The birth of a child brings enormous joy to a family. With that joy comes enormous responsibility. Caring for the child in the present becomes the parents’ primary concern. Eventually, choices are made as to who will care for the child when the parents are working or are otherwise unavailable. Thinking long-term brings the daunting question as to who will care for the child if the parents pass away before the child has reached adulthood.
Conversations about who the guardian of a child should be are important, but these discussions are not enough. Often, parents will reach casual agreements with friends or family regarding the care of their child if the parents pass away. The discussions and informal agreements are important steps, but the parents’ choice in this matter needs to be documented.
In the unfortunate circumstance that a child would require a guardian, the court will be involved to ensure that the best interests of the child are met. One of the first questions that the court will ask is, “What were the parents’ wishes regarding the guardianship of their child?” If the parents only expressed their wishes in conversations over the backyard fire pit, the court would not be able to consider this information when it reaches the crucial decision.
However, if the parents have clearly documented their first choice and alternate choices as to who they prefer to be guardian of their minor child, the court will be fully informed before making its decision. This documentation may be part of a complete estate plan or can be completed separately and kept with important papers or with the parents’ estate plan. It is this step that will empower parents to influence the court’s decision if they have unfortunately pre-deceased their minor child.
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