Something to Think About

Did you know that over two-thirds of American parents have not stipulated guardians for their children?  That’s a lot of children.  We didn’t want to fall into that particular statistic, so we had the slightly depressing conversation about what we would want in the instance that we died or were unable to care for baby boy.  It’s a big decision with lots of different factors to consider, but very worth it.

If you haven’t thought about guardianship and you’re a parent or are soon-to-become one, then I suggest you give it a good rumination.  Here are some things that we thought about and asked ourselves while making this decision…

1. Who are the people that immediately come to mind? Is it one person or a married couple?  Are they family members or would we prefer that a friend have guardianship?

2. Do they have beliefs and values that are similar to our own? We decided that no matter what, we wanted our children to be raised by someone with the same/similar views on religion, upbringing, education, and family.  We love all of our family members, but not all of them are committed Christians.  Having our child raised in a Christian home is a priority, so that automatically ruled some people out.  We also wanted to know that whoever we chose would support similar goals regarding education, namely finishing high school and going on for a higher degree.  They would need to be someone who would make sure that our child studied, did their best in school, went to parent-teacher meetings, and so on and forth.

3. Are they financially, emotionally, and physically able to care for our child? We love our parents, but we don’t want them to our child’s guardian.  They’re more than able to keep pace with an active toddler, but what about 10 or 20 years down the road?  We wanted someone in the same generation as us.  We also wanted to choose someone who would be finacially able to care for our child should the need arise.  We’ll set up a trust fund, but when it comes down to it, raising a kid costs money.  And then there’s the emotional side of things.  I have no doubt that any of our family members would love our child, but there’s no denying that they show love in different ways.  They might be a great provider, but physically gone a lot of the time.

4. Talk to your chosen guardians. You might think that So-and-So + Spouse are the perfect choice.  The problem is that they don’t agree with you.  You need to make sure that whoever you choose is aware of your decision and that you’ve talked over what their role would be, what your expectations are, and so on and so forth.

5. Have a back-up plan. Perhaps you’ve talked with your guardians, you’ve named them, you’ve got your ducks in a row… but something falls through.  Your guardians decide they don’t want the job, they realize that they’re incapable for financial/emotional/physical reasons, one guardian wants them but the other decides they don’t… all sorts of stuff could happen.  If you haven’t named a back-up guardian, then guess what?  The appointment of your child’s guardian is left to the courts, and all of that planning was for naught.

6. Get it in writing. You’ve talked about it with your spouse, you’ve made your decision, you’ve spoken with the guardian(s), you’ve got a back-up plan… but you never made it legal.  Maybe everything will go swimmingly and both sides of your family will get along with one another and trust each other.  Then again, maybe not.  Yikes.  I have visions of long, drawn-out, acrimonious court battles over something that, had you taken the time to make it legal, would have gone much more smoothly.  Meet with a lawyer, draw up a will, create a trust fund, name financial managers… do whatever you have to do but get it in writing and make sure that it’s legal!

7. Seek advice, but don’t give in to peer pressure. This is a huge decision and I can tell you that Chris and I definitely sought advice before coming to any final conclusions.  We really appreciated the lack of pressure that was placed on us, but it’s not always that way.  You may name a guardian and a back-up, only to discover that your parents aren’t happy about who you chose or your sister-in-law is hurt because she wasn’t selected.  That’s unfortunate, but at the end of the day this is your decision and your responsibility.  If you need to, have a chat with family and explain your selections.  Honestly, we’re not planning on telling anyone other than our guardians.

8. Just because your guardians are from one side of the family doesn’t meant that the other side has to be excluded. One thing that I think makes a lot of sense is to stipulate visiting conditions, something that guarantees that your child will spend a certain amount of time each year with the other side of your family.  Of course, if one side of your family is full of nutballs, you might want to expressly state the opposite!  We’re lucky that both of our families are pretty nutball-free 🙂  Another way to keep both sides of the family communicating is to name someone from one side as the guardian(s) and appoint one or two people (plus a lawyer or financial adviser) as trustees.  This ensures that both sides of the family are working together, are being transparent, and are getting regular updates on your child.

9. How long will it take for your child’s guardian to reach them? We live in New Zealand.  All of our family lives in the USA.  Pretty much the bare minimum time-frame for them getting over here would be 24 hours, and that’s being extremely optimistic.  What happens with baby boy in the meantime?  If you know that it might be awhile before your family can arrive, make sure you’ve selected someone local who you can trust to care for your child.  Make sure that this local person is aware of that, and that they have your family’s contact information as well as the name of your lawyer.  On the flip side, make sure that your family knows who this person is, who your lawyer is, and how to get in touch with both.  And last but not least, make sure that your lawyer has this information so that they can reach your local contact in the event of an emergency.

10. Have a personal touch. After all of the legal brou-ha-ha is finished and the documents drawn-up, signed, and sealed with blood {just kidding!}, take some time to write a few letters.  You should write a letter to your child, telling them how much you love them and how proud you are of them.  Tell them about yourself, about your hopes and dreams for their life, and why you chose the people that you did to be their guardians.  Write a letter to your guardians, expressing your sincere thanks and love.  Tell them what you wish for your child and how you hope they will raise them.  Talk to them about how you hope they will make sure that both sides of the family are involved in your child’s life.  And write a letter to your families in general.  Explain your choices and tell them how important it is to you that they be a part of your child’s future.

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I hope that this information has been helpful!  I know that it seems grim and depressing, but I think it’s one of the most responsible, loving things that you can do as a parent.

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5 comments

  1. Jenny @ Practically Perfect... says:

    I know – as far as I know, everyone who’s named us as guardians has had a conversation about it. But I can just imagine what a surprise it would be to find out that you were responsible for someone else’s children!

  2. Hannah says:

    Yes, #4 is important! We found out a month or so ago that we’d been chose to raise some little ones in our lives if their parents passed YEARS ago and the parents never once mentioned it to us. It came up in conversation in a very off hand way and we were a little shocked. OK with it, but surprised that this was the first we’d heard of it.

  3. Brittany says:

    This was one of the first things we did once we found out we were pregnant. SO IMPORTANT.

    Our paperwork is still with the JAG (thank you, military, for making this a bazillion times more difficult) but it’s worth it.

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