Thursday 15 August 2013

How to Choose a Legal Guardian for your Child

Disclaimer: I was compensated for writing this post, but all words and thoughts are my own.

It’s not really something I like to think about very often, but occasionally I become gripped with fear that something terrible will happen and Ebony will be left without parents. I can remember worrying as a child that something terrible might happen to my parents (I may have some kind of death related mental strangeness), but was calmly reassured by my dad that we had legal guardians in place to cover such a disaster. It didn’t make me feel much better, but I’m sure it gave my parents peace of mind that something was in place for if the worst should ever happen.

Trying to decide who should be your child’s legal guardian isn’t much fun. In fact, if you are as emotional and anxious as I am, it can be slightly traumatising. But, if you don’t choose a legal guardian, then the courts will make the decision in the event of your death. I believe that I will do a much better job than the courts, so I’m not leaving it to chance.

A legal guardian will look after your child in the event of your death, and can also take control of any finances until your child is 18. Some people choose to elect two separate guardians; one to control the finances and the other to raise the child.

The right person for the job
Firstly, I don’t think anyone in the world could do as good a job of raising Ebony as my husband and I. Not my mum, not my brother in law, and not my best friend. I know that no-one would make the exact choices that we would, and that makes this decision so much harder. You need to choose the next best person available for your child.You may also wish to name a backup guardian, just in case. Here are some things to consider:
  • parenting styles - this is so important. All parents believe their choices to be the right ones, so make sure your second in line shares your parenting values. I try to parent in a natural/unconditional/attachment style, so I wouldn’t want my daughter to end up being raised with someone who holds contradictory views. I can’t even begin to imagine leaving her with someone who might smack.
  • values, religion and ethics - if you’re religious, it makes sense that you would want your child to be raised by people with the same religious beliefs. We’re not religious, but we are vegan and I want Ebony to be raised understanding the importance of this and the reasons behind it. I want veganism to be normal to her, and I want her to feel a part of a wider vegan community. Our morals and ethics are also important to us, so I wouldn’t want to place her with someone who didn’t agree with them.
  • who is most able - having a child is a big commitment; financially, emotionally and physically. You need to choose someone who is most capable of providing the right care. Will the grandparents be too old to care for your child in 10 years time? Will your friends be able to financially and emotionally support your child?
  • the right fit - the guardian needs to be someone your child already knows and trusts, a person who is already an important part of their life. Does the person have a family of their own, and how would that affect the guardianship? Will the guardian have enough time to dedicate to your child? Do they live nearby, or would your child be moving to another part of the country to live with them?

You and your partner should talk through the above points and create a list of potential guardians. Once you have this list, it’s time to start talking to people about whether they would be willing to be a legal guardian for your child. You may find that some people are pleased to be asked and happy to take on this role, whereas others may feel they cannot commit to it. It is a big ask, so don’t be offended if you are turned down. You should talk through what you would expect from a guardian, and what the legal responsibilities are. Of course, you are unlikely to ever need a guardian, but it is important that they fully understand what they are committing to.

The legal bit
You can include details of who you wish to be the guardian in your will, or you can draw up a separate legal guardian document. You should use a legal firm such as Breens Solicitors to do this.

You should write a letter detailing your hopes for your child to include in the will. Include things like the type of education you would like them to have, and the values you think are important. As with all things, these may change over time, so be sure to read your letter back every couple of years to make sure it is still relevant.

Have you chosen a legal guardian for your child, and if so, do you have any tips on how to make the decision process easier?

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