If you have children under the age of 18, you’ll want to take note. Have you ever considered how your kids would be cared for if something happened to you and your spouse? Many people assume that a close relative or family friend would simply take them in right away. However, without the proper documentation in place, this may not be the case.
Without a will or trust that designates a legal guardian, the care of your children would first be decided by the court. And while they make those decisions (which could be lengthy if family members disagree), your children would be put into protective custody — that means foster care. The most important thing you can do for your minor children is to make sure that if something happens to you, their care is provided for.
Many people avoid this decision because it’s painful to think about these scenarios, or the parents can’t agree on who the guardian should be. But consider this — think about how much time you devoted to researching the best stroller or school or doctor for your child. This decision should be made with just as much care, if not more.
We’ve shared some guidelines below to help get you on the right track and ensure your children can be placed in the care of a trusted legal guardian as quickly as possible.
- Talk with your spouse about selecting a guardian. Discuss who would be the right person to care for your kids. This might be a family member or even a close friend, keeping in mind that the court favors biological guardians.
- If you’re having difficulty agreeing, list out the qualities an ideal guardian would have, then prioritize them. For example:
a. Someone the children are familiar with
b. Ability to be nurturing and comforting
c. Shares similar values and ideals with you and your spouse
d. Capable of taking care of children (physically, psychologically, financially)
See if anyone from Step 1 best fits that profile. Considering these details may also help ease an inevitably difficult time for your children.
- Some family situations may not yet be fully protected under the law, so it’s important to draft legal documents that specify your wishes. This may apply to:
a. Same-sex couples with children, particularly if one partner is not listed on the birth certificate and/or has not legally adopted the children
b. Unmarried couples with children from prior relationships
c. Step-parents who have not legally adopted the children
- Select primary and secondary guardians, so you have alternates if your primary choice is unable to serve.
- To provide financial assistance for the care of your children, seriously consider using a trust to clearly outline those assets. Without one, a lengthy probate in court could keep these finances from getting to your kids when they may need them the most.
- Name both short-term and long-term guardians to ensure your kids are in the care of someone you trust as quickly as possible. If you go out for the evening, make sure the emergency contacts you leave for the babysitter include phone numbers for these guardians. So, if grandma needs to fly in from out of town, or the authorities have trouble locating one of them, you may be able to avoid waiting for a court decision if another guardian is easily available.
- Your emergency contact information should include the following details to ensure caregivers and authorities can get in touch with them as quickly as possible should anything happen:
a. Your location and a local phone number there
b. Mobile numbers for you and your spouse
c. Phone number(s) for a local trusted caregiver (this might be the short-term guardian above)
d. Phone numbers(s) for another trusted family member (this might be the long-term guardian above) — be sure to note if they are located out-of-town
e. Phone number for your child’s primary care physician
f. Location of the nearest 24-hour urgent care or emergency room
- In addition to emergency contacts, make a list of important information for your caregivers, including care instructions for your children, allergies or other medical needs, what to do in case of emergency.
- You may also want to prepare a simple short-term guardian form for caregivers, trusted friends or local family, so they have the authority to act in the child’s best interest, including medical care.
- Be sure your guardians are aware they have been named, and that they are willing to serve in that capacity. This kind of commitment is not something you want to come as a surprise, especially in the midst of an emergency situation.
These are just some of the things you can do to protect your family and ensure your children are in the care of those you know and trust. Speak with your advisor to go over any additional considerations and prepare a comprehensive plan.