Friday, October 14, 2011

How To Select A Guardian For Minor Children

Several years ago I wrote an article on how to select a guardian for your child(ren). The publication is now defunct and the web site no longer running. It is an article I point clients to at least once a week, so I am going to re-post it here today. It was written for a January publication, hence the references to New Years resolution. No matter what time of year, it is a valuable piece with sound information.

It is a new year, and like most people you may have a to-do list featuring your New Year’s resolutions. Whether you are an expectant or new parent or a seasoned veteran with teenagers, you may want to add “Nominate a Guardian for my Child” to your list.

What is a guardian? A guardian becomes the substitute parent for a child and makes day-to-day decisions a parent would make if the unthinkable happens to both parents. Every minor must have a guardian, and should the unthinkable happen a court will appoint someone to fill the parents’ shoes.

Why nominate a guardian? If you do not nominate a guardian, then the potential exists for various family and friends to seek guardianship over your child. The uncertainty, legal costs, and possible contentious atmosphere surrounding such an event would be less than ideal. By nominating a guardian for your child you not only ensure that your wishes will be considered by the judge, but you also allow for a more smooth transition following a tragic event in the life of your child and surviving family and friends.

Who should you nominate? Thinking of someone who will step into your shoes is almost an unbearable thought; many of my clients tear-up when discussing the issue with me. When working through this emotional area I find that it helps to have some concrete questions to answer. For example:

· Who has a close bond with your child;

· Who is in good health to raise your child;

· Who shares your family’s values in terms of religion and education;

· Who could realistically take on the financial responsibility of raising your child;

· Who lives in an area where you would want your child raised; and

· Who does your child want to live with (assuming they are old enough to talk about this issue).

How do you nominate a guardian? Many clients I have worked with believe that having a godparent is sufficient. It is not. A will is the only legal form of nominating a guardian for your minor child. A Wisconsin will can be completed by working with an estate planning attorney or by completing a basic Wisconsin will that is available from the State Law Library and other establishments. One important consideration in deciding on whether to work with an attorney is whether you would like to create a will that nominates a guardian and also places your assets into a trust fund for the benefit of your child; with no trust, a child would gain possession of the assets at age 18. Do not underestimate your assets; a house, retirement account, and life insurance can add up quickly.

What should you tell the guardian you’ve nominated? First, before nominating anyone in your will you should ask them if they would like to serve as a guardian. Urge them to be honest with you because you want your child to be placed in the most supportive and nurturing environment possible. Second, I advise all of my clients with minor children to leave a letter to the guardian expressing his or her wishes for the child’s upbringing. For example, how much should be spent on holiday and birthday gifts; vacations that should be taken at specific ages or to special places in the world; and preferences for the continuation of sporting or music abilities of the child.

If you are a parent, you have without doubt experienced a moment of wonder, what would happen if I were not here? Nominating a guardian is a process by which you can answer that question and diminish the twinge of anxiety in the years ahead.

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