Appointing Guardians for Minor Children

Many parents fail to appoint guardians for minor and/or disabled children in their wills – a big oversight. A guardian becomes responsible for a minor child's or disabled adult's care and upbringing if the parents die early. Failure to designate a guardian in your will can cause a lot of problems. With the increasing number of less traditional family situations, such as divorced parents and stepparents, the possible complications are ever greater. Your attorney may advise you to divide guardianship duties so that the responsibility for taking care of the child's health and well being is given to one party, and the responsibility for taking care of the child's financial affairs is given to another. The most important reason to appoint both a personal guardian and a financial guardian is that the particular relative or friend whom you trust completely with the child's upbringing may not have the expertise to deal with money that will be left to the child.

Another important consideration is that if your estate is likely to be considerably greater than the resources of the guardian (with life insurance you may be worth a lot more dead than alive), you may want to consider empowering the financial guardian to provide additional money to the personal guardian's family. This minimizes the potential for resentment when the family is struggling financially to raise the orphans who may end up rich. For example, some parents have provided for the payment of college tuition out of their estate for the guardian's children as well as their own. Regardless of how the guardianship arrangement is made, it is vital that you discuss your wishes with the potential guardians prior to naming them in the will. If the children are old enough, they should be included in the discussion, too. Finally, you should appoint successor (backup) guardians in the event your primary guardian is either unable or unwilling to serve.