Without a formal direction, your wishes must be interpreted and your estate must be settled by a probate court judge. The process is expensive and encourages disputes. But divvying up wealth is whole lot easier than handing your children off to the state to determine where they go and how their care will be paid for. Just imagine the two grandmothers fighting over custody of your children?
For many young parents death seems like a long ways away. Regardless of how one feels, parents of all ages should have their affairs in order—including guardianship. New Hampshire Magazine’s May 2015 issue addresses this issue and offers sound advice through an article titled “Don't put off writing down your last words.”
If you just can’t decide on a guardian, you should still move ahead with your estate planning. It is better to have this issue undecided than to die without a will. That said, the article suggests that it’s a good idea to nominate two people. That way you have one to be the guardian of the children and a second to be a trustee of the funds dedicated to their care.
Some parents feel that they must choose family members, but in many instances a close friend will work better than family. Think about close friends with children at about the same age as yours. Here are a few other things to ponder about selecting a guardian:
Does your guardian have a similar parenting philosophy, religious, and personal values?
Do they live close to you?
Do they have children, and how will your child(ren) fit in that situation?
Is the household stable?
Is age of the guardian an issue?
The article also advises not to exclude someone because they aren’t well off. You can create a trust that is funded through assets or life insurance to ensure the day-to-day care, health care needs, and the college expenses of your children. Talk to a qualified estate planning attorney about setting up this type of trust and reviewing your estate plan.
Finally, when you have decided on a guardian, review your plans and expectations with them (including the trust created by the attorney) and give them some time to think about assuming this role.
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