Most people think that planning for their child’s future involves college funds. But if you were to die long before they make it to college, particularly if you are a single parent, what would happen to your children? Who would they live with? Who would make those important decisions for them?
It’s a terrible thing to think about, but it happens every day. Thousands of children in the US become orphans for one reason or another, and left to the courts to decide their future. Without a will—and a named guardian in place—the state of Texas will decide who will be taking care of your children until they become adults, starting with relatives.
A judge will not know your children and your family the way you do, and understand your family’s dynamics. The person that the court chooses might not be the person you would have chosen, and maybe even the person your children hate. That’s why it’s very important to put your wishes in writing, and name the person or persons who will take responsibility for your children if they ever need it. Otherwise, the court will place them with the closest relative available, which may not work out well.
There are a number of factors that go into selecting your children’s “replacement parents.” Your first thought may be your own parents, but you will have to consider if they have the capacity to take care of them. If they are in ill health or handicapped, becoming guardians would create a hardship, and they would not be able to adequately care for them.
If you (or your spouse) have siblings, you may also consider them. As with parents, you will need to make sure they have the capacity and the resources to care for your children, especially if they have their own.
Another factor is how well your children get along with their grandparents, aunts and uncles. If the relationships are fraught with conflict, naming them as guardians may not be the right choice for your children, and could find them in foster care.
An alternative would be to select non-relatives who share your values, such as a family friend, who your children have a good relationship with, and would thrive if they were placed with them. Ensure that the friend is able and has adequate resources for caring for your children if the need arises.
Once you’ve chosen a guardian, have a talk with them about the possibility of becoming your children’s guardians to make sure they are willing to do so.
Choosing a guardian is also a decision that should be based on practical elements. Questions you should ask yourself when selecting a guardian include:
- Is this person of legal age? (A minor can’t be the guardian of another minor.)
- Is he or she up to the challenge of taking on my children, potentially along with their own?
- What are their moral and religious beliefs?
- Does he or she have a home big enough to take care of them?
- Will my children be able to visit and be visited by family members?
- Will living with this individual require my children to move away from family and friends?
- Would this guardian have the resources to care for my children if there aren’t enough financial assets?
If circumstances change, you can change your children’s guardian in your will. For that reason, it’s also a good idea to have more than one guardian named.
Understandably, making a will and naming a guardian for your children is an extremely difficult decision, and the process can make it even more daunting. But think about the possibility of your children having an unknown future with someone they don’t know, don’t like, or worse, being placed into foster care, possibly separated. It’s not a pleasant picture. Writing a will and naming your children’s guardians is one of the best things you can do for them should the need arise.
Once you’ve finished this task, you’ll feel better knowing that your children will be well cared for if you are not there for them anymore.
Fort Worth’s Compassionate Family Law Attorney
Wendy L. Hart is both an experienced family law attorney as well as an estate planning attorney. She understands how important it is to make sure your children are not only provided for, but well cared for in the event you can’t.