Making a decision to name guardians for your kids if something happened to you can be puzzling and even dramatic—especially for a married couple trying to agree on potential guardians. Rest assured, you’re uniquely qualified to make the decision in a way no one else is—not even a judge. So before you throw your arms up with an “I have no idea who to pick!” here’s a method to come to a decision that you can live with.
REMEMBER: guardian nominations and guardianship forms for minor children can be changed and should be changed over time as children grow and their needs change. Don’t be afraid to make a decision and then change it later.
Here’s the method I recommend. Each parent should go through this exercise individually as well as together. It’s vital to keep in mind that each of you will have different answers and none of them are wrong.
1. List five people who you would be willing to raise your kids. Go with your gut on this. Don’t think too much about it, just list the top five to name as guardians. You can add to it if someone springs to mind as you consider the factors we’ll list shortly. Don’t restrict yourself to immediate family members. Many times, the perfect guardian can be found among close friends and sometimes in the case of older children, families that your child knows well. Some parents have named co-workers and neighbors. The decision should not be based on relationship entirely but on who will do the best job at that point in your children’s lives.
2. Consider your values*. What do you want your children to receive growing up with their guardians? Can your potential guardians raise your children in the way you would have raised them? Reflect on your potential guardians’:
- Education and Life Experience. These tend to inform one’s own personal values and impact one’s financial security. What would the potential guardian teach your children and what types of experiences would she or he provide and/or encourage?
- Religious or Spiritual Philosophies. Does the potential guardian understand yours and your spouse or partner’s religious or spiritual philosophies? Does she or he respect differences of opinion and practices? Do the potential guardians’ friends, neighbors, and extended family share that respect? Is it important to you that your children be raised in a particular faith or exposed to particular ethnic or religious traditions?
3. Consider practical matters. Raising kids is, if nothing else, a colossal give-fest. Being a guardian for someone else’s kids is asking someone to commit to one of the most difficult jobs on the planet. When choosing your guardians, ask yourself about their:
- Parenting Philosophies. Include preferences regarding matters such as diet, sleeping, style of discipline, television viewing.
- Relationship With Your Children. Evaluate the existence, quality, and nature of the potential guardian’s relationship with your children as well as the quantity of time she or he has spent with children. How do your children feel about her or him?
- Location. Consider the impact and effects of moving on your children in the aftermath of losing both of their parents and how often your children would be able to see and visit with the friends and family with whom they have spent the most time and are most comfortable and familiar. Older children tend to be more rooted in their community. Will moving them disrupt them more than necessary? Have you considered local guardians—even if they are not related?
- Age. Look at the ages of the potential guardian and her or his own family and how it relates to your children’s current approximate ages. Older siblings who have raised their children may not welcome the opportunity to do it again. Try not to take that as a personal affront. Be realistic about what it would feel like to finish raising your own children only to have to raise another family. If you’re determined to name your own parents, try to remember exactly what you were like as a teenager and see if that’s what you really want for your parents’ golden years.
- Physical and Mental Health. Is the potential guardian and her or his present partner or spouse physically and mentally healthy? Do you have any concerns about the potential guardian’s abilities to care for your children? Do your children have any special needs that would require additional training, talent, resources, or inclination from your guardians?
- Lifestyle and Circumstance. Is it important to you that the potential guardians be able to be “at home” at least part time with your minor children rather than, depending on their ages at the time, in full-time care? Does the potential guardian have a lifestyle that would easily support the addition of children or would that be a drastic change and if so, is it a change the guardian would really want for her or his own life?
- Your Children’s Preferences. To whom do your children exhibit a natural affinity and with whom (your family or friends) do they feel most comfortable? Depending on your children’s ages and maturity levels and without causing them undue anxiety, you may want to tactfully solicit their input. In Colorado, a court is required to obtain the consent of a child over 12 before deciding guardianship so check with your kids if they’re over 12.
- Avoid Making Financial Resources a Priority in Your Choice. Many parents choose a guardian based on their ability to support their kids financially. This is not a good criterion. Rather, providing for our children even in our absence is our responsibility so that our guardians need not worry about how they’re going to pay for the children they agree to raise. Ask me about ways to provide for your kids in your absence and remove this factor on your list.
4. Rank your values and your children’s practical needs in order of importance. Don’t worry if you and your child’s other parent do not match. That would be asking a lot of two individuals. Instead, decide to honor the differences between you that make your unique as well as those that bind you.
5. Compare Your Two Sets of Rankings. Decide if any names are “out” and if any new ones have sprung to mind.
6. Remain Calm and Make a Decision:
- Rank potential guardians according to how closely they line up with your values and the practical considerations of raising your kids in your absence.
- Compare your lists
- Place common names in the order you’ve ranked them
- Discuss names that do not appear on each other’s lists and why
- Reconsider each other’s positions and adjust your list if necessary
- Decide on three to four names, in order of preference
7. Ask Your Potential Guardians If They Will Serve. By all means, do ask in advance if you possible or shortly thereafter. You can make a change if necessary. I often counsel clients to ask if the potential guardian would be willing to be listed as a potential among several nominees. That way, should you ever change your mind, you needn’t worry too much about hurt feelings. Be aware also, that nominees are volunteers and they can decline the honor if their life situation does not allow them to accept it.
8. Document Your Ranking in the Form of a Nomination of Guardianship. Visit www.gocherp.com and walk through the process of documenting your choice.
Before you begin, you may want to review my report “7 Must Do’s When Naming Guardians for Your Kids.” You can download it by filling out the form to the left of this screen.
Take some time now to go through this exercise and commit to a decision. You can—and should—change your nomination from time to time as your children change. Your kids’ guardian nomination is a foundational aspect of their well-being and there should always be one in place. The odds that the nomination will be called into service are low, but well worth the time to make sure your kids are cared for by the people YOU choose. No judge in the world can possibly make the decision with all the information you have and they can’t make the decision nearly as well as you can.
I’m available to discuss your unique family situation when you’re ready to name their guardians and to take the next step in making sure they benefit from your life’s work, your resources, and your wisdom. Please call my office at 303-747-3909 and request one of the two Family Wealth Planning Sessions I give away each month. Those appointments are normally a $750 value so call and get your appointment as soon as possible!