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.
What’s the best way to go about choosing a guardian for my child?
So many parents never get around to writing their will because they have such a hard time picking a legal guardian for their son or daughter. And of course, if you have a young child, choosing the person you’d want to raise him or her if something happened to you, is one of the most difficult and most important parenting responsibilities there is.
I tell clients all the time: the first step is to lower your standards. There is no perfect match out there, so you can go ahead and stop searching. Nobody in the world will ever parent just like you, and no parent is perfect. You need to accept from the beginning that the person you choose may have (numerous) limitations.
Next, narrow down your THREE core parenting values. So many of us rattle off a list in our head: education, compassion, religion. But those kinds of abstract ideas aren’t very helpful when it comes to deciding which friend or relative shares the most of your views about life and parenting.
For example, try to dig deeper than “religion,” and think about what that means on an everyday level. Would you want your child to go to church every week or live in a conservative or orthodox home if you’re Jewish? If your family’s faith is at the top of your list, make sure you’re asking a guardian who really shares your religious beliefs in the way that is meaningful to you.
And what about money? Do you have particularly strong principles about personal finance (eg, would you want your child to “learn the value of a dollar” and to save early on)?
If so, you want to choose someone who shares your attitudes and outlook. Your incredibly sweet sister who routinely maxes out her credit card, and doesn’t give a fig about saving for retirement might not be the right choice for you – then again, your financial philosophy may not make it into your top three, and that’s okay too.
Think also about your parenting style, which I always include under core values because parents often forget that it is just that – a principled decision you’ve made about the kind of parent you want to be. Is your approach more laid back? Or do you want a tighter reign when it comes to discipline? And consider what stuff you’re strict about now, and what kinds of things you think you’ll be strict about down the road as your children get older.
Remember: there are no right or wrong answers, and you’re going to have to compromise.
Last but not least: look at the practical considerations. Is the guardian you’d like able to do the job, in the way that you envision? Do they live nearby? Would you want them to move into your home, or make room for your child in theirs? Do they have the space? Does your child already have an existing relationship with this person or family?
Compatibility is key. Of course, none of the scenarios are ideal – we are talking about a very unlikely, unfortunate scenario after all. But you’d want your child’s transition to his or her new living environment to be as smooth as humanly possible.