Downs Law Firm, P.C.

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How to not pick a guardian

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Waiting for the perfect answer often leads to no answer at all

Picking a Guardian for your children is no picnic. I am an estate planning attorney and have three children. They are now thankfully adults, and I am very proud of them. I am also one of eight children. My wife is one of 10 children. 

When our children were young, we had a great deal of difficulty trying to figure out who would be the best choice for guardian if we both died. We had many candidates to choose from in our siblings alone.

In my 36 years of advising young parents on this topic, I find it is often an emotionally charged “Bone of contention.”

I carried a draft will in my briefcase for longer than I care to admit because we could not resolve this problem. Every time the topic came up it was an unpleasant conversation, one that was best left unresolved.

That is a good way to not pick a guardian: Avoid the touchy subject altogether. Eventually, we finally figured out that although we couldn’t agree on who should be named the guardian, we could easily agree on who shouldn’t be, which left a short list.

I find that this is almost always the case. A couple may not agree on who should be first and who should be second as guardian, but they can usually agree on who should be on the list and who shouldn’t. Making sure that the right people only are involved in the conversation is an important parental act.

Imagine for a moment that you have died, and are now a spirit in the room, watching all the people who think that they are supposed to be guardian vying to be appointed. Exactly how would that go?

Wouldn’t it be better to have only the people on the short list be in the conversation?

We were able to compromise once we got there. It also often helpful to have a third party, such as an estate planning attorney, put in their two cents. Complex issues of ego and family pride that burden the parents are not baggage of the lawyer, at least not for your family.

What if your child was at school and needed a ride home, but neither parent was available? Having no one handle the pick up would not seem a viable option, right? What if you were never going to be there?

You need an answer to the critical question of “Who raises your child?”: it’s a paramount parental duty. An imperfect plan would be far better than none at all.

Waiting for an answer to arrive which “rings true” is another problem. The only answer that rings true is that you are there to see your child grow to adulthood, as I have had the good fortune to experience. Anything short of that won’t seem right.

Deciding is great, but not enough. Reducing your choice of a guardian to writing in your Last Will and Testament, with the help of an experienced attorney.