If the question, "What would happen to my children if something happened to me?" has kept you up at night, you're not alone. It's a fear of many parents, but it's also one that needs to be tackled head on. You may have vague plans or talked to loved ones about emergency situations, or you may have put it to the back of your mind. Either way, you need to speak with an attorney to formalize your plans with the help of legal documents as part of your estate plan. You should approach the plan in two distinct time frames: short term and long term guardianship.
Most parents have some plan for who they would want to look after their child in an emergency and may have even reached out to them about it. A short-term guardianship (which is sometimes referred to as “temporary guardianship”) takes that vague plan and makes it legally binding. Executing short-term guardianship documents takes the ambiguity out of an emergency situation and allows the temporary agents to act in your children’s best interests to ensure that they feel safe during a scary time. This is a topic we talk a lot about with parents as a critical part of their estate plan. Make sure to check out our other blogs on the topic:
The next part of guardianship planning deals with a more permanent situation in which you are not able to raise your children to adulthood. By appointing long term guardians, you are ensuring that your children will be loved and cared for by the people that you want. This is often one of the toughest choices that parents face. Here are two things to think on:
Not only is it emotionally difficult to imagine a scenario in which you are no longer physically present in your children’s lives, but you may feel as though there is no “perfect” person to take over for you. Or perhaps you have many loving people in your life, and it feels impossible to choose between them; perhaps you feel that you have none. Keep in mind that it’s impossible to have a perfect long term guardian for your children, because YOU are the perfect guardian! You should focus on making the best possible choice given your unique circumstances, even if it feels difficult to do so.
Appointing long term guardians is an opportunity for you to explore the values that matter to your family. You should focus on choosing guardians who can raise your children in a similar environment and who share those priorities. It is helpful to talk through the strengths and weaknesses of potential guardians to determine who would be best suited to fulfill this critical duty. Learn more about picking the right long term guardian in my post, Why Naming Long Term Guardians is Essential, and Why It's So Hard.
Just as you need to think about who would make the best candidates for long term guardianship, you also need to think about whether there is anyone in your life who you would like to specifically exclude from that role. It is important for you to document these views in order to ensure that your children are cared for by the people you want. If you haven't already legally appointed your short and long term guardians, or if your current nominations need to be reviewed and updated due to changing circumstances, contact us at Mulhall Withrow. We're here to help with an initial consultation. Your family is your most precious asset – invest in them!