One of the major reasons people write a will is to be able to appoint a guardian for their children, pets or disabled adult dependents — in case something happens to them. That said, it's not easy to look into the hypothetical future and consider who would be the best candidate for this critical role.
Things to know about choosing a guardian
- You can always change your mind down the road if relationships change. You will just need to make a new will and make sure old copies are destroyed. Without a will that explains guardianship, the court will decide who takes care of your dependents.
- You can state additional provisions—some informal, others legally binding—that outline specific requests for the care of your children, such as schools or how you want them to be raised (e.g. religion).
- If a couple is appointed as guardians, you should specify who should be the guardian if they divorce.
- You should specify a temporary guardian, such as a friend or neighbor, if it may take your permanent guardians a while to arrive and take custody of your children.
- You can appoint someone as the guardian of your child, and another person as the financial guardian of their inheritance.
- You should discuss this responsibility with your chosen guardian to make sure they would be comfortable and able to take on this role if needed.
- If you divorce, you and your divorced spouse should have your own will that lists assets, life insurance and other benefits that would go to supporting your children. Generally, unless there is some complicating circumstance, guardianship of the children will go to the surviving parent. You may wish to both specify an agreed upon guardian in your wills in the event you both die before your children become legal adults.
Choosing the right guardian
- Does this person share similar values?
- Can I trust this person to put the best interest of my child first?
- Has this person demonstrated responsibility and reliability in the past?
- Is this person financially stable? Would they be wise with any finances I might bestow from my estate for the care of my kids?
- Is this person highly likely to have major life changes that would impact their ability to take on this role? (e.g. military enlistment, kids of their own, progressing chronic illness)
Guardianship of pets
You need to make provisions for Fifi and Fido too. No one wants their pet to be taken to the animal shelter if it can be avoided. While you cannot directly leave pets money, you can name a person as your pet’s guardian and leave them money to help with the costs of future care. Talk with your chosen pet guardian to make sure they would be willing to take on this responsibility if needed.
Guardianship of adults
You may currently have guardianship of another adult who is unable to make legal and other decisions on their own. This may be an ageing parent with dementia, a spouse with a serious medical issue, or an adult living with cognitive disabilities. Talk with your chosen guardian to make sure they would be willing to take on this responsibility if needed. Care of an adult tends to require a fair bit of financial resources. You may want to consider a life insurance policy that would be accessible to your chosen guardian for the care of your dependent(s) if something happens to you.
Once you've decided on a guardian
If you've talked to your chosen guardian and gotten their verbal commitment, it's time to put it in writing in a will. Depending on the size and complexity of your estate, you may wish to see an estate attorney or create your own will online. Make sure you take the proper steps to make your will legal in your state. Make sure someone you trust has access to your most up-to-date will. You can accomplish this by uploading your legal will to a free Cake account and share access with your trusted person. Make sure they have the contact information for your chosen guardian.