Choosing a Legal Guardian is Difficult
I recently spoke with 12 young professional families about guardian selection. It was unanimous among the families that wills and guardianship were important family decisions. Despite that, most families had not drafted a will, created a family trust, or named legal guardians.
8 of the 12 families had selected a guardian, but only 4 of those 8 had formalized their decision in a will or trust. Creating one fixed choice for guardian, a surrogate parent, is a complex decision to say the least. For many of the families I interviewed, the emotional component of the guardian decision was the reason for their indecision and delay. Guilt, fear, and the unknown had paralyzed their selection process.
There Isn’t Anyone to Choose
Some families had too many choices, and others had too few. As a few of the parents looked around each side of their families, there was a noticeable lack of possible candidates.
One parent commented, “Siblings seem like the probable choice from an age perspective but may prioritize a natural loyalty to their own kids. Family doesn’t always share the same outlook on life or parenting styles.” Another family concluded, “Friends are the family we choose.”
One young family struggled selecting a guardian because neither parent had a sibling qualified for the responsibility of raising their children: one with serious medical struggles, and another with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This family chose the maternal grandmother due to her familiarity with and love for the children.
I often envy those with deep pools of potential candidates. But even if your options are slim, you need to decide who will take care of children according to your wishes, and then formalize that decision in a will or family trust.
Be Proactive About Guardian Selection
After discussing guardianship with many families, I found that this decision process needs to be proactive. Write it down. Map it out. Be systematic. Discuss and decide.
For me and my family the process looked like this:
- My husband and I came to a consensus about our most important family values.
- We listed all possible candidates from the pool of family and friends.
- We discussed each candidate relative to our family values and made the best decision we could with the information available and the beliefs we hold important.
Let’s be real. Regardless of what is written down or how a spreadsheet outlines selection criteria, it’s still a complicated decision. Excel can’t calculate emotions. Columns and cells don’t factor in the unknown. It’s a personal decision, and each family’s process will differ. Here are a few ideas that have helped other families:
- Make a spreadsheet
- Understand emotional blocks
- Set aside time
- Create lists
- Have discussions
- Survey family members
- Connect with friends
- Create a will and/or trust
I like written lists, and my husband likes Excel. He took my lists and created columns and cells. However you go about it, the important thing is to find a process that works for you.
Every Family is Different
We each come from different backgrounds, and hold different values, but there is one thing we all share: we love our kids and want what is best for them. Although there may not be a perfect choice, there can be a best choice for now. It’s also a choice that can be changed, if better options arise down the road.
The difficulty of this decision is real, and thankfully the likelihood of it being necessary is slim. Nonetheless, parents across all my interviews believed it was important. I believe it’s important.
I believe that choosing a guardian and creating a will and trust to ensure your wishes are followed is important, because one of our primary roles as parents is to love and protect our kids no matter what. As parents we are called to teach and guide them in the face of adversity and challenge. Choosing a guardian falls right in the middle of this parental call and obligation, to love and protect.
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