Protecting your children – Guardians
Guardians are people you appoint to look after your children in the event of your death. Your surviving spouse automatically assumes sole guardianship of your children. But you need to think of someone else to appoint as guardian if your spouse dies before you or if the worst comes to worst and both of you are to die together.
You may have close relatives – grandparents or a brother or sister – willing to look after your children when you’re gone. The courts may grant your close relatives guardianship without a hitch, but you can make their case more watertight if you name them as guardians in a will.
You can name more than one guardian or set of guardians. This provision is very useful if you want one set of relatives to look after your children during their early years and someone else to take over as they become teenagers, perhaps someone younger. You can also appoint a separate guardian for each of your children. If, for example, one child is close to one set of grandparents, while another child favours the other grandparents, you can split them up.
Remember that eighteen is the cut off-point for a child needing a guardian, as they are considered an adult instead.
Key questions to consider when choosing the right guardian:
Do they have experience of bringing up children?
Do they share your world-view, values and religious beliefs?
Are they able to take on the responsibility of taking care of your child, emotionally, financially and physically?
Does your child like the person, and feel comfortable with them?
Do they live close by? If the potential guardian lives far away it may prove really hard for your child to up and move, leaving their friends behind, particularly at such an upsetting time.
Does the person you’re considering have lots of children? Would your child get lost in the crowd or relish new siblings to play with?
If you have someone in mind to act as guardian, have a talk with them about everything you’d want them to do for your child. Tell them what you want but give them a way to refuse without any hard feelings. Being a guardian is a huge task!
Remember that not every parent is able to appoint a guardian. In order to appoint a guardian upon death, a parent must have had parental responsibility for the child. Ironically, not all parents have this responsibility. If, for example, the biological father has been absent from the child for years they may not have parental responsibility.
Parental responsibility means that you have legal duty to care for the child. You can apply to the courts for parental responsibility. Sometimes a survivor in a same-sex partnership applies for this so that the child of the deceased parent can live with them. In all cases, the court decides who has parental responsibility base on the best interests of the child.