by Stacey Schifferdecker
Let me admit something right up front: my husband and I have never chosen a guardian for our three children in case something happens to us. We know we need to—we just can’t decide on who would be the best person. Unfortunately, we’re not alone. Apparently, 2/3 of you parents out there are dithering right along with me, putting off this important decision and hoping it will never become an issue anyway. What if the unthinkable would happen, and what would happen to your kids? So let’s all agree, for the sake of our children, to get this guardianship issue settled!
Before you and your spouse start throwing out names of possible guardians, take a step back and define what traits and qualities are most important to you in a guardian:
- What spiritual and moral values do you want your child raised with?
- What skills do you want your child to develop?
- What activities do you want your child to participate in?
Once you have your list of traits and qualities, you can start coming up with names of potential guardians and see how they match your list.
At this point, you may have identified your perfect guardian. If you still need to narrow down the list, though, ask yourself these questions:
- Is this person physically able to care for your children until they are adults? Your parents may fit all your requirements but still not be a good choice if they are ill or aged.
- Does this person love your children already and make a point of being part of their lives?
- Does this person live nearby or will your children have to move to a different city or state?
- Is this person financially stable and trustworthy? (If the ideal person is not very good with money, you may want to appoint a separate trustee to look after your children’s financial interests.)
- Does this person already have children? If so, can he or she take on the challenge of adding more children to the family?
As you list potential guardians, remember to consider friends as well as family. If, like us, you have no family in the same city much less the same state, close friends may be an excellent choice, especially if they already know and love your children and are a regular part of their lives.
Once you have settled on a guardian (and a backup guardian, just in case), you need to ask that person’s permission. Be ready to explain why you chose this person and to discuss your financial arrangements. Then give your guardian-elect time to think things over. You are asking for an enormous, potentially life-changing commitment, so do not be offended if the answer is no.
Once you have a guardian, you need to visit a lawyer and name that person in your will. It is also a good idea to write some letters at this point, to be read in the event of your death. Write a letter to the guardian thanking him or her and setting down your thoughts about what kind of life you hope your children will experience. It is also a good idea to write a letter to anyone you didn’t choose as a guardian, gently explaining why you selected someone else.
Relieved? You should be – you made an important decision. Remember, though, to review your guardian choice every few years. Circumstances change, and your guardian choice may need to change too.
Stacey Schifferdecker is the happy but harried mother of three school-aged children—two boys and a girl. She is also a freelance writer, a Children’s Minister, a PTA volunteer, and a Scout leader. Stacey has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and French and a Master’s degree in English. She has written extensively about parenting and education as well as business, technology, travel, and hobbies.
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