One of your most important responsibilities as a parent is to select and legally document guardians for your children. This doesn’t mean just naming godparents or trusting the grandparents will step in if necessary. It means consciously deciding who would raise your children if you cannot. And then it means legally documenting your choices and making sure the people you’ve chosen know what to do if they’re ever called upon.
However, most people have no idea how to even start this process, much less create a legally binding plan. Because of this, many parents simply never get around to doing it. And those who do often make one of several common mistakes—even if they’ve worked with a lawyer.
Why? Because most lawyers haven’t been trained properly to help parents with this vital issue.
As a result, unless you’ve worked with us or another trained Personal Family Lawyer®, it’s likely your children are extremely vulnerable to being taken out of your home and placed in the care of strangers. This might be temporary, while the authorities figure out what to do, or they could end up being raised to adulthood by someone you’d never choose.
Even if you don’t have any minor children at home, please consider sharing this article with any friends or family who do—it’s that important. While it’s rare for something to happen to both parents of a minor child, it does occur, and the consequences are simply too severe to not take a few simple steps to select and legally name guardians the right way.
To help with this process, we’ve outlined some basic steps to select and name a legal guardian. Regardless of whether you own any other assets or wealth, it’s vital to complete this process immediately, so you know that who you care about most—your kids—will be cared for the way you want, no matter what.
⇒ We’ve even created an easy-to-use website, where you can go through these steps to create legal documents naming guardians for the long-term care of your children, absolutely free. Do it here now: estateplanpros.kidsprotectionplan.com
1. Define your ideal candidate
The first step in selecting a guardian is to come up with a list outlining the qualities and attributes you and your partner value most when it comes to the long-term care of your children. The list can mirror your own parenting philosophy and style, as well as list the qualities that would make up your absolute “dream” guardian.
In addition to qualities like parental values, discipline style, religious/spiritual background, kindness, and honesty, you also need to consider more practical matters. Is the person young enough and physically capable of raising your kids to adulthood? Do they have a family of their own, and if so, would adding your kids to the mix be too much?
Geography should also come into play—do they live nearby, and if not, would it be a major hardship to relocate your children? Is their home in a location you would feel comfortable having your kids grow up in?
One thing you may think you should consider is financial stability, and that’s a frequent misconception. However, the people you name as legal guardians for your children are the people making decisions for their healthcare and their education, but they don’t need to be the ones managing your children’s financial needs.
Ideally, you’ll leave behind ample financial resources for your children and the people raising them. You can do this by establishing a trust for those resources and naming a financial guardian, or trustee, to oversee them. Please contact us for help with that, as there are many options to consider.
2. Make a list of candidates
Based on those parenting qualities, start compiling a list of people in your life who match your ideals. Be sure to consider not only family, but also close friends.
Though you may feel obligated to choose a family member, this decision is about what’s best for your children’s future, not trying to protect someone’s feelings. And if you’re having trouble coming up with enough suitable candidates, try coming up with people who you would definitely NOT want as guardians, and work backwards from there.
Or consider the person a judge would likely select if you didn’t make your own choice and whether there are any other people you’d prefer to raise your children.
3. Select first responders (temporary guardians)
In addition to legally naming long-term guardians, you also need to choose someone in your local area to be a “first responder,” or temporary guardian. This is someone who lives near you and who’s willing to immediately go to your children during a time of crisis and take care of them until the long-term guardian is notified and appointed by the court pursuant to your long-term guardianship nomination.
If your children are in the care of someone like a babysitter without legal authority to have custody of them, the police will have no choice but to call Child Protective Services and take your children into the care of the authorities. From there, you children could be placed in the care of strangers until your named long-term guardian shows up, or until the court decides on an appropriate guardian.
This is an area where plans that only name a legal guardian through a Will typically fail. Beyond naming just a long-term guardian, you need a short-term, temporary guardian who’s named as the first responder and knows exactly what to do if something happens to you.
Once you’ve chosen your long-term guardian, it’s imperative that all temporary caretakers know exactly how to contact them. This precaution is not just about your death—it also covers your incapacity and any other situation when you’re unable to return home for a lengthy period of time.
Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on selecting and naming the right guardians for your kids.
Discussing death can be awkward, and many people would prefer just to ignore estate planning altogether. However, ignoring—or even putting off—such planning can be a huge mistake, as these celebrity stories will highlight.
