For the first part of this mini-series, we zeroed in on finances. If you’ve read that installment (access it here if you haven’t yet!), you likely have the gist of how an estate plan, with all its amazing, customizable tools, works to protect minor kids financially. It’s for this very purpose that we had to cover asset management and protection first–it’s most parents’ why when starting out their estate plan, after all.
For families with minor kids, one just-as-important consideration in estate planning is guardianship–that is, guardianship as many of us understand it. I’m talking about custody, care, and supervision for when parents are no longer able to take care of their kids themselves.
I know, I know! It's a sad thing to take into account–or to even think about at all! I know that between finances and guardianship, the latter is more likely to evoke emotions. (I’m a parent myself and I totally get this!!) But this should not be your cause of delay in starting out an estate plan. Come to think of it–this should all the more drive you into establishing one. Because, if the time does come that you're no longer able to care for your minor kids yourself, you want this taken care of.
With that, here are your should-knows on guardianship in relation to estate planning!
First off–what is guardianship?
In the most basic terms, guardianship refers to the process of assigning the person (or persons–yup, could be more depending on your preference!) who will stand in for you when the time comes you’re no longer able to look after the person/s under your care–in this case, your minor kids.
The terms of the guardianship kick in after you pass or, if for any reason you are either mentally or physically unable to care for your kids (Yes, that means that guardianship can be temporary! It's not all gloom & doom.)
Again, we’re only focusing on guardianship for humans in this installment! Note that guardianship can also pertain to an estate, which, basically, is what the first part of this mini-series is all about–finances and assets management on a person’s behalf, for the benefit of her family and loved ones. (Remember, you can find that post here)
Wait–what does "guardianship of the person" have to do with my estate plan?
Valid question! So if we’re not dealing with guardianship of the estate on this blog, then why should it be a consideration in crafting an estate plan?
Simple explanation (and one that I’ve mentioned many times on the blog) – An estate plan is more than just a document that concerns itself with assets and asset distribution.
Sure, its primary purpose is to communicate what you own and whom to give it to or whom to entrust it with in the event of your death or incapacity. However, a comprehensive and carefully crafted plan addresses a whole host of other issues that may arise when death or incapacity occurs. Of course, for families with minor kids, this necessarily includes care and custody of your children.
As also I’ve said before, we shouldn’t be limiting ourselves to what we understand an estate plan should be. In this case, parents with minor children (such as myself!) should ensure that their estate plans are able to sort out as many issues as they possibly could, aside from mere property designation.
Are there types of guardianship I should know about?
Here are two basic classifications that should help you get started!
Full vs. Limited Guardianship: In choosing a guardian, you can decide whether to grant complete responsibility and general authority over your kids. Clearly, this refers to full guardianship. A guardian with full guardianship powers has complete decision-making ability and control, which can go beyond custody and care over your kids (For example, she can also have a say in financial, legal, and healthcare matters). On the other hand, a limited guardianship refers to one where the guardian’s responsibilities, powers, and scope are expressly specified. For example, educational guardianship is a limited guardianship which gives the guardian permission to make educational decisions (like enrolling or withdrawing from school).
Single/Sole vs. Joint Guardianship: As mentioned above, you can decide to appoint more than one person for the care of your minor kids! For some parents, they’re more comfortable with designating several guardians, as this would necessarily mean sharing the charge with and between/among other individuals. (The more, the easier?!) There are also partners who would rather appoint fellow couples, just to give their kids some semblance of what their family is like prior to the death or incapacity.
Any tips on how to choose my minor kids’ guardian?
Unlike financial tools in your plan which tend to be simpler to complete (as long as you have an inventory of assets, it’s just a matter of how and whom to distribute them!), deciding on guardianship can be a more complicated and daunting process.
For starters, learn the 6 F’s in choosing a guardian. In this post, I talk about the top considerations (these are NOT ranked—I know parents have different priorities!) in choosing who to entrust the care and custody of your kids with. Is the person fit and willing? Is she financially capable? Go ahead and check out the blog to learn more!
Another tip—If you have a partner who is able to help you out in the process, involve him/her! Determine together what kind of guardianship you need for your minor kids, among other items in your estate planning checklist. Remember, you are not, and should not be, alone in this!
Thus, as a final tip: Don’t be intimidated to get professional estate planning help! Again, you are not alone in this—especially in the legal aspect of it all. Note that an estate plan, while primarily a personal set of documents containing very personal matters and preferences, at the end of the day, is also a legal instrument. Professional help is key in this aspect of your plan!
This is not to say that estate planning lawyers are solely and exclusively for legal advice, though! As an estate planning attorney, I make sure to go beyond giving mere professional guidance to my clients, depending on their needs and circumstances. It helps me build the perfect estate plan with the client that way, too!
That said, if you want to talk some more about your estate plan for the benefit of your minor kids, I would be more than happy to chat and listen! Hit me up by clicking this link. You may also choose to sign up for a FREE virtual consultation here.
Chat with you all again in the next post!