The Difference Between Guardians and Godparents

Kaycee Cuaira

guardians and godparents

For many people, especially those who are Christian, having godparents for their children is an important part of their support system.

Godparents are traditionally expected to be involved in the lives of their godchildren, giving gifts on birthdays and participating in important family events. Even non-Christians and non-religious people assign godparents to guide their children: my best friend still considers herself to be my children’s godmother.

However, when considering your estate plan and thinking about your future, you might be wondering if godparents have any legal right to taking care of or parenting your children should something happen.

The Difference Between Legal Guardians and Godparents

Who takes the kids if both parents die?

Don’t assume that your kids’ godparents are on the hook for anything in the eyes of the law. Having godparents is a purely informal arrangement that, fulfilling it may be, is not legally binding in any way.

The easy answer (and solution!) is whoever is named as guardian in your will. If both parents die with no will and no provision for legal guardians for their minor children, then it gets sticky. A judge will appoint a guardian. Depending where you live, anyone that claims a connection to the child can request to be the guardian. There could be a fight in court over guardianship among family and friends. Or, alternatively, there could be no one fighting for guardianship. Neither situation is ideal.

Naming a guardian is one of the hardest decisions you will make when it comes to your estate plan, but it is important to get it done rather than taking too long to decide and not making a plan for guardianship at all.

Can godparents be named as legal guardians?

Yes, absolutely. Godparents could be a great fit as legal guardians, especially if they are involved in your kids’ lives, and are willing and able to raise them if necessary.

However, don’t feel pressured to make godparents your kids’ legal guardians—the important thing is that you choose someone who you feel comfortable with as a possible guardian. Things to keep in mind are where the potential guardians reside (e.g. will the kids need to move?), and if they will be up to the task considering their age, financial status, values and health. The godparents may be a logical choice for you to name as your kids’ potential legal guardian, but that may not be the case for you and your family.

Do godparents have visitation rights if the parents die?

If you do not name godparents as legal guardians and something happens to you, don’t godparents have legal rights and responsibilities, especially in regard to visitation of your child? Not at all. If you would like your kids godparents to also be named as legal guardians should something happen to you, then put it in writing. In some states, godparents may be allowed to request guardianship or visitation, but they are unlikely to be the first choice if there are family members who are willing and able to fill that role.