The next time one of your relatives tells you they don’t want to talk about estate planning, share these famous celebrities’ stories to get the conversation started. Such cautionary tales offer first-hand evidence of just how critical it is to engage in estate planning, even if it’s uncomfortable.
The Marley Family Battle
You would think that with millions of dollars in assets—including royalties offering revenue for the indefinite future—at stake, more famous musicians would at least have a will in place. But sadly, you’d be wrong. Legendary stars like Bob Marley, Prince, and Jimi Hendrix failed to write down their wishes on paper at all.
Not having an estate plan can be a nightmare for your surviving family. Indeed, Marley’s heirs are still battling one another in court three decades later. If you do nothing else before you die, at least be courteous enough to your loved ones to document your wishes and keep them out of court and out of conflict.
Paul Walker Died Fast and Furious at Just 40
While Fast and Furious actor Paul Walker was just 40 when he died in a tragic car accident, he had enough forethought to implement some basic estate planning. His will left his $25 million estate to his teenage daughter in a trust and appointed his mother as her legal guardian until 18.
But isn’t 18 far too young for a child to receive an inheritance of any size? Walker would have been far better advised to leave his assets in an ongoing trust, with financial education built in to give his daughter her best shot at a life well lived, even without him in the picture.
Most inheritors, like lottery winners, are not properly educated about what to do after receiving an inheritance, so they often lose their inheritance within just a few years, even when it’s millions.
Indeed, none of us has any clue when we’ll die, only that it will happen, so no matter how young you are or how much money you have—and especially if you have any children—don’t put off estate planning for another day. You truly never know when it’ll be needed.
Heath Ledger Didn’t Update His Estate Planning
Even though actor Heath Ledger created a will shortly after becoming famous, he failed to update it for more than five years. The will left his entire fortune to his parents and sister, so when he died unexpectedly in 2008, his young daughter received nothing, as she hadn’t been added to the will. Fortunately, his parents made sure their granddaughter was provided for, but that might not always be the case.
Creating an estate planning strategy is just the start—be sure to regularly update your documents, especially following births, deaths, divorces, new marriages, acquiring new assets, or retiring. Many estate plans fail because most lawyers don’t have built-in systems for updating your estate plans, but we do—mostly because we don’t want this to happen to your family.
Paul Newman Cut Out His Daughters Too
Though it’s a good idea to regularly update your estate plan, be sure your heirs know exactly what your intentions are when making such updates, or your family might experience significant shock by not knowing why you did what you did.
The final update to Paul Newman’s will, which was made just a few months before his death in 2008, left his daughters with no ownership or control of Newman’s Own Foundation, his legendary charity associated with the Newman’s Own food brand. Prior versions of Newman’s will— and indeed his own personal assurances to his family—indicated they’d have membership on the foundation’s board following his death.
Instead, the final version of his will left control of the foundation to his business partner Robert Forrester. Some allege that during his final months when Newman was mentally unstable, he was secretly persuaded to change his estate plan to leave control of the Newman’s Own brand and foundation to Forrester. Newman’s daughters are currently fighting Forrester in court over the rights they believe they’re entitled to receive.
While changes to your estate plan may seem perfectly clear to you, make sure your family is on the same page by clearly communicating your intentions. In fact, if you are making significant changes to your plan, and your children are adults, we often recommend a full family meeting to go over everything with all impacted parties, and we often facilitate such meetings for our clients.
Muhammad Ali Made His Wishes Clear
Boxing great Muhammad Ali wanted multi-day festivities to be held in his honor, including a large festival, an Islamic funeral, and a dazzling public memorial at the KFC headquarters in Louisville, KY. Given such elaborate plans, he worked with his lawyers for years, ensuring his wishes would be properly carried out.
While you probably won’t need a multi-day festivity to celebrate your life, you may have wishes regarding how your life should be memorialized when you pass or how your care should be handled if you’re incapacitated. If you eat a special diet or want certain friends by your side while incapacitated, you have to make these wishes clearly known in writing or they very well might not happen. At the same time, you should spell out exactly how you want your remains cared for and what kind of memorial service, if any, you prefer.
As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help ensure your final wishes are carried out exactly how you want. But more importantly, we’ll help protect your family and keep them out of conflict and out of court in the event of your death or incapacitation. With a Personal Family Lawyer® on your side, you’ll have access to the exact same estate planning strategies and protections that A-List celebrities use, so don’t wait another day—contact us now to get started!