Designating a guardian for your children

If you have minor children, appointing a guardian ranks among the most important parts of your estate plan. There are many legal and personal issues to consider while making your decision. A knowledgeable estate attorney can help you come up with effective provisions that will benefit your children.

Designating a stepparent

Many people with children from previous relationships want their spouse to have guardianship of the children if anything happens to them. If the biological parent is still alive, you may need his or her consent, even if he or she has no contact with the children. An alternative is to pursue a stepparent adoption. While this procedure also needs the other biological parent's consent, as an adopted parent, the stepparent could take over guardianship even in the absence of specific provisions.

Provide for all eventualities

You should also consider the possibility that you and your spouse will both pass away before all your children reach maturity. When selecting potential guardians, many people like to look close to home, among friends or family members. Remember that this will be a very difficult time for your child. Ideally, your child should already have a close relationship with your chosen guardian.

Finances

Assuming guardianship can place a financial strain on your designated guardian. While you can and should set up a trust to provide for your children financially, look for a guardian who enjoys financial stability on his or her own as well.

Defining priorities

Of course, you should never designate a guardian without discussing the matter first and obtaining wholehearted consent. In addition, you may wish to clarify whether your prospective guardian shares your values, religious principles and educational philosophy.

You would also be wise to select an alternative guardian in the event that your first choice will be unable to take on this responsibility at the time of your passing. Changes in health, finances and family circumstances could make your first choice of guardian impractical. Put the same amount of thought into considering your alternative as you do into selecting your first choice.

Setting up your estate and planning your children's future can be a complicated process. Consulting a knowledgeable lawyer can help you avoid overlooking important issues and ensure an effective plan.

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