it’s unthinkable. It is frightening to consider. But as parents, it only makes sense to at least give a little thought to the notion of who should raise your children in the event of your death. Deciding who take over guardianship of your child if something were to happen to you is perhaps one of the most important included clauses on your will. After all, no one plans to die before his or her child is of legal, responsible age. That being said, somewhere deep inside of you, you know it happens. Car accidents, freak incidents, and illness can suddenly change the fate of you and your child’s life.
The question of course is how do you decide? Most parents immediately assume that they want family to take over guardianship. But before deciding the grandma and grandpa are the best solution you have to take a realistic look at how well off these older family members are doing financially and physically. If they are battling illnesses and disease or are living in an assistant living facilities then obviously choosing them as a guardian is not in the best interest of your family.
Legally speaking, not assigning guardianship is a big mistake. Many parents believe that in the event of a parent’s death a sister, or close relative may automatically get custodial rights of the children. The problem is that unless you have guardianship designated, nearly anyone can stand up and ask for the responsibility. Even, a long lost uninvolved parent, or distant family member. Then your children are not only dealing with the tragic loss of their parents but will be faced with the uncertainty of their future as well. Additionally, if you and your co-parent are divorced but both have custodial rights it is important that the two of you name the same person on both of your wills to take care of the children. Otherwise a legal mess will arise should both of you pass.
Experts advise parents when making this decision to resolve themselves to the fact that no one will ever quite be good enough. After all, as a parent you think YOU are the best person to raise your children, and rightfully so. Once you can move past the horror of even thinking about this scenario, you can start using clear judgment to name a guardian. Firstly, you should ask yourself a few questions about the people that you are considering. What impact would their guardianship have on the kids? Would your kids have to move far away from friends and family that they are now close to? Does the person/s you are considering have the time, energy, and finances to raise your child? Do you and this person share the same types of morals and life goals? You also have to ask yourself who your children would choose if it was up to them and see if this person would be a good fit. And of course, would the person be willing to take on your child/ren in the event of your death?
Once you narrow the list down to a few folks, you should then talk to the perspective guardians about it. Obviously, it is a decision that they have to be on board with, and you and they should spend some time sitting down together and drafting out goals and wishes that you have for your children. Additionally, taking financial steps to ensure that the transition to the new guardians is swift is also very important. If the people that you would like to take over in your absence are in agreement, then you can lay this matter to rest and hopefully never have to think about it again. However, it is important to realize that even if you have legally appointed guardianship in your absence, ugly custody battles can and often do arise from family members who may not agree with your decision. This is just one more reason why you should talk to your extended family about the decision that you have made, and even explain why you have made that decision.
Years ago, it was customary for parents to name Godparents at the time of a child’s birth. But today, according to statistics only as few as 1/4th of all children born have Godparents listed on legal documentation. And most of the time the appointing of Godparents is more out of tradition and/or custom than it is about what is best for the kids, especially because the appointment is made so early on in a child’s life.
The reality is that according to the American Bar Association, a sheer 8% of parents today think about legal documentation as it relates to the custody of their child in the event of their death. If one parent dies, or a parent gets sick with a life threatening illness, this number jumps to 56%. Considering that we never know what tomorrow holds or can predict the future, making decisions like this is an important part of responsible parent. It is also something that you should review from time to time based on the changing needs of your kids and the ever-ebbing flow of the family dynamic.