Identifying a Legal Guardian for Your Children

Don’t leave the future of your children to chance. Make sure you’ve chosen the most appropriate legal guardian.

A legal guardian is a person who has the legal authority and duty to care for the interests of another person. Deciding who will raise your children if you could no longer care of them is not an easy task, which is why many parents avoid the topic altogether. Some parents procrastinate, while others find themselves unable to agree over a suitable candidate.

Although no one likes to think about this topic, having a strong safety-net for your children is of utmost importance. Unless you name a legal guardian, a judge could appoint almost anyone who applies and seems fit for the job.

The battle for custody could become an expensive and hurtful tug-of-war in court. Worse yet, if no one steps forward, your children could be placed with a family member who is reluctant to have them, or alternatively, they could end up in foster care.

It’s a tough issue, but definitely one worth considering as soon as you can. Your children deserve the best chance at life even if you can’t be the one to raise them.

There are a few important aspects you should consider when choosing a legal guardian/s:

What is their financial situation?

Raising a child becomes very expensive when you add up all the annual expenses such as food, clothes, medical, schooling and sports training costs. Ideally, the provisions from your Estate Plan assist in preventing a financial strain for your legal guardian/s. However, if there is not enough provision for your children, and your guardian is not financially well off, then you could be creating an unstable environment for your children.

How healthy are they?

While it may be challenging, it is important not to make a purely emotional decision. While grandparents usually have a loving rapport with their grandchildren, they are also more likely to be deemed unfit as legal guardians due to age, health and mental capacity. They also may not be prepared to raise children again.

Do they have the space?

Many people choose legal guardians who already have children but this all depends on how many children per household you consider to be ideal. It pays to be sure that your chosen guardians definitely have the capacity to house more children. If not, you’ll have to consider whether they have the time and finances for renovations.

Who has the best relationship with your child?

Unless you really can’t avoid it, try not to send your child to live with someone they don’t know. If you have a blended family or children of very different ages (e.g. a toddler and a teenager) you may want to name different legal guardians for different children. You’ll have to weigh up their relationships with potential guardians against the possible distress of splitting them up.

Where do they live?

Relocating children of any age can be very difficult. Even a young child can develop close bonds with friends, family and nearby relatives. If your child does have to move, you may want to choose a legal guardian who will best help them maintain their existing relationships.

What are their values?

Selecting legal guardians whose morals align closely with your own will ensure your children will be raised in a similar way to how you would raise them yourself. Two of the most important issues in regard to raising children are discipline styles and education plans. You’ll be happy with guardians who share your values about both.

How do they feel about being named guardians?

This may be the last thing you consider, but your preferred choices may turn you down. Guardianship is a huge responsibility, and not everyone feels up to the job. Honest discussions with your candidates could lessen your options but also make your decision easier. It’s also a good idea to think about who would look after your children if those appointed become unfit due to circumstances such as divorce or ill health. When it comes to the future of your children you can never be too thorough.

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