In some cases, the guardianship conversation is simple.
“Will you be my kids’ guardian if my spouse and I die?”
Boom. You’re done.
However, it’s not always going to be that simple. In fact, it’s often a good sign if your top guardian pick wants some additional information—it’s a sign that he or she understands the gravity of the responsibility for caring for your children if you die.
Explain Why You Choose Him/Her
One of the things it’s good to address in the guardianship conversation is your reasoning for choosing this person. This is especially true if you’re choosing a friend rather than, for example, your only sibling, as was my case. Make the case for why that person would be a good parent for your child if you were to die.
Talk about Money
Raising a child (or children) can be expensive. Unexpectedly adding one or several children to a household could mean expenses for everything for a larger car to more groceries. It’s a good idea to address what steps you’ve taken to ensure that your kids will be taken care of financially. Do you have life insurance? Do you have an estate that will be left for the kids? What would happen to your house, if you own a home?
This can help alleviate fears about the financial burden, and can also show how serious you are about protecting your child’s interests even after your death.
Don’t Look For Immediate Response
Agreeing to be the guardian for a friend or family member’s child is a big responsibility, so it’s normal to have to think about it or for someone to want to consult with his or her spouse before agreeing. Don’t expect an immediate response or feel insulted or discouraged if you don’t get one. Again, taking time to say yes is actually a good sing—it signals that this person understands how big of a responsibility this is.
Prepare For a “No”
No matter how meticulously you’ve vetted your guardian choice, he or she might say no. The whole point of having this conversation now is to prevent your children from going to someone who doesn’t really want to take care of them. There are hundreds of reasons your top choice for guardian could decide they don’t want the responsibility, and it’s important to respect that decision. If your top guardian pick declines, that’s ok… because you have a backup guardian, right? You’ll just make him or her the primary guardian, and choose another backup.
Have a Backup and Talk to Them Too
When selecting a guardian, you should have two back ups. They should be willing to become guardian in the (very unlikely) event that your selected guardian is unwilling or unable to be guardian (for example, if he or she dies before you). You can use Tomorrow to select a primary and back-up guardians. You need to talk to this person too, and explain that he or she is the backup guardian if both parents die and the selected guardian is unwilling or unable to serve.
Once you’ve had the conversation, make sure that you put the legal framework in place by name a guardian and a backup guardian in your will. I also made sure that my sister and my brother-in-law both have copies of the will. That way, if I die my sister will be immediately able to prove that she is my daughter’s legal guardian, without waiting for someone else to produce the will. But since I’ve talked to both her and my brother-in-law, I’m confident that my daughter will be in good hands even if I’m not around.