What is a Legal Guardian?
If you’re like me, parenting includes problem solving for many hypothetical situations every day. If my meeting runs over, who can pick the boys up from school? If my son won’t eat his dinner, is there anything else in the fridge I can throw together?Although none of us wants to think about it, a potential solution should also be considered for the unlikely situation where we were no longer able to care for our children. If you have minor children at home, you should name a legal guardian.
What is a legal guardian?
A legal guardian is a person, other than a child’s biological parent, who is given legal authority over that child. The guardian will have both legal custody and the responsibility of making all parental decisions for the child.
A legal guardian can be named by the biological parents, typically as part of an estate plan. If the child’s parents do not name a legal guardian and they are no longer able to care for the child, the court will step in and name a legal guardian. The Court would do its best to choose between close relatives and family friends for the guardianship role, but only you can know who would be best be suited to raising your children in your place.
How do I choose a legal guardian?
- Parenting Skills.If the person you have in mind has children of his or her own, you may already have sense of his or her approach to parenting and how compatible it would be with yours. If not, consider asking the person to babysit, maybe overnight or during a weekend getaway, to see how your kids and your potential candidate interact on their own. Some people would only consider tried-and-tested parents as legal guardians for their kids, while others prefer a person without parenting experience who may be more open to applying your parenting methods.
- Age and Health.For many, the natural instinct is to name grandparents as legal guardians. While this could absolutely be the best choice, it may be more appropriate for children over 10 years of age. Asking grandparents to take on the sleepless nights and the energy levels that come with infants and toddlers may be an unreasonable request. Also, consider any chronic health conditions, both of the person you name as guardian and anyone he or she could be called on to care for, like a partner or another child.
- Geographic Location. In most cases, if the legal guardian was called on to take custody, your child would go to live in the guardian’s home. If the guardian you name does not live nearby, your child would be forced to change schools and make new friends in an already difficult time.
- Financial Stability. With a properly crafted estate plan, you could provide for your children’s future, so that he or she would not need to rely on the guardian’s family income in any way. However, living in the guardian's home, your child would undoubtedly feel the echoes of any financial hardship the guardian’s family experiences, especially as it impacts their daily lifestyle.
How do I nominate a legal guardian?
At LifeLadder Estate Planning, nominating a legal guardian is just one part of a creating a larger Guardian+ Plan. The Guardian+ Plan is a set of legal documents and supporting information that, together with your comprehensive estate plan, provides the best available guarantee that your children will be cared for according to your wishes. The Guardian+ Plan is complementary addition to all LifeLadder Estate Plan Packages for clients with minor children.
To avoid some common mistakes parents make when choosing a guardian for their children, download our Legal Guardian Nomination Guide below.