Have you considered who will take on the guardianship role for your children or family members with special needs if something happens to you?
It’s an important question, especially since appointing a guardian for your estate and children could mean the difference between financial longevity and major drama for your family’s future. Whilst power of attorney, living trusts and wills attract plenty of attention during the estate planning process, guardianship is an essential ingredient of any estate plan.
While it’s never easy to imagine others caring for your loved ones, it’s equally critical to pause and consider the difference planning ahead could make for their future welfare. Establishing clear values as a framework for decision-making is a good first step.
Guardianship helps address the needs of underage or special needs children as part of an estate plan. Failing to specify a legal guardian in your will assumes the risk of leaving this life-changing decision up to the court system. No single answer exists for all families and individuals in the guardianship process as needs, values, and support networks vary from family-to-family.
Here are some tips to help you choose a guardian:
Prepare for the Unexpected
In light of the nearly 500,000 deaths associated with COVID-19 as of publication time, the entire concept of planning for the unexpected becomes evident. Even national pandemics with unforeseen consequences cast light on the question: If disaster strikes and you’re affected, have you planned in assigning both a guardian and trustee to cover custodial and financial roles?
In fact, studies show that there’s an ever-increasing concern amongst guardians about their ability to meet the demands of guardianship in light of COVID-19. Among top takeaways is to develop a financial plan flexible enough to accommodate the demands of COVID-19 and “manage investments and financial affairs with increased vigilance during the pandemic,” according to a September 2020 study sponsored by the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging, National Center for State Courts and National Guardianship Association.
Prioritize Your Values
Deciding what matters most to you is an important first step when choosing the right guardian. Ranking values by priority establishes a master template upon which to weigh all of your options, taking into account characteristics such as:
– Physical well-being
– Financial stability
– Parenting abilities
– Emotional stability
– Family dynamics
– Time constraints
– Ethics and integrity
The list should be clear, concise, and as precise as possible. Consider writing priorities down on a sheet of paper, iPhone or another electronic device in order of importance. Keeping the list and communicating it with your partner will provide a way to get the conversation flowing. Listing values is also a visual, tangible reminder that you can return to for inspiration. You can do this before or during your consultation with a California estate planning lawyer.
Put Imperfections Aside
It’s highly unlikely your guardian will score 100% on every value. Putting imperfections aside and focusing on who best fits your top priorities can be a time-saving procedure.
Another alternative is writing down a shortlist of potential guardians you consider the best fit – and work from there. Either way, putting these ideas down on paper helps avoid the mental swirl that can occur when considering all of the overlying and life-changing factors associated with choosing a guardian.
Gauge Financial Competency
You may also want to weigh the guardian’s financial acumen since an estate plan is also designed to safeguard your assets. Put simply, the guardian’s duty will be to help protect your valued assets and prevent them from disappearing. Take education and medical expenses, for example: Do you see your potential guardian as fit to handle these financial complexities for your minor child or those with special needs?
Obviously, it would not be ideal to choose a guardian who would have great difficulty fulfilling their role as guardian when faced with unforeseen financial struggles. Will they have the proper skills to work with financial challenges as they may arise? Some other questions you can ask yourself are: Is this person’s job secure? Have they accrued financial debt, expenses, and obligations? Job security and debt are just two of many financial considerations to weigh when ascertaining if he/she is financially trustable.
Commitment to Agreement
Overarching all decisions should be a clearly understood commitment on behalf of the guardian. This involves clear communication with potential guardians about the roles and responsibilities you are expecting from them before making a final decision. Scheduling a Zoom meeting for one-on-one time is a great way to get the conversation going. It’s important to discuss things like, will this person provide adequate lifetime care or assistance? If not, will this person ensure my agreement is fulfilled? Is he/she willing and able to fulfill this role? Does he or she understand the state laws? When all parties have met ahead of time and are in agreement about what’s expected, clarity and peace-of-mind are achievable for everyone involved.
Consult with an Expert
Have questions? Consulting with a legal expert with a full suite of trust and estate legal services can help guide you when you’re choosing the best guardian for your children and those with special needs. There are a variety of other factors to consider when choosing a guardian, which may be best tackled with the help of an attorney consultation.
Lowthorp, Richards, McMillan, Miller & Templeman, APC’s Estate Planning Group provides preparation, implementation, and counseling for estate planning options that best serve you, your family, and your family’s business.
Cristian R. Arrieta
Lowthorp Richards McMillan Miller & Templeman
A Professional Corporation
300 E. Esplanade Drive Suite 850, Oxnard, CA 93036
NOTE: The information contained herein is not intended to be legal advice and the reader should know that no Attorney-Client relationship or privilege is formed by the posting or reading of this article which is also not intended to solicit business.