Wealth Planning News
Vol. IV, No. 7
Why Designate Guardians?
If you do not name guardians, the probate court in the county where you live might name someone you would never have chosen as guardian for your children.
You also need to create a trust to manage the funds or property you would leave for your children. If you fail to do that, the probate court might name someone you would never have chosen for this important job. Further, if you fail to create your own trust for your children, the probate court will do so by setting up a conservatorship for them. The children will each receive their inheritance at age 18, and it is a noticeable human condition that 18 year olds are normally not really competent to manage funds that would be dumped into their hands.
First Choose a Trustee
We usually recommend that the person who manages funds for the children not be named as guardian of the children, to avoid any actual or perceived conflict of interest for the guardians. If a trustee has discretion to spend funds it removes any potential conflict of interest if the guardian must request funds from the Trustee rather than serving as trustee and making disbursements without oversight of anyone. This consideration is critical if your trust includes provisions to allow the trustee to spend funds for the benefit of your guardians, such as instructions to allow the guardians to move to a larger home for the benefit of your children, or instructions to allow your guardians to live a lifestyle similar to that you would want to provide for your children.
Make a List and Check It Twice
Remember what Santa does: He makes a list and checks it twice. This step is just as important for you when choosing potential guardians. Consider the age and ability of each potential guardian. You may not want to burden your own parents who may have
passed the age where they would want to devote the time and energy needed to drop kids off to school, lessons, sporting events, and other things involved in day-to-day tasks of bringing up a child.
Factors To Consider
Do you want your children brought up in a home with two parents? A good family life usually requires the presence of both a mother and a father together. Consider the following factors:
Their degree of maturity as shown by their own lifestyle.
Their patience and attitude toward discipline. They should not be abusive but should not be overly permissive because children need firm guidance from adults with a moral compass aligned with principles you value.
Their age and stamina, because child rearing is a very labor-intensive endeavor.
Their child-rearing attitudes, since you would not choose anyone who abuses their own children because they might endanger someone else's.
Their experience with child-rearing, such as the presence of children already in their home. You may want proven parents, but you may not want to risk having your children treated as the "ugly stepchildren." Here your own parents might have the advantage.
Their relationship to your children. There is some truth in old sayings like "blood is thicker than water," and if guardians are closely related to you and come from the same family background as you they are more likely to share your own values, your child-rearing attitudes, and your love for the kids.
In This Issue
1. Why Designate Guardians?
2. Choosing a Trustee
3. Make a List - Check it Twice
Factors to Consider
Their background of experience and that of their own parents. Remember the old saying that "apples don't fall far from the tree," and it is a fact that many people will repeat the actions of their own parents, whether good or bad.
Their willingness to serve as guardians and reasons for that willingness (hopefully love of your children instead of hope for financial gain).
The stability of their marriage. It is highly stressful for children to go through the breakup of a home when couples are in conflict, separate and divorce.
Their moral habits and values. You would not choose someone interested in pornography or prostitution to give just two examples.
Their religious beliefs and practices. You will probably want your children brought up in a home that will reflect your own religious beliefs and practices.
Their willingness to allow your children to have frequent access to your own relatives who also love your children, and their potential protective attitude that will prevent guardians from allowing your children to be influenced by relatives who do not share your own values.
Their place of residence, since it is usually beneficial for children to feel they are part of a larger extended family with whom they can have frequent contact. This factor is important for the protection of your children because visits with loving relatives might expose any future mistreatment of your children by their guardians. It is also important because orphans become wards of the court at your death, and instate guardians may not have to post any bond to assure their future appearance for ongoing supervision of your children by the court.
Most important is love. Consider the amount of love they demonstrate in their dealings with others. Love rules, and you should want your own children brought up in a loving home.
All these factors can be applied to each potential guardian. You could assign a grade from A to F to each potential guardian for each item. It is mechanical to merely total the score on each item, because some factors are more highly weighted than others. Love is probably deserving of a far higher score than place of residence, for example, but assigning a tentative score will give you a good starting place.
Make the decision based on what is important to you for the future of your own children. Inform the chosen guardians of your choice to be sure they would consent. Provide sufficient funds for the upbringing of your children, so kids will not be a burden to, but a blessing on your chosen guardians. Call your life insurance agent.
Consider putting into writing your own views about all of the items listed above, and any others that are important to you. This "Statement of Family Values" could serve as guidance for your selected guardians. As a side benefit you will likely solidify your own views and beliefs to the benefit of your own children even if they never need guardians.