APPOINTING A GUARDIAN FOR A MINOR CHILD
One of the toughest decisions that parents face when preparing a Will is who should be appointed as guardian of the children should both parents pass away when the children are still minors. Many clients even cite this as a reason for procrastinating in preparing an estate plan. As difficult as it may be to imagine someone else raising your child, it is better to plan ahead and make provisions as to who you wish to name as guardian of your children in the unlikely event that both parents pass away at the same time or if there is currently only one parent alive. By taking certain factors into consideration it is possible to choose an appropriate guardian who will care for your children to the greatest extent possible, in the same way that you would have, and will be someone whom you have appointed rather than a court.
Under Pennsylvania law, a parent may appoint a guardian for a minor child (under age 18) by naming such individual in his/her Will. When a guardian for a minor child is named in a Will a court will give preference to that individual, but will still look to the best interests of the child to ensure that the named guardian is an appropriate and responsible individual. It is therefore important to give careful consideration as to who should be named as guardian of a minor child. There are several factors to weigh in determining who will be the best person to raise your child in the unfortunate event that you pass away:
- Consider the age of the guardian whom you appoint. If the individual is considerably older, such as a grandparent, it is possible that the guardian may not be in good health or just may be too frail or elderly to care for a child. Perhaps a sibling or close friend would be a better choice when taking age into consideration.
- Another factor to consider is choosing a guardian with the same parenting style that you have. Most parents will want the person that raises their child to have the same views as they do in terms of discipline, involvement in the child’s life, and schooling, etc.
- Religion is another consideration. It may be very important to a parent that the child be raised a certain religion and appointing a guardian who does not practice the same religion may make it very difficult for the guardian to follow through with those wishes.
- Also important is the financial situation of the guardian whom you wish to name. Will they be financially able to care for a child? If they already have several children will it be a financial burden to take on raising another child? You may wish to consider establishing a trust via your Will for the benefit of a minor child to help provide for their health, education, maintenance, and support.
- Consider the location of the guardian. Do they live in the same school district or close to the particular school where you want your child to attend school. Does the guardian live nearby to other family members so that your child can maintain a close relationship with grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.
- Probably one of the most important things to consider is whether your child will be happy and comfortable with the guardian. Obviously, it would not be in the child’s best interests to choose someone whom your child dislikes or does not interact well with presently.
Once you decide whom you wish to name as guardian it is a good idea to discuss it with the person that you choose, and to make sure that they will agree to take on the role of guardian. You may also want to name a back up guardian in the event the person whom you choose is not available or is unable to act as guardian for any reason. It is always wise to revisit your choice of guardian every few years to make sure that nothing has changed in your life, or in the potential guardian’s life circumstances making it necessary to choose a different guardian. Careful planning and consideration can make choosing a guardian a less stressful experience and less complicated should the need arise.