What is a Guardianship?

Now that we’ve covered the topic of wills, let’s move onto the topic of Guardianship. In its simplest terms, guardianship is exactly what it sounds like—choosing someone to look after your children if something renders you unable to do so. Here are some things you should definitely know when naming a guardian.

First, be sure to name one personal guardian, plus an alternate in case your first choice can’t do the job. Name a guardian for each of your children. By law, you can have more than one guardian, but it’s not a good idea in most cases due to the possibility that co-guardians might later disagree on things. Conversely, if you’d like two people to help care for your child—such as a stable couple that could act as co-parents—name both of them, so that both have the legal power necessary for making important decisions for your child. Some things you’ll want to keep in mind:

  • Is the prospective guardian old enough? (You have to choose an adult, someone over 18 in most states.)
  • Does he or she have a genuine concern for the well-being of your child?
  • Is he or she physically capable of handling the job?
  • Does the prospective guardian have enough time to devote to the job?
  • Does he or she have children that are close in age to your own?
  • Are you able to provide enough assets needed to raise the children? If not, can the prospective guardian financially afford to bring them up?
  • Does he or she share your same moral beliefs?
  • Would your children have to move?

Many people want their children to be able to stay together; if you do, be sure to name the same guardian for all of your children. However, you are able to name different guardians for different children if you choose. If the kids are not close in age or they have strong attachments to different adults outside the family, this could be a good option—for example, if one child is closer to a grandparent, and another an aunt or uncle. No matter what the situation, you want to choose the best guardian to care for each child.

You can also choose a separate guardian for financial matters. You may decide to do this if the person that would be the best surrogate parent may not be the best at dealing with financial situations. As long as the two potential guardians can agree on the partnership of sorts and can get along well enough to work together in your kids’ best interest, you can name one a personal guardian and another to watch over finances

If you and the other parent cannot come to an agreement on who to name as guardian, there could be a fight in court over the child, especially if both parents die while the child is still a minor. In that case, the judge would then have to come to a decision as to what’s best for your child.

If you don’t want the other parent to raise the child, you should write a letter of explanation as to why you think this way, since most judges will legally assign the other parent as guardian unless he or she has abandoned the child or is clearly unfit for the job. However, being an unfit parent can be hard to prove unless the person has a history of problems with things like drug abuse, alcohol abuse, mental illness or a history of child abuse.

If the co-parent of your child is your same-sex partner, you’ll most likely want to name that person as the personal guardian. Since some courts may not be friendly toward that type of family structure, you may want to protect your interests by including a letter of explanation detailing why it’s important for your partner to be the personal guardian of your child.

If you’re still having trouble figuring things out, be sure to speak to an attorney who can help guide you in the right direction.