Choosing a Legal Guardian for Your Child: Why Your Schnapps-Drinking, Atheist Uncle Oscar Might Not Be the Best Choice for Guardianship
By Angel Simpson, Attorney
You love him! I mean, what is there not to love? He is delightfully eccentric, has never been married, wears lederhosen to family funerals and brings his own Peppermint Schnapps to holiday functions.
But is he the best choice of caregiver for your child/ren? No way!
Choosing a legal guardian for your child, and a backup guardian for your child/ren, is critically important, as this person will be raising your child/ren if something happens to you. Read the following blog authored by Angel Simpson, attorney with the Parker Herring Law Group, PLLC, for tips on how to designate a legal guardian for your child/ren.
How to Choose a Guardian
Most people assume that if something were to happen to them, their loved ones would care for their children. However, the best way to protect your child/ren is to have a plan in place in case of an emergency. Planning ahead and naming a guardian for your child/ren allows you to decide who will care for your child/ren when you are no longer here or unable to care for them yourself.
Choosing the right guardian for your child/ren may not be as easy as you think. So, how does a parent determine who is the right person to care for their child/ren if they are unable? The following are some important factors that all parents must consider before making this decision:
- Discuss: Parents need to have a conversation about planning for the future and putting legal documents in place. Parents should at least have wills that name your guardian. If you already have estate planning documents, make sure to update them when necessary, especially when you experience major life changes (children, marriage, divorce).
- Needs: Discuss your child’s needs now and through early adulthood. Start thinking about who you would want to take care of your child/ren if you were no longer here.
- Religion, child rearing and family values: It is important to choose a person or couple that will raise your child/ren in an environment that is similar to the one you provide for them now.
- Ability to parent and capacity to care for your child/ren for a long time: Steer away from people who have struggled with addictions and mental health issues. Although they may love your child/ren, they may not be able to provide a stable home life for them. Also, think about age and health factors — you want to choose a guardian who will most likely be around until your child/ren is at least 18 years old, but hopefully, even longer.
- Financial ability to care for your child: Make sure the person you choose is financially stable. They do not have to be rich — as long as you know they are capable of managing finances, you can provide life insurance if the guardian will need financial assistance.
- Familiar with your child and your family: If something happens to you, you want your child/ren to be close to other family members for support. Choosing someone who already lives close to your family will be beneficial to the child/ren, especially if they are grieving the loss of a parent. It also helps if the guardian already knows other family members.
Once you make a decision, talk to that person about your desire for them to fill the role of guardian of your child/ren. They will most likely be honored that you chose them. On the other hand, they may have issues going on in their life that you know nothing about, or they may feel they do not have the ability to parent your child/ren. If this is the case, you will need to choose someone else. Also, discuss your choice of guardian with your family so that there are no issues or disputes down the road.
Keep in mind that one of the biggest reasons that guardians fail is parents not providing funds to support their child/ren. Make sure that you set up a life insurance policy, or some other financial support, so that the guardian can adequately care for your child/ren.
So, although you want Uncle Oscar to have a permanent place in your child’s life, he should not be the one chosen to take care of your child/ren!
Angel Simpson is an attorney with Parker Herring Law Group, PLLC. Angel represents adoption clients all over the state of North Carolina and has experience guiding clients through the adoption process, both locally and when crossing state lines (interstate adoptions). She represents both birth parents and adoptive parents. In addition to handling all types of adoptions, Angel assists clients with estate planning and guardianship matters. Angel is a 2013 graduate of North Carolina Central University School of Law.