As a lawyer, estate planning consultant, and writer, I talk to a lot of parents about planning for their family’s financial future. And I’ve noticed that certain questions come up over and over again, regardless of how many children you have, how much you make, or where you live. With that in mind, I’m excited to share some of them with Mainstream Mom readers over the next few months. I hope that they will help inspire you to think and talk about these important issues, because the Happiest Parent is the one who plans for their child’s long-term well-being, no matter how hard it may seem today. – Jacoba Urist
Earlier this month, I looked at how to start thinking about who would make the best possible guardian for your child in the awful event that something happens to both you and your partner and someone else has to step in and raise your son or daughter.
But parents often ask me if there are certain relatives or friends who shouldn’t be considered for the job – if I’ve run into cases where people make the mistake of naming the wrong person in their will for this unlikely but potentially huge responsibility.
Well, the first blunder I see parents make is that they don’t put someone on the list because they won’t work as a guardian forever.
For example, so many folks automatically discount grandparents on either side of the family because they’ll be too old to keep up with kids in say five, ten or fifteen years. But here’s the thing: if one set of grandparents is the perfect fit now - and works for at least the next three years – use them!
As I tell all my clients, a will is never set in stone. It can and should grow with your family’s needs over time.
If a grandparent becomes too sick or elderly to be the guardian in the future, you can always appoint someone else down the road. In fact, for many couples, the guardian that works best when their child is a toddler isn’t necessarily the same person that fits their criteria when their child is a teenager. After all, circumstances change: close friends move away or drift apart; people get divorced; and of course, people age.
And speaking of divorce, I always encourage parents to appoint an individual over a couple, even if you’re equally close with both spouses. Here’s why: break-ups happen, even among long-standing, seemingly perfect couples like Tipper and Al Gore.
While estate and trust lawyers frequently say, just be sure to pick two people with a rock solid relationship, I’m afraid nobody really knows what goes on behind closed doors and no one can truly evaluate the long-term state of someone else’s marital union. And if a couple does divorce, it’s not always a hundred-percent, clear-cut who’d be raising your child. Hard as it may be to ask one half of a happily married pair, I advise every parent reading this to consider picking an individual for the job, so your bases are covered no matter what: you know exactly who would take care of your child if it ever came to that.
Lastly, I have a general rule of thumb. When in doubt, go with the person who really loves you and your child in a pure, genuine, unconditional way. I believe the depth of emotion that the guardian feels for you, your spouse and your offspring is more important, at the end of the day, then many other practical factors. Even if that person is single, childless, or a little “too young” for the job, talk to them! Get their thoughts and feelings before you cross them off the list. You may be surprised by how strongly they want the job and how honored they’d be to raise your child.