is that not getting to choose our children’s guardian is a far more regrettable option.
We have in our hands right now, through estate planning, the power to designate someone whom we have trust and confidence in to care for our kids. Choosing not to exercise this power is pushing aside such great privilege and basically putting the fate of our precious children in someone else’s hands. Sure, this "someone else" is the respectable court that makes careful considerations every time it chooses a guardian, but we can all agree that it is us parents who ought to know what’s best for our children.
That said, let’s get right to it!
Of course, these are not in any way ranked (I know everyone will prioritize different things), but here are some important considerations that you can take into account in choosing your children’s guardian. I like to call them the 6 big Fs!
It goes without saying that raising children can cost a lot of money. While you are most certainly welcome (and very much encouraged!) to set aside some of your assets for the benefit of your kids through your last will and testament or a trust, the reality is that a guardian will inevitably have to shoulder costs, out of his or her own pocket, in taking on the job. Financial stability, then, is an important factor to consider in choosing a guardian!
Having to live with a guardian is going to be a huge and difficult adjustment for your kids—no doubt about that. One way to help and facilitate the process is to choose someone your children are at ease and comfortable with. Conversely, an existing relationship would benefit the guardian, too, as it presumably takes away the challenge of building rapport and gaining the trust of your minor/s.
Note that this does not only involve familiarity in the person but also familiarity in the surroundings and community during the guardianship. That said, proximity is also an important consideration. In fact, most parents settle on a guardian whose circumstances would not necessitate uprooting the children from a familiar environment.
Is the person you’re eyeing married? Raising his or her own kids? These are also important considerations, as the person’s familial and marital status may help determine whether he or she will actually have the time and proper disposition to care for your kids. If your potential guardian has a family of his or her own, you will have to consider these other persons in the family as well—people your children will also have to live and get along with, and, hopefully, also get love and support from.
Some parents consider designating a guardian whose parenting style is very much aligned with theirs. I personally think this should also be in your checklist, as it is in theirs and mine. For one, it will help your children adjust to such a major life change, if they are to be looked after by someone whose child-rearing philosophy is much like yours. More importantly, this will give you peace of mind, knowing that your kids will be parented
similarly, favorably, and well.
Faith and values
In connection with the previous point, you may also want to choose someone who shares your moral, religious, family values and principles, including feelings on key issues (such as mental health, education, and so on), as these aspects would most certainly have a huge impact on your kids growing up.
This might not be much of an issue if you are looking to designate a sibling or any close relative, whom you have shared values with (presumably!). Note, though, that you are not limited to blood relatives! Choosing family is common but not necessary, and if you do choose someone outside your family, shared values and principles could be a prime consideration.
Fitness and willingness
After taking into account all of these, is your prospective guardian actually fit and willing to be one? You just can’t not consider this, too!
Needless to say, taking on the role as a guardian will need a whole different level of commitment and dedication. Make sure that the person you’re choosing is actually up for this (and more!) before putting pen to paper. Ideally, you would want someone who will see this as not much of an obligation, and of course, talking things through with your potential guardian will help in creating this kind of mindset and the necessary readiness, outlook, and overall fitness of a good guardian.
There we have the 6 big Fs in choosing your children’s guardian! There are many more to consider, of course, and there may be more you want to chew over—I’m here to listen!