6/25/2017

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Choosing A Guardian For Your Children

"Life is fickle and death is a sure bet. What isn't a sure bet is the timing. Death can happen at any moment, but the exact moment cannot be calculated with any amount of certainty."
~John M. Roberts~

Think about this. If you were killed in a car accident tomorrow, will your minor children be taken care of as you would like for them to be? Even though the thought of dying and leaving your children to fend for themselves is dreadful, it can and does happen to parents on a daily basis.

If you die, whether it is suddenly or after an illness, your children are still going to have to be taken care of. If you don't chose a guardian for them yourself, the courts will. And you may not like where your children will end up. They may have to be left in the care of someone who may not be able to give them the lifestyle that you envision for them. If you have more than one child, although the courts will try to keep them together, they may be separated and put in foster care.

Are you prepared for such a scenario? Have you given thought to what would happen to your child, or children, if you died tomorrow? There is no way that you can predict the future but you can prepare as best as you can. These are hard questions but if you have minor children, they are questions that you need to think about right now. And there's more:

  • Who will provide a loving home for your children? If there is a surviving parent, they will generally get custody of the children, providing there is no proof of child abuse, drug abuse, or a serious criminal record. This is true even if you were never married, if you are divorced, or if you are separated.
  • Do you have a will that names a reliable guardian if both parents die? Many states will only allow you to name a guardian through a will. A trust may not be sufficient. You should research the laws of your state to get the right information.
  • If you want your parent or parents to take care of your children, are they physically able to handle the job? They may be now but may not be later.
  • Will your children have to be uprooted from their neighborhood, city, or maybe even be taken to another state or country?
  • If you've made a decision about who you want the guardian to be, you should sit down with them and discuss your thoughts. Don't surprise them at the time of your death in your will. They may not be prepared to handle your children on a moments notice or they may not even want to. You should tell them that they are your choice to be placed as guardian of your children if something happens to you and let them make the decision whether or not they want to take on the responsibility. You should also choose a second and a third successor guardian just in case the first decides at the time of your death that they can't handle it or if they are not capable.
  • If you want your parents to take over guardianship of your children, will they be up to the task? Most grandparents would take on the responsibility in a heartbeat and would be glad to do it, but there may be underlying issues such as health or mental capacity. They may be mobile and energetic right now, but what about in the future. Taking on the role of a guardian of someone else's children is no small feat, especially if the children are young and have to be raised over a period of several years.
  • You should communicate with your choice of guardians from time to time to make sure they remain up to the task because over time, people change and their circumstances change. There may be a divorce, an illness, loss of employment, or any number of life changing events that may cause hardship on the proposed guardian and make it unlikely that they could take care of your children properly.

Even though you can choose who you want to serve as the guardian of your children, the state can still reject your choice. Although your wishes can be overridden by the courts, it is highly unlikely unless the guardian is deemed unfit, seriously ill, or he or she rejects the job.

Anyone who is given the task of raising someone else's children should be aware that many adjustments in their lifestyles will have to be made. But it is doable and taking on such a role can be a rewarding and loving experience.

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