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Without A Will, A Court Could Decide Custody Of Your Child

wills, Trusts and Estates10 Tips On Choosing The Right Guardian

Sadly, during the past couple of weeks, we learned of the passing of several friends and acquaintances. All of their passings were sudden. A heart attack. A car accident. A sudden mystery illness. An aneurism. To be honest, we became a bit leery about answering our phones.

Death isn’t something we like to think about, let alone talk about. However, these past few weeks were a stark reminder of how important it is to make sure we prepare for the future and to make sure our families are protected – especially if you have minor children.

We often assume that a member of our family – maybe a sister or our own mother – will automatically be given custody of our children if something happens to us. However, this is not true unless you have a will, trust or estate plan in place that specifically names them as guardians. Without a legal plan in place, anyone can request custody and a judge will decide with whom your child/children will live with.

As a result, it’s imperative to establish a will and choose a guardian for your child.

Following are some things to consider when choosing the right guardian:

  1. Age – How old is the person you’re considering to assume custody of your child if you pass? You want to make sure the potential guardian will be around for a while to raise your child.
  1. Ability – How is the health of the potential guardian? Does he/she need a lot of medical care? Is he/she emotionally stable? How many other children does the potential guardian already care for? Does he/she have a demanding job or a job that requires him/her to frequently travel? You wan to select someone who is going to be physically present and give your child the attention he/she needs – especially since your child will already be dealing with loss and grieving.
  1. Already established relationship with your child – Does the potential guardian already know your child and have an established relationship with him/her? Imagine being forced to live with someone you don’t know. Add on the stress of losing a parent. It’s imperative that your child know and be comfortable with the potential guardian.
  1. Location – Where does the potential guardian live? Is this somewhere you’d want your child to live? If you currently live in the city and your potential guardian lives in a small, remote town – would your child be happy and thrive? Does the potential guardian live in a good school district or are there good private schools nearby?
  1. Family values – Finding a potential guardian with the same family values can be challenging – but it’s perhaps one of the most important criteria to consider. Is this individual willing to instill and be supportive of your family values – especially if they do not mirror yours?
  1. Parenting style – Does the potential guardian believe in time outs? Is education important? Is the potential guardian strict or nurturing? You’ll want to choose someone who reflects your parenting style to minimize the stress and confusion on your child.
  1. Stable and loving – Selecting a guardian who can provide a stable environment for your child is critical – especially as your child will be grieving. Your child will look to the guardian for emotional and physical stability. Is the guardian in a stable relationship? Is his/her spouse open to being a guardian as well?
  1. Willing and want to serve as guardian – Taking on custody is a big responsibility. While some family members may love your child – assuming custody and providing for his/her every need is a different story. It’s important to have open and honest conversations about potential guardians to see if they want to serve as a potential guardian. Now is NOT the time to try and avoid hurt feelings. Your child’s well being and future is what’s most important.
  1. Character – Does your potential guardian have a court record of drug or alcohol abuse or a criminal history? If so, a court will reject and override your selected guardian. You want to select someone who will serve as a good role model for your child.
  1. Back up – Life happens. Your designated guardian may become incapacitated or have a change of heart upon your passing. It’s critical to have a back up potential guardian to ensure your child has a safe, loving and stable home.

It’s important to remember that a guardian is NOT required to financially support your child. As a result, it’s important when you’re setting up your will, trust or estate, to legally earmark funds for your child in a trust. Then, you will need to select an individual to oversee the disbursement of the money in the trust. This person is called a trustee. Often times, the trustee is different from your child’s guardian.

Selecting a guardian for your child can be a difficult decision – but it’s an important one. By legally documenting your wishes for your child/children, you help ensure that your loved ones are cared for and that a custody battle does not publicly play out in court.

Once you’ve carefully thought about and chosen a guardian for your child, we encourage you to consult with an attorney to help document your decision so that it becomes legally binding.

If you have questions or would like assistance, please contact DJ Jeyaram at DJ@Jeylaw.com or 678.325.3872

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