How Do I Choose A Guardian for My Children?

 Does this kid looks like he needs a special kind of guardian? Oh yeah.

Here’s the method I recommend. Each parent should go through this exercise individually as well as together. It’s vital to keep in mind that each of you will have different answers and none of them are wrong.

1. List 5 people you would allow to raise your kids. Go with your gut on this. Don’t think too much about it, just list the top five. You can add to it if someone springs to mind as you consider the factors we’ll list shortly. Don’t restrict yourself to immediate family members. Many times, the perfect guardian can be found among close friends and sometimes in the case of older children, families that your child knows well. Some parents have named co-workers and neighbors. The decision should not be based on relationship entirely but on who will do the best job at that point in your children’s lives.

2. Consider your values. What do you want your children to receive growing up with their guardians? Can your potential guardians raise your children in the way you would have raised them? Reflect on your potential guardians’:

  • Education and Life Experience. These tend to inform one’s own personal values and impact one’s financial security. What would the potential guardian teach your children and what types of experiences would she or he provide and/or encourage?
  • Religious or Spiritual Philosophies. Does the potential guardian understand yours and your spouse or partner’s religious or spiritual philosophies? Does she or he respect differences of opinion and practices? Do the potential guardians’ friends, neighbors, and extended family share that respect? Is it important to you that your children be raised in a particular faith or exposed to particular ethnic or religious traditions?

3. Consider practical matters. Raising kids is, if nothing else, a colossal give-fest. Raising someone else’s kids realistically is asking someone to commit to one of the most difficult jobs on the planet. When choosing your guardians ask yourself, and if puzzled, ask them about:

  • Parenting Philosophies. Include preferences regarding matters such as diet, sleeping, style of discipline, television viewing.
  • Relationship With Your Children. Evaluate the existence, quality, and nature of the potential guardian’s relationship with your children as well as the quantity of time she or he has spent with children. How do your children feel about her or him?
  • Location. Consider the impact and effects of moving on your children in the aftermath of losing both of their parents and how often your children would be able to see and visit with the friends and family with whom they have spent the most time and are most comfortable and familiar. Older children tend to be more rooted in their community. Will moving them disrupt them more than necessary? Have you considered local guardians—even if they are not related?
  • Age. Look at the ages of the potential guardian and her or his own family and how it relates to your children’s current approximate ages. Older siblings who have raised their children may not welcome the opportunity to do it again. Try not to take that as a personal affront. Be realistic about what it would feel like to finish raising your own children only to have to raise another family. If you’re determined to name your own parents, try to remember exactly what you were like as a teenager and see if that’s what you really want for your parents’ golden years.
  • Physical and Mental Health. Is the potential guardian and her or his present partner or spouse physically and mentally healthy? Do you have any concerns about the potential guardians abilities to care for your children? Do your children have any special needs that would require additional training, talent, resources, or inclination from your guardians?
  • Lifestyle and Circumstance. Is it important to you that the potential guardians be able to be “at home” at least part time with your minor children rather than, depending on their ages at the time, in full time care? Does the potential guardian have a lifestyle that would easily support the addition of children or would that be a drastic change and if so, is it a change the guardian would really want for her or his own life?
  • Your Children’s Preferences. To whom do your children exhibit a natural affinity and with whom (your family or friends) do they feel most comfortable? Depending on your children’s ages and maturity levels and without causing them undue anxiety, you may want to tactfully solicit their input. In Massachusetts, children ages 14 and older have a say, so be sure to ask them.
  • Avoid Making Financial Resources a Priority in Your Choice. Many parents choose a guardian based on their ability to support their kids financially. This is not a good criterion. Rather, providing for our children even in our absence is our responsibility so that our guardians need not worry about how they’re going to pay for the children they agree to raise. Ask me about ways to provide for your kids in your absence and remove this factor on your list.

4. Rank your values and your children’s practical needs in order of importance. Don’t worry if you and your child’s other parent do not match. That would be asking a lot of two individuals. Instead, decide to honor the differences between you that make your unique as well as those that bind you.  

5. Compare Your Two Sets of Rankings. Decide if any names are “out” and if any new ones have sprung to mind. 

6. Remain Calm and Make a Decision:

  • Rank potential guardians according to how closely they line up with your values and the practical considerations of raising your kids in your absence.
  • Compare your lists
  • Place common names in the order you’ve ranked them
  • Discuss names that do not appear on each other’s lists and why
  • Reconsider each other’s positions and adjust your list if necessary
  • Decide on three to four names, in order of preference

I have developed tested and proven techniques to help counsel my clients through what can sometimes be a very difficult and painful process.  If what’s holding you back from naming any guardians for your children is an inability to agree with your partner or spouse, delay no longer.  Sit down with me and I will help walk you gently through it to arrive at the best possible compromise to help you both achieve your ultimate goal – protecting the child or children you both love! 

7. Ask Your Potential Guardians If They Will Serve. By all means, do ask in advance if you possible or shortly thereafter. You can make a change if necessary. I often counsel clients to ask if the potential guardian would be willing to be listed as a potential among several nominees. That way, should you ever change your mind, you needn’t worry too much about hurt feelings. Be aware also, that nominees are volunteers and they can decline the honor if their life situation does not allow them to accept it. 

8. Document Your Ranking in the Form of a Nomination of Guardianship.  The legal process varies by state, so please be sure to talk with a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction to ensure that you do this in a way that will be legally binding and work as you intend it to work.  If you are a Massachusetts resident you can call my office at: (781) 740-0848 and ask to speak with my Client Liaison, Astrid A. Muhammad, about scheduling a Peace of Mind Planning Session with me to ensure that you understand what steps you need to take to legally and financially protect your children.  And in the meantime, you can sign up for my e-course on the 10 Mistakes Parents Make That Could Leave Their Children Legally and Financially Vulnerable.

Take some time now to go through this exercise and commit to a decision. You can—and should—change your nomination from time to time as your children change. Your kids’ guardian nomination is a foundational aspect to their well-being and there should always be one in place. The odds that the nomination will be called into service are low, but well worth the time to make sure your kids are cared for by the people YOU choose. No judge in the world can possibly make the decision with all the information you have and they can’t make the decision nearly as well as you can.

About Danielle G. Van Ess

Danielle G. Van Ess is a Massachusetts (born and raised), experienced estate planning and small business attorney who helps her clients protect and preserve what matters most to them. To learn more, please visit: or call: 781-740-0848

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