As a parent, you have undoubtedly wondered about who would take care of your minor kids if you were no longer around. It is both sobering and frightening to think in terms of this ever happening, but it could. And it does. It is often one parent, but it could be two.
So the questions you must ask are: Who will I (we) choose to be the guardian and will they agree to it? I’ll repeat that last one. Will they agree to it?
Hefren-Tillotson financial advisor Patricia, “Patty,” John says naming a guardian is probably one of the hardest things to do. “You need to find the same, or similar values in someone who will also love your children as much as you do, and fulfill the role of a parent for a child who is not their own. Basically, anyone lacking those traits narrows your choices down to siblings or parents.”
Perhaps even more perplexing, you must also ask yourself this mind-blowing question: could this person do it within the year, two, three or five years because you never know when your time is up.
How to ask is up to you
This example creates more consequence and urgency than merely asking – cutting to the chase, as it were – because the person being asked might be caught off guard, not take it seriously enough, or feel like he or she must give you answer without putting any serious thought into what they are agreeing to. The person might think, ‘nothing’s going to ever happen to the kids, so I’ll just say yes.’
“Joe, you’re a long-time friend whom I consider someone I can trust and depend on. You really know me – how I look at things, how I react and what kind of person I am. We come from similar backgrounds; our parenting skills and values are similar, heck, we even like the same football teams! So if anything were to ever happen to Jenny and me, where we could no longer raise our children, would you step in, Joe? Would you and Sarah be legal guardians to Johnny and Mary?”
It must be in writing
If a friend, family member or parent agrees, you must then name that person in your will or living trust documents. If you don’t, or you forget, the court will decide for you to place them when the time came. This can be a disruptive process for the kids, and they could end up with the type of family you would not have chosen.
Advisor Patty John adds: “Even if you name a couple, you have to feel content with at least one of them. You may want to name both, depending on your relationship with them. We suggest naming an alternate guardian as well.” Although an alternate guardian accepts the responsibility, they are not legally obligated to serve.
Some states might require naming multiple guardians. Refer to your state guidelines to verify whether a couple or individual is required, or ask your estate planning attorney. If you don’t have one, your Hefren-Tillotson advisor will introduce you.
Seeing it through to the end
Certainly, you hope the answer is yes, and in their hearts, they want to say yes, however, financially, they might not be in the best position to care for your children. Again, they never have to, but what ifs must always be addressed in planning.
Guardianship, legal protection, and protection of the person is a life-changing event, when and if it is triggered, so it merits serious thought. It means shelter, education, food, medical care and more. Oftentimes, the person being asked to be guardian will reciprocate by asking you to be their kids’ guardian.
In the previous example, “Joe” probably said yes to being named Johnny and Mary’s guardian. This means Joe and his wife, Sarah, would have a blended family with all that it entails – including kids living with kids, which could be only one reason why Johnny and Mary’s grandparents were not chosen. Age is always a factor, along with health, temperament, living conditions and monetary considerations.
Guardianship is not adoption. Some families find that, several years later, they no longer feel the same connection as they once did with the named guardian. In that case, the individual could be asked to file a petition to resign and “give back” your children. Or, you file a petition to remove the guardian and appoint someone else. Of course, you must then change your documents.
Utah Attorney Kristina Otterstrom says guardianship is typically open-ended until one of the following events occurs:
– The guardian resigns
– The child reaches the legal age of majority (usually 18)
– The child or the guardian dies
– The child’s assets have been depleted
– A judge determines that the guardianship is no longer necessary, or
– A judge determines that the guardianship no longer serves the child’s best interests.
If you are not currently working with an advisor and would like more information, contact us today. We would be happy to help. You may also find our Guide to Naming a Guardian, a free download, timely and helpful.