It’s difficult to think about not being there to raise your children. Imagine instead, a court choosing their guardian with no input from you. Imagine your relatives arguing in court over who gets your children. Imagine they agree about who gets to raise your children, but they choose someone you would not have chosen. That's why it's important to nominate a guardian while it's still up to you. Your choice does not have to be perfect. Most likely, no one on your list will seem perfect – that is, just like you. But if you truly consider what matters to you most, you will probably be able to make some reasonable choices. In the end, trust your instincts. If one couple or person meets all of your criteria, but doesn’t feel right, don’t choose them. By the same token, if someone feels much more right than any of the others on your list, there’s a good reason for it. Make your primary choice, then some backup choices. It’s essential that both you and your spouse agree.
Here are some things to think about that may help you make your best choice.
Make a list of all the people you know who you would trust to take care of your children. You don’t need to limit your list to close family members. While siblings and parents can be excellent choices, consider also extended family members who are old enough to raise your children – cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, even second cousins once removed. Beyond family, consider close friends, families with whom your family is close, the families of your children’s friends, friends you know from your place of worship, even teachers or child care providers with whom you and your children have a special relationship.
Don’t eliminate anyone from consideration because you don’t think they have the financial means to take care of your children. You can take care of the finances with what you leave with life insurance, a trust or will. You can even instruct your trustee to provide funds for your chosen guardian to build an addition to their home or move to a larger home to accommodate your children.
Consider whether each couple or person on your list would truly love your children if appointed their guardian. If they have children of their own, will your children be second fiddles? Or is the couple sufficiently loving that they will make your children feel loved no matter what?
Consider values and philosophies, such as
Consider how raising children would fit into their lifestyle?
If they’re older, do they have the necessary health and stamina? Do they really want to be parents of a young child at their stage in life?
Do they have other children? How would your children get along with theirs? Are there potential problems if your children were to live with theirs? How easily could the problems be dealt with? (For instance, do you want to place a child who struggles in school with a high-achieving child of the same age for whom everything comes easily?)
How close do they live to other important people in your children’s lives?
If a couple divorced, or one person died, would you be comfortable with either of them acting as the sole guardian? If not, you need to specify what you would want to happen.
Select a temporary as well as a permanent guardian. Temporary guardians may be appointed if both parents become temporarily unable to care for their children – for example, as the result of a car accident. Depending on your choice for permanent guardians, you may want to designate different people to act as temporary guardians. If your choice for a permanent guardian lives a considerable distance away, choose someone close by to serve as temporary guardian. If you're temporarily disabled, you'll want your children close by. And you won't want their lives unnecessarily disrupted by moving them to a new town and school. If you have no relatives or close friends nearby, consider families of your children’s friends.
Consider writing down your reasons. If you’ve chosen friends over relatives, or a more distant relative over a closer one, be sure to explain your decision in writing. That way – in the unlikely event your choice is challenged by people who feel they should have been chosen – a court should readily uphold your decision, knowing you've made your choice for good, solid reasons.
Once you’ve made your choice, feel free to include in your estate plan a statement or set of guidelines to convey information about your children to your guardian. This statement may include your parenting values and your hopes and dreams for your children. You might want to list people who you want to have ongoing involvement in your children’s lives.