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Choosing a legal guardian for your children

Who is going to take care of your children if you die?

Nobody really likes to think about this particular question because it means not only addressing your own mortality but addressing all of the potential pitfalls of naming a legal guardian -- someone who can step in and parent your child to adulthood if you're gone.

There are two main issues you have to face:

  1. Picking the right person isn't easy. You have to find someone who not only can raise your children the way that you would want them raised but is willing to do so. Then you need to find someone else to serve as a backup, just in case something happens to the first person you chose.
  2. You're probably going to disappoint somebody who thinks that they would be the ideal candidate (even if their not). It can be painful and difficult to break the news to a relative or friend that thinks they should be chosen as guardian -- even if they're clearly not in the right position to handle the job.

Once you deal with these two realities, there are a number of steps you need to take on the path to naming a guardian. Here's a quick guide that can help:

  • Sit down with your spouse and make a list of all the possible candidates. Don't limit yourself to family -- some of the best possible guardians might be close friends that are deeply invested in you and your kids.
  • Make a list of pros and cons for each person. Ask yourself what could stop this person from being a good guardian. Are they getting too old to handle the rigors of young children or the troubled teenage years? Are they too young to want to settle down? Do you worry that someone's marriage is too unstable right now to add orphaned children into the mix? That can not only narrow your list down, it can help you offer explanations to the people who are disappointed at not being chosen.
  • Finally, ask yourself who you'd like to be raised by if you were a kid. The answer may make it easy to pick your first and second choices.

Above all, remember that this isn't a popularity contest and it's more important to secure the future for your children than make someone happy. For more advice on estate planning, talk to an attorney today.

Source: Parenting, "How to Choose a Guardian for Your Child," Melissa Balmain, accessed Aug. 04, 2017

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