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Finding a Guardian Angel

July 11th, 2012

As a parent of a minor child, you may in your will designate a guardian for your children in the event that you die during their minority.  The New York State Domestic Relations Law (DRL) § 81 authorizes the appointment of guardians by parents.  The Surrogate, who is the judge who handles estate matters, will generally approve your designee, provided he or she is not a person of dubious character.

Of all the decisions parents make when preparing their wills, the most difficult will likely be the choice of a guardian.

Here are some issues to consider before you make your choice:

(1)        Geographical Proximity (“Something tells me we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto”):  Your children will likely have to move in with their guardian.  If you prefer that they continue to live in your neighborhood, then your brother Travis who owns an Alpaca farm in Pocatello, Idaho may not be a good choice.

(2)        Your Children’s Choice (“You’re going to send me WHERE!?”):  This is not a consideration with young children, but once your children reach a certain age, the courts will give some “deference to their preference.”  Either way, it’s good to make sure that your children will be comfortable with your selection.

(3)        Your Spouse’s Preference (“Hey, they’re my kids, too!”):  If you die, the children will come under the care of their other “parent and natural guardian.”  But, if he or she dies first the court will likely confirm your choice.  Still it’s best if you confer and come to an agreement on the same person or persons.

(4)        Religious, Moral and Political Beliefs (Better Not Choose Uncle Buck!):  Your good friends and loving relatives may not share the same beliefs as you do.  Give this consideration, as your children will be under their guardian’s influence.  It’s not likely that your children will go to church if their guardian doesn’t.

(5)        Age and Inclination (“Been there; done that.”):  Make sure that the person you choose choice is young enough and willing to assume the awesome responsibility of raising your children.  No matter how wonderful your children may be, parenting is still a job.  Also, consider that your babies will be minors until they turn eighteen.  Grandma and Grandpa may not be up to the task in fifteen years.

(6)        The Guilt Factor (It’s not just reserved for Catholics and Jews): Your friend or relation may agree to be the guardian of your children because they love you and your child.  Make sure that they feel comfortable to say no, if they believe that the burden is too great.

(7)        The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe Problem (Or . . . never have more children than you have car windows.):  Consider whether your prospective guardian has too many other children.  They may always have room for your children in their hearts, but make sure they have enough rooms in their house.

(8)        Financial Stability: (“A Fool and Your Children’s Money Are Soon Parted”): Your children’s guardian need not be the same person as the trustee who will invest their assets and manage their money.  Nonetheless the guardian should be good with money.  At the very least, his or her responsibility in this regard will impart an important lesson to your children.

Too many people postpone making a will because they cannot agree or decide on a guardian.  Never fear.  There is likely no perfect choice, as you can’t expect that your friends or family will make all the same choices you might make.  Nevertheless, consider the pros and cons for each possible choice.  Make up your mind and don’t delay making your will.

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