No parent wants to consider the terrifying possibility that you may not be around to take care of your child should the worst happen. And because the possibility is so unlikely and scary, most parents do not take steps to protect their child should they no longer be around. Caring.com noted in a survey that only 36 percent of people with children under the age of 18 have an end-of-life plan in place, and I am certain many of those existing plans have no guardianship provisions.
If you do not make any effort to decide a guardian for your children, then a judge will make that decision for you and may very well send your child to someone you would not prefer. And if no one volunteers to raise the child, the judge will send your child into foster care.
Picking a guardian cannot be done in a single afternoon, and requires a great deal of foresight and discussion with your spouse and potential guardian candidates. Yet that is the more reason to start immediately on such a critical decision.
Choosing the Right Guardian
How do you decide who will raise your child in the worst case scenario? Making the right decision is a gargantuan task given how many factors there are to consider, and that does not even consider the problem of family politics. Your brother could be upset if you choose to give your child to your sister, and your entire family could be unhappy if you name a friend as a guardian.
No one else will raise your child in the exact way that you would, but the first step is to find someone similar. If you are an authoritarian, strict parent, consider a family member who also enforces discipline. If you are politically progressive, you may not want to name your aunt who attends Trump rallies. FindLaw has a good list of characteristics and traits to consider when picking a guardian.
Remember that your child will be undergoing a great deal of turmoil and trauma in the process of having a new guardian. Under those circumstances, it is important to make sure that the transition is smooth and the parenting style remains consistent from one parent to the next.
Work together with your spouse, and make a list of at least three people who you believe would be a good choice to take care of your child.
Communicating with the Guardian
Picking a guardian is one thing, but you have to make sure that they would be willing to raise a child. You do not want a guardian who acquiesces to raise your child out of a sense of duty or loyalty to family, but one who will do it out of love.
Spend some time with the proposed guardian at first before bringing it up, and preferably bring your child. You want to see how well they get along, or observe how the guardian treats their children.
If you spot nothing wrong, then sit down and hold a serious discussion about what you are asking them to do. Explain why you picked them, how you hope they can raise your child should the worst come to pass, and ask them whether they would be willing to do it. Do not ask for an answer right then and there. Given what an important decision this is, make sure they have time to seriously think it over.
Dealing with Legal Matters
Unfortunately, making a verbal promise with your chosen guardian will not stand up in a court of law. You have to create a formal, legal written will or trust which specifies who will be your guardian. This is more complicated than dealing with at work injury claims that a service like Legal Helpline can help you with. You need to list only one individual as the guardian. While you may intend for your brother and his wife to take care of your child together, naming only one guardian will make it clear who the child should go with in case of a divorce. Also name a backup if your first choice turns out to be unable to care for your child.
Also remember that picking a guardian is only one facet of ensuring your child can grow up happily. Talk to an estate planning attorney about making sure that your assets can easily go to your guardian without being locked up for years in court battles. You may want to name an executor to handle your estate and protect your assets who is not the same person as your guardian. Make sure though that the two individuals share a strong relationship.
Even if you are not wealthy, take care to protect what assets you have. NPR noted multiple cases where a guardian was unable to access tens of thousands of dollars which could have made raising children a far easier task without avoiding major legal battles.
You may think that talking to an attorney, drafting a will, and going through the difficult process of picking a guardian is unnecessary, and in most cases it is. But you need to protect your children from the worst things which could happen to them, and naming a guardian will make sure they are secure no matter what happens to you.