McClellan Legal LLC Estate Planning & Tax Assessment Blog

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Naming Guardians for Minor Children

For couples with minor children, there is no more important estate planning decision than naming guardians for your children.  In fact, the birth of a child is one of the major life events that triggers my clients to begin estate planning.  A guardian is an adult that you designate in a will to care for a child if both parents pass away before the child reaches the age of majority.  While it’s difficult to imagine that situation, it is important that parents designate a guardian so that the decision will not be left to a court. 

Quite often parents struggle to designate a guardian.  Most of the time, parents struggle because they are trying to find someone that can raise their children as well as they could.  Once they realize that no one can raise their children nearly as well as they can, parents then refocus and select the best option.  Other times, parents struggle with naming a guardian because they simply disagree.  This is a much more difficult issue to address, but when faced with the pros and cons of each prospective guardian, the best option usually surfaces.

Here are a few factors to consider while you are going through this process:

  • Who would maintain the most consistency in the child’s life?  Including staying in the same geographic area, school, etc.?
  • Who reflects your parenting style the most, including values and religion?
  • Does your child already share a relationship with the prospective guardians?
  • Who has the capacity to handle raising your children?  Do they already have their hands full with their own children?  Are they youthful enough to keep up with children?

Once you narrow the list, it is important to talk with the prospective guardians to get their input.  Also, it is important to note that you are able to name two different guardians for your child.  The first guardian resides with the child and is responsible for everyday decisions, including education, activities, discipline, etc.  The second guardian is focused on managing the financial resources for the child.  Usually, parents name one person for both guardian roles.  However, some parents like the idea of splitting the guardian roles among different people based on their personal strengths. 

Another common issue that parents face is who exactly do you name as guardian?  That is, do you name an individual or a couple?  For example, do you name your sister and your brother-in-law, or do you simply name your sister?  What happens if the married co-guardians separate or get divorced?  When I bring up this issue, most of my clients see the hidden flaws with naming married co-guardians. 

Lastly, it is highly suggested that you name successor guardians just in case the primary guardian is unable or unwilling to serve.  For example, many parents designate a grandparent as guardian.  Initially, that decision is best.  However, as the grandparent ages, a younger guardian may be more appropriate. 

Designating a guardian for minor children is one of the most challenging estate planning decision for parents.  If you have any questions regarding naming a guardian for minor children, please call our office to discuss the process.  

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McClellan Legal LLC is located in Kennett Square and serves clients throughout the areas of Avondale, Chadds Ford, Coatesville, Downingtown, Landenberg, Oxford, Phoenixville, Pottstown, West Chester, & West Grove.

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