We associate March with St. Patrick’s Day and Irish traditions such as searching for four-leaf clovers, which are thought to bring good luck. One thing that parents should never leave to luck is providing for their minor children. Young parents work hard to create a wonderful life for their children and pass on wealth to them in the future, but they also need to create a plan for their children’s care if something happens to them. If you are a parent, it is difficult for you to think about having your young children grow up without you, but you need to recognize that lack of planning for this possibility could be disastrous for your children.
Choose someone you trust to provide day-to-day care for your children
If one parent dies or becomes incapable of caring for your children, their other parent will likely continue to have physical custody of the children and responsibility for their care. However, it is crucial for you to name a guardian who will step into your shoes to provide day-to-day care for your children in the event that something happens to both of you. If you do not name a person you trust, a court will step in to appoint someone. Because the person the court chooses to be your children’s guardian may not be the person you would have chosen, it is vitally important to designate this person in advance in your will or in a separate document. Although the court will still have to appoint the guardian, it will typically defer to your wishes.
There are two types of guardians you should consider nominating in your estate plan:
● Permanent guardian
A permanent guardian is appointed by the court to care for children whose parents are both deceased or are otherwise no longer able to care for them. The permanent guardian steps into the parents’ shoes to provide for the children’s educational, religious, legal, medical, and day-to-day care until they reach the age of majority in your state (often age eighteen or twenty-one). As mentioned, to avoid leaving your children’s fate to a court with no input from you, you can name the person you want to care for your children in your will or a separate document specifically addressing guardianship.
● Temporary guardian
You can choose a person you trust to act as a caregiver for your children for a limited time period by choosing a temporary guardian in writing. That person will care for your children if you are temporarily unavailable, for example, if you become very ill and need to be hospitalized or are away for an extended trip. You can authorize the guardian to make decisions and take actions that you, as their parent, would normally handle, such as consenting to medical treatment or enrolling them in school. A temporary guardianship is usually only effective for a period of six months to a year, depending on state statute. If you would like to have it effective longer, you will need to sign a new form when the original one expires.