If you have children under the age of 18, it’s vital to have a Will that names a guardian just in case something happens to you. This avoids the potentially costly and lengthy process of requiring various family members to go to court and have the court try to determine the best guardian for your children.
In selecting a guardian, it’s important to understand exactly what a guardian does. A guardian enjoys the same legal authority and duties as a parent. Food, clothing, shelter, safety, education and medical care of the children are the responsibility of the guardian until they reach the age of 18.
Guardians educate children in the differences between right and wrong, help them with their homework, settle disputes between siblings and friends and later down the road, will help the children choose a college, help them move out and may even walk them down the aisle.
The probate court generally stays out of the guardian’s way and requires only an annual status report of how the children are coping with their new situation, whether or not they’ve changed addresses and any new changes that the court should know about. There are some things, however, that the guardian must ask permission of the court before doing with the children. If the guardian wished to relocate out of state, for example, they would first need to seek the court’s approval. A family member could also ask the guardianship to be terminated if they thought the guardian was not properly taking care of the child.
Guardians can also receive financial assistance to help support the child. If you set up a trust with your children as beneficiaries, however, their financial future can be secure. You may name the guardian as the trustee of the trust, or designate a separate person to serve as conservator and manage the children’s assets.
You can then turn over the trust funds to the child when they reach age 18, or set milestone ages or education goals throughout their lifetime for them to receive set amounts from the trusts.
An estate planning attorney can help you set up the proper financial accounts to ensure your children’s financial futures and help your named guardian provide the necessary care and nurturing of your child after you pass on.