Who Will Raise My Children if I Die While They are Still Minors?

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Some people think that estate planning is for millionaires. In fact, if you have any assets at all, or if you have minor children, estate planning is just as important for you. Not only does the process deal with how assets are distributed at your death, but perhaps more importantly who will raise your children and watch out for their financial well-being.

There are two types of guardianships for minors.  The first is a guardianship over the minor, and the second is a guardianship over the minor’s property.  Under the law, a minor is legally unable to care for herself and is legally unable to deal with her property.

A guardian over your minor children is named in your Will. If you are using a revocable living trust as the center of your estate plan, it will include a pour-over will as discussed above.  In that case, the guardian is named in the pour-over will. A guardian over your minor children’s property is usually not necessary, since your living trust will allow the Trustee to care for and manage your minor children’s property.

The person you name as the guardian of your minor children will be responsible for taking care of your children until each child reaches the age of majority (18 in most states). If you die without a valid will naming the guardian for your minor children, the court will make the decision. The court will often name a close family member, but it may not be the family member you would have chosen.

What Qualities Should I Look for When Choosing a Guardian for My Minor Children?

When you are nominating the Guardian of your minor children, the goal is to provide each child as little disruption to his or her life as possible. To accomplish that, you want to choose someone who will raise your children the same way you would raise them if you were still alive. The Guardian should have similar philosophies to yours about raising children, about education, about discipline, and about religious or spiritual matters. A good indicator of how someone might raise your children is how they are raising their own children.

If you are choosing a married person, you will need to decide whether to name just one individual (perhaps your relative) or if you are naming the couple. You should consider what will happen if the guardians you appoint get divorced after your children have moved in with them.

You’ll also want to consider the economic wherewithal of the guardian so that you don’t saddle them with responsibility that will overwhelm them financially. If you have more than one child, and want to keep your children together, you’ll have to name a guardian that is willing and able to take all of them.

All of this assumes that the person you name agrees to take your children .You should always check with them ahead of time to be sure they are willing, and then name back-up guardians in case circumstances change and the person who agreed in advance, is unable to take the children at the actual time of your death.