How to Appoint a Guardian for Your Children

A Parents' Guide to Selecting a Suitable Caregiver

Aside from creating a Last Will and Testament to control where their assets will go after death, many parents also draft a Last Will to name someone to care for their children should something happen to them unexpectedly.

Some parents may have already decided who is going to look after their children in their stead and it’s just a matter of formally documenting it in a Last Will and Testament.

Other times, the choice is not so easy. For instance, if you have a large family or have very little family, the process of choosing a guardian can become a little more difficult, but equally as important.

View the steps below for information on how to select a guardian for your child and why it is an important part of the estate planning process.

What is a Guardian?

A legal guardian is someone who is assigned to be the caregiver to a minor child or children in the event the parents are no longer able to maintain responsibility for them. You may choose to have more than one guardian, such as a grandparent, aunt, uncle, sibling, family friend, etc.

Why Should Parents Choose a Guardian?

Parents of minor children are encouraged to designate guardians in a Last Will in order to make sure that their children are cared for in the event of an emergency that leaves them unable to do so.
It also helps to ensure their children get the love and care they need, and to control who is given the responsibility. Otherwise, the courts decide who will look after them.
As soon as a child is born or adopted, the parents should update their Last Will to acknowledge the birth, appoint a guardian, and amend their list of beneficiaries.
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The Responsibilities of Guardianship

If guardians are appointed by parents, it is their responsibility to care for their children if both parents are in an accident, become ill, or pass away. Like a parent, a guardian’s responsibility is to care for, provide for, and raise the child until they are an adult (18 years old).
This also includes making decisions that are in the best interests of the child, tending to their health and well-being, and managing the child’s financial interests until that duty is no longer needed.

Determining the Criteria for a Guardian

Before even considering your guardian options, talk to your spouse about the type of care you would want your child to receive. Voicing your opinions regarding their upbringing can give you a better understanding of the type of person you want to look after them.
Next, write down the traits that you would want in a guardian. Specify the qualities that matter the most to you and your spouse. This can include anything from their religious beliefs to their personal attributes.
After you have brainstormed some of the general qualities you want to have in a guardian, it’s time to get more specific and match qualities to a caregiver candidate.

Choosing Candidates

Now that you have listed the qualities of your "dream parent", did any of your friends or family members come to mind?
If so, both you and your spouse should write down your choices. If you find that you each wrote down different selections, you might have to compare your choices and compromise on a few potential guardians.
After you have narrowed it down, ask yourselves these questions about your list of potential caregivers, evaluating each candidate singularly for the best results.
  • Do they have the personality traits you want? Are they caring, reliable, responsible, patient, and positive?
  • What are their spiritual/religious beliefs?
  • Do you trust this person?
  • What are their educational, social/economical, or political views?
  • Would they be able to commit to the task of raising your child?
Parenting Abilities
  • Does he/she have children? How old are they? How would your child fit into their family structure?
  • Could they handle the responsibility of raising another child?
  • What are their views on discipline?
  • Are they physically able to care for the child? How old are they? Is their health in good order?
  • Do they maintain a healthy lifestyle? Is there anything they do that would impact your child’s health (smoking, drinking, gambling, or other addictive behaviors)?
  • What are their interests and hobbies?
Practical Questions
  • Would they accept your choice in appointing them as guardian?
  • Where do they live? Is it nearby? Is it in a place where your child would be comfortable? Are they close to any of your relatives?
  • Would your child have to change schools?
  • Do they have enough space in their home for your child?
  • What is their relationship status? Are they in a stable marriage? Do they have a history of relationship issues? Are they divorced or widowed?
  • What is their financial situation like? Do they own a home and vehicle? Are they in debt? Are they responsible with money and budgeting?
  • Does he/she have a stable job and earn a stable income? Are they home every night or are they out-of-town working?
  • Does your child know and like this person?

Narrowing it Down

Is there anyone left?
While going over the questions, you probably found that there was no one who was completely perfect for the job, but there were some who are qualified.
Take your time and discuss the options with your spouse. If you can’t make a decision at first, you probably need a few days or weeks to mull it over.
If you are torn between a few different potential caregivers, use your instincts to find a match, or keep them in mind as alternates.

Resolving Family Disputes

When appointing someone to act as a guardian to your children, you might think that you need to choose a blood relative. However, it can be anyone of your friends or family members. What matters is that they are the best choice.
With that said, choosing just one or two guardians from a great bunch of people is a difficult decision. Be aware of the emotional toll it might have on the family members you didn’t select. It might even cause conflict between them.
If you feel like this might become an issue, all you can do is be open about your decision and explain to everyone that it was a hard choice, but in the end, you had your reasons.

Discussing Guardianship with the Potential Guardian

After you have made your decision with your spouse, you still need to speak to your choice and ask him or her to be the guardian to your child.
Set a time to meet with them privately and share your news. If you decide to go ahead with a person or couple, explain what the process is like, including when their duties would come into play, and other essential details, such as what you want for your child’s upbringing, and practical information, such as financial support.
Don’t feel pressured to cover everything right away. You can discuss all the aspects of their guardianship duties in due time and even put your thoughts in writing for the guardian so they know exactly what you want for your child, including the values that you wish to be instilled in them.

Your Finances and Estate Plans

Now that you have selected a guardian, it’s time to get your own affairs in order and make the arrangement official.
Both you and your spouse should create a Last Will and Testament if you have not already, and list your choice of guardian.
Make sure their contact information is clear and correct. If you wish, name an alternate or co-guardian to act jointly with the other when it comes to making decisions on the behalf of your child. Again, it’s wise to make sure that the two people you choose can both agree on what is best for your child.
You must write out your wishes. Any verbal agreements will not suffice if something should happen to you. Also, if you have someone particular in mind that is not a family member and fail to name them in your Last Will and Testament, they will likely not even be considered by the courts for guardianship.
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Reviewing Your Choice

Once you have completed your Last Will and Testament, you can take comfort in knowing that you have accomplished a very important task, which is protecting your children’s future.
After you have executed your Last Will, you can always return to your choice and change your mind later if:
  • That person no longer seems like the right fit
  • That person no longer wishes to act as a guardian
  • You and your spouse have more children
  • That person encounters health issues or passes away
  • Someone better suited to the task comes into your life

Your Priority to Choose

Many people put off assigning a guardian because they fear making the wrong choice, or they keep meaning to get around to it but never do. While the decision on who to choose takes some thought, the decision to appoint one should not.
Your child is your first priority. Who is given the honor of raising them in your absence is a deeply personal decision, but it needs to be made. Focus less on choosing someone perfect and more on making a decision in the first place. That way, you have done your part in ensuring they are not without someone you trust as their caregiver to care for them if you no longer can.
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