As parents, it’s essential to create an estate plan that includes guardianship for your children if anything unexpected happens. While it’s emotionally challenging to imagine, picture what would happen to your children if you don’t plan for it ahead of time.
By creating legal guardianship, and preparing for any event or emergency that renders you incapacitated or results in your death, your children benefit from a far less stressful transition at an unthinkably challenging time.
5 Things To Consider When Creating a Guardianship And Estate Planning
Not planning for children’s guardianship in the case of an emergency is one of the 10 most common estate planning mistakes parents make. Don’t let it happen to you (or your children!)
Here are things to consider when thinking about your children’s future if an unforeseen tragedy occurs.
It’s as much about incapacity as it is about death
Guardianships exist for various potential scenarios, and a parent’s death is only one of them. There are cases when a parent is rendered incapacitated via a car accident or sudden medical event. In this case, your clearly stated plans for guardianship are activated, creating a seamless transition for those in the equation.
By seamless, we mean that children won’t be in a state of unknowing or having to hear family arguments or disagreements about where they should go or who they should be staying with. Your guardianship plans make it obvious to all, so there is no question. This provides far more peace of mind and stability for children who are already in a very stressful and emotionally fearful situation.
Who do you want to take care of your child (not who expects to take care of them)
We understand that it’s not easy to make others unhappy or face hurt feelings from the ones you love. However, you wouldn’t believe how many parents come into our office to create their estate plans and struggle with the conflict between who would expect to become their child’s guardian(s) versus who they want to do the job.
Yes, it often makes sense for grandparents or a close aunt/uncle to have guardianship status, but not always. For one thing, the role of the grandparent is very precious, and we recommend trying to preserve that if other qualified guardians are available. That allows children to have a more parentified adult in their lives while safeguarding the grandparent/grandchild role.
Sometimes, it makes far more sense for a close family friend or an older cousin to be the guardian. You’re looking for someone who:
- Is 100% willing to do the job (more on that next)
- Is best suited to parents using the same values/boundaries/rules that you had.
- Keeps the child in the same school district if that is a goal.
- Has the financial means to provide a decent quality of life if you don’t have enough saved up in liquidated assets to do so.
While a relative may be an automatic guardianship solution, we recommend thinking outside the box if your relatives give you pause or don’t feel like the best fit.
Ask the prospective guardians ahead of time
Becoming a guardian should be a planned potential, not a surprise. Once you’ve narrowed your choices, ask prospective guardians if they’re up for the task. Be clear about your expectations and the values/parenting parameters that are important to you.
This is a huge consideration for anyone, and they deserve time to process the concept, come up with their own questions, etc. Some people may not be as keen as you thought, and others may surprise you with their automatic willingness. The goal is to ensure all parties are in complete agreement.
Families need to decide what to share with their heirs and beneficiaries. However, once your children are old enough to know, we recommend sharing your plans for their guardianship in case of an emergency so they have that sense of security.
Consider children’s special needs
If you have a child with special needs, you may need to go beyond guardianship for minors. Estate planning professionals can review your options with you depending on the child’s needs and what they will or won’t be able to handle when they become adults.
Estate planning attorneys have experience with these situations and can help guide you through the process of estate planning for special needs children, including local, state, and federal resources.
Hire an estate planning attorney (this is not a DIY scenario)
There is no room for error when it comes to choosing a guardian – or guardians – for your child. We never recommend DIY estate planning, but that’s especially true when it comes to something as critical as choosing guardians for minor children.
Without a strong, legally binding document, your children could wind up amid a family battle or feel like they are the cause of tension or strife at a time when they should be completely supported and taken care of. Your attention to legal details now is one of the most loving gifts you can ever provide them.
BONUS TIP: Guardianships Aren’t Set in Stone
One of the best things about estate planning is that it’s not forever. Wills, trusts, and guardianships are living documents, can be as creative as you want them to be, and absolutely should be reviewed on an annual basis so changes can be made.
- Struggling to choose? Think about what qualities your preferred guardians have. If they live close enough together, you may want to have the most structured, financially secure option have primary guardianship while a more fun-loving and lighthearted guardian has every-other-weekend or special holiday access – like a co-parenting agreement between guardians.
- Is one better for young children vs. older children? Are you torn on your decision because one guardian option is better with babies/toddlers, but the other is better with older children? That’s okay. As we mentioned above, your estate plan can (and should!) be reviewed and modified annually to address any life changes. You can change guardianship distinctions or parameters at any time, and we’ll file new legal documents that reflect that.
- Have you thought about the pets? Don’t forget to think about the pets when choosing guardians. Ideally, you’ll want to select a guardian who is as willing to accommodate the pets as they are the kids to make things smoother and more comforting for your children.
Let Tseng Law Firm Help You Create Solid Guardianship For Your Children
Not wanting to think about our deaths, potential disasters, or the darker sides of things is one of the biggest reasons people don’t do enough to prepare for the unexpected. Don’t make that mistake when it comes to your children’s future. Schedule a consultation with Tseng Law Firm, and we’ll gently guide you through the process of creating a solid estate plan that includes guardianship – all of which become some of the most important decisions you’ll ever make.