Did you know that almost 60% of Americans don’t have a will? It’s true, and, in my opinion, it’s not because we don’t understand the importance of that legal document. No, I think something else is standing in our way, particularly in the way of parents: Naming guardians for our children.
When you create a will, your lawyer will help you with the legal language – or you can find a template on a website like LegalZoom – but it’s up to you (and your partner, if you have one) to select someone to care for your kids if something should happen to you. Heavy stuff, I know, and not the kind of thing parents like to think about. Which is why we put it off.
But if you don’t name guardians, the decision gets passed on to a court in most cases, and trust me, you don’t want that. Not only will your children have to deal with a legal battle on top of everything else, but you may end up with someone you wouldn’t have chosen for the job.
So right now, or this evening with your spouse or partner, come up with a short list of possibilities, keeping in mind that the job of a guardian is two-fold: They’re responsible for making basic decisions for the child, as well as managing any money or assets left to the child. You can select two people, one for each part of the job, but in most cases, it’s easier to select one person to handle everything. I also recommend selecting one person instead of, say, your brother and his wife. If you name them as a team, and they get divorced down the road, who gets custody of your child is undecided. If you’re fine with either of them having custody, that’s not a problem, but if you have a preference, you want to put only one name in the will.
Once you have your short list, ask yourself these questions:
1. Does this person have the time to take care of my children?
2. Does he or she share my values?
3. Is this person young enough, and in good health? This is a challenging and lengthy task.
4. Does this person’s geographic location make sense? Would my children or this person have to move?
5. Does he or she have the resources necessary, or will I be leaving enough in life insurance and other resources so that that’s not an issue?
6. Is he or she willing to do it?