The most important decision you will make in your estate plan is appointing guardians for your minor children. Who you pick will impact not only your children but also the lives of your guardians.
While you and your children may feel an affinity for a particular adult(s), that relationship could be strained in a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week environment. Where should you begin in picking a guardian?
- Guardians are not paid
- Guardians are not obligated to serve
- Guardians must be adults
- Your choice is only a recommendation to the court but state laws give it high priority.
Guardians within your family logically means they will have more contact with extended family members. If you pick friends as guardians, realize they spend time with their family typically, not yours.
Consider guardians with similar-age children. With other children around, your children's minds are likely to be preoccupied by children their age rather than the unfortunate circumstances.
Be aware of life-style changes for your potential guardian. As much as you may love and respect a relative, be mindful if he/she is about to become an empty-nester or does not have children living with them. It is a large lifestyle adjustment compared to guardians who already have children.
Of course, you may have a relative or two who is the opposite of what is written above who expressed with enthusiasm the desire to become your children's guardian. You are looking for responsible people who want and can handle the job.
You may be asked to be their childrens' guardians. If their kids are raised with similar values, the transition either way should be easier for both the children and the guardians.
Ensure financial care is in place. Term life insurance is the most inexpensive way to prepare an estate for children unable to provide for themselves. A good rule is having life insurance equal to 10x the salary of each earning parent.
Many estate plans list primary and backup guardians. Guardians are appointed in your last will & testament.
Be sure to talk with potential guardians before naming them in your estate plan.
When a revocable living trust is used to control when distribution of assets are made to children your guardians do not need to be named successor trustees to manage your estate. By naming different people as guardians and successor trustees it is possible to create a system of checks and balances.
After you have come to a decision, depending on the age of your children it may be wise to talk with your children about your decisions. A discussion provides an opportunity for them to express their feelings and worries. It also reassures them you will always be caring for them - even if you're gone.