Writing a will can be a scary thing. People know to whom the money will go, or who will receive their materialistic items. However, perhaps the hardest question is who will be the guardian of your children.
Many couples put off making a will because of the disagreement over guardianship. In fact, parents who have separate wills, for one reason or another, need to name the same guardian in each will. While this decision may be difficult, it will be more difficult for your children going through the court procedures without you, and being sent to live with someone that the court chooses.
A guardian is the adult that you choose to raise your children in the event of your death. If you want to be the one to choose this extremely important person, then you need to have it in writing in a legal will. After your death, and in the event that you have left no will, the courts will take any requests for custody. A well-meaning friend of the family could ask for custody (one you may not really care for), or an uncle that you may not feel stable enough, etc. The judge will take these requests and assign custody to whom he/she chooses.
Choosing a guardian may not be easy. You must consider many things, not just the person’s personality, or how well they get along with your children.
• Do all of your children like this person? Do their personalities meld?
• If this person is married, do you like their spouse? Your best friend, who loves your child unconditionally, may be married to a person that you do not care for. Your child will inevitably be in the care of both of these people.
• Is this person physically fit to care for children? This is a long term commitment. Many people want a grandparent of the child to take custody. What is the grandparent’s age? Are they still going to be physically and mentally fit to care for your children in 5 to 10 years?
• Will there be a need for your children to change schools, or move away from other family members and friends that may be able to help the guardian when needed?
• Religious beliefs? If you are naming a guardian that is of a religion/faith that you are not familiar with, you will want to learn more about the religion and what your child will be taught is right and wrong.
• Financial stability? Yes, money does count in this decision. Is the guardian financially stable and responsible? Even if you are leaving money for the care of your child, it will be important that the money be spent where you would want it; are piano lessons important, sports?
You will have to be able to trust that the caretaker is like-minded in their decisions as you would be. If you do not have money to leave for the child’s care, then the person must be financially able to raise your child along with their own.
• How many children does this guardian have? Will your child be treated equally?
• What are the work schedules and career goals of the guardian?
When asking someone if they would like to take custody of your children upon your death, many people will readily say yes. However, you need to give them time to think about this and explain the importance, especially if this guardian does not have children and does not realize the extent of the responsibilities. Discuss or give them literature as to what would be expected of them.
Make sure the person you are asking knows that it will not ruin or jeopardize your current relationship if they are to say no. This person needs to be honest up front and make an informed decision. The last thing you want is to name a person, then after your death they decide to not take the children and the courts will then decide who will.
This may be a daunting task, but do not put it off. When you feel you want to avoid the decisions that writing a will requires, then think of your children and what their future will be without you there. Take control of their future now! Write a legal will and name a guardian.