Seven Steps to Picking a Guardian for Your Kids (in 539 words or less)

  1. Stop delaying the decision.

More than half of parents in the United States haven’t picked a guardian for their kids, in the event of their premature death or unexpected disability. Not deciding on a guardian means that if you both die, a judge will decide who gets to raise your kids.

The worst scenario is no one wants or is able to take the kids, and they end up in foster care. Most cases are the opposite, with too many people wanting to care for your kids, resulting in your children confused and conflicted, not knowing who you would have wanted to raise them if you couldn’t.

  1. Two isn’t always better than one.

A couple is often the common choice for a guardian. Divorce happens to even the most amazing couples, so you may consider choosing one person instead. If a couple is chosen, I always recommend my clients decide which person would raise the kids in the event of a divorce.

  1. Compare lifestyles and values.

Is it important to you that your kids are raised within a specific religion? Education level, values, style of parenting and location are all factors that should be examined prior to choosing a guardian for your kids. Another factor is if the couple already have kids of their own. How will your kids fit into the family? Does your potential guardian own a home, have a good job, or have to travel a lot for their work? How well do your guardians get along with your siblings or in-laws? Where does your guardian live? Would moving away turn your kids’ lives upside down? If the best person for the role lives in another city, the momentary upset may still be the best decision. You need to weigh all these factors.

  1. Friends over family is an option.

Despite concerns of hurt feelings, your decision has to be based on what is best for your kids. Naming friends as guardians is common, especially when your values align on major issues like morality and education.

  1. Divide and conquer.

Some parents will have the guardian manage the inheritance as well as raise the kids. If handling finances isn’t your guardian’s strong suit, but they are great with your kids, you can select someone else, a relative or close friend, to handle the money.

  1. Make sure your choice is on board.

Discuss the role with them before you set your arrangements in stone. It’s a big responsibility, and you want them to fully consider the implications before agreeing.

  1. Do the docs.

Get a lawyer to make sure all the necessary documents are signed and witnessed according to the law in your state. Some reminders:

-Have a successor named, in the event your guardian is unable to act.
-A divorce provision in the event your guardians consist of a couple, or list only one person within the couple.
-If you’re divorced, you still need to designate a guardian. (Your ex-spouse could be unwilling or unable to act).

Final note: The most important factor, whether you choose friends or family, is to name someone who will love your child.

Attorney: Amy L. Marble

Amy was raised in North Dakota. After graduating from Saint Louis University School of Law in 1996, she moved with her husband to his home state of Minnesota. Initially practicing in the field of Personal Injury law, Amy branched out to start her own practice in Estate Planning in 2003. In 2009, she stepped away from the practice of law to spend more time raising their family. Amy joined Stier Law in our Eagan office in 2015 and continues to focus her practice in the areas of Estate Planning, and Trust and Estate Administration.