One of the most important decisions in estate planning is determining who should be named to care for your minor children (children under age 18–21, depending on the state in which you live). This situation would be important if both you and the child(ren)'s other parent are both deceased. The person you appoint is called the "guardian." You may think that this situation is unlikely if both you and the other parent are young and still healthy, but you should still plan for the possibility of an accident or other tragedy striking both of you at the same time.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Without the proper estate plan in place, the courts might select guardians that you would not have chosen. Even if you leave informal evidence of your wishes (an oral agreement or notes on a piece of paper), the courts are not bound to follow this. Act now to protect the future of your children.
SUGGESTION: Always appoint successors in case the person you select cannot serve or predeceases you. Always talk to the people you choose before selecting them in order to gauge their willingness to serve.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If possible, try not to pick someone as guardian who lives in a different part of the country. Your child may be old enough to have established roots in his or her home area. If he or she just lost his or her parents, a move across country may simply be too stressful.
SUGGESTION: If you are naming a person who is married to serve as guardian, do not list the spouse as guardian. The guardian and spouse may be divorced when you die, and who would have custody of your child may be unclear. This could provoke a legal battle, thus placing even more stress on your child. If you feel strongly about both husband and wife as guardians for your child, consider naming one as guardian and the other as the alternate if your first choice is unable or unwilling to serve.
Whom Should You Select as Guardian for Your Minor Child?
SUGGESTION: In addition to your will, make a videotape leaving directions and instructions to the guardian on how you would like to see your child raised. Although not legally binding, it would be an invaluable reference for the guardian during difficult times.