One of the most difficult decisions any parent will ever have to make is who should be the guardian of their children if they are no longer alive. The inability to answer this one question is why most people with minor children do not write a will.
Okay, lets get the elephant out of the room. No one will over raise your children as well as you can and will. We will never be able to replace you. That said, who is the second-best person to raise your children, if it is not you or your spouse?
This is a very serious and emotional issue. For starters, what if they don’t have many choices? Either friends and family live far away, are struggling financially or are simply unfit to take on the monumental job of parenting someone else’s kids. In other cases, parents can’t agree on a guardian because they’re from different cultural backgrounds and both want their children exposed to their family. Many people do not want to choose because they are worried they may hurt someone’s feelings.
But avoiding choosing a guardian at all? Big mistake.
In that moment after you pass, I don’t want your children wondering, ‘Now where do I go?’ If a couple can’t settle on a guardian at first, it’s best to compromise and come to a decision, because if you can’t agree, the default is to do nothing. If you don’t have a will and address the guardianship of your children, you are leaving it up to a judge to decide. Do you really want the Alberta court system to make that decision for you?
If you are having difficulty making the choice, write a Memorandum that can be placed with your will. It can outline all of your wishes and requests. For instance, if your daughter is showing an interest in ringette, the document can ask the guardian to encourage her by enrolling her in ringette or skating camps. Writing down these goals is sometimes enough to put parents at ease.
It’s also important to remember that life has a funny way of changing. Even if you do make a will and choose someone as a guardian, it pays to review your will every year to see if it needs to be updated. Guardians die, get divorced or can move to the other side of the world. (A tip: Choose one person in a couple to be the guardian rather than both. That way you don’t have to rework your will if they split up.)
Is the cost of drafting a will holding you back? Are you concerned it will be pricey?
The reality? A typical will written up for a typical family with children should run somewhere around $700 to $900. Not that expensive considering what’s at stake. We all pay for car and house insurance and we may never even need those. The fact is some day you are going to need a will because everyone dies.
What to consider before you choose a guardian
For some families, deciding on choosing a guardian is easy. A fun, loving and responsible friend is the hands-down favourite with the kids and yourself. Or a sibling says he would raise your children as he would his own (and that’s a good thing). But sometimes the decision is less straightforward and you’ll need to consider a few things first.
Tip 1: Think beyond the obvious choices. Make a list of all the people you know who you would trust to take care of your children. Consider extended family members who are old enough to raise your children – cousins, aunts, uncles, etc
Tip 2: Friends can make excellent guardians. Beyond family, consider close 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.
Tip 3: Don’t stress about finances or the size of someone’s house. Don’t eliminate anyone from consideration because you don’t think they have the financial wherewithal to take care of your children. You can take care of the finances with what you leave. (That’s what adequate life insurance is about.)
Tip. 4: Focus on love. 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?
Tip 5: Consider values and philosophies. Ask yourself which people on your list most closely share your values and philosophies with respect to your religious beliefs, moral values, educational values & social values
Tip 6: Personality counts. Consider whether each of your candidates has the personality traits that would work for your children. Are they loving? Do they have the patience to take on parenting your children? If they are fairly young, how mature are they?
Tip 7: Consider practical factors. How would raising children 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? If a couple divorced, or one person died, would you be comfortable with either of them acting as the sole guardian?
Tip 8: 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.
Tip 9: Write 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.
Tip 10: Talk with everyone involved. If your children are old enough, talk with them to get their input as well. And be sure to confer with the people you’d like to choose, to ensure they’re willing to be chosen and would feel comfortable acting as guardians.
If you and your spouse are having a hard time deciding who your ideal guardian for your children should be, we are here to help! Contact our office at (780) 458-8228 and we would be happy to guide you through the process.