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Considerations in naming a guardian in a will

Many people think that estate planning is an issue relevant only to older people who are advancing in age. In reality, however, death sometimes strikes unexpectedly, even when people are young and in the prime of their lives. Thinking about estate planning and creating a will has numerous benefits beyond simply indicating who will receive the deceased individual's possessions. In fact, one of the most important parts of wills drafted by younger people is naming a guardian for children.

When thinking about potential guardians for one's children, there are many important considerations. Many people have a tough time making this decision because a "perfect" guardian may not exist. However, with careful planning, there are often ways to solve some of the problems that may arise when it comes to prospective guardians.

Because many people tend to raise their children the way they were raised, it is common for people to name their parents as guardians. One potential problem related to this choice, however, is that a grandparent who was healthy at the time the will was created may be quite elderly and physically unable to provide care at the time the need arises. In this situation, a parent who wishes to name a grandparent as a guardian in his or her will should also name an alternate guardian if the grandparent is unable to handle the responsibility and burden when the time comes.

Another issue may relate to whether a preferred potential guardian makes smart financial decisions. Parents who find themselves in this situation may choose to name the preferred individual as the guardian while also establishing a trust for the children to ensure that the children's financial interests are protected. The creator of a will generally has the freedom to make the choices he or she thinks are best, as long as they are clearly noted in the will. For example, if a parent wants to ensure that only the preferred guardian-and not his or her spouse-serves as guardian in the event a couple separates, the parent can name only the preferred guardian as guardian instead of the couple. Alternatively, some parents may wish for a couple to serve as a guardian only if they remain together as a couple. In such cases, a parent can clearly state such a preference and provide an alternate guardian in the event the couple has separated at the time the need arises.

Source: Program for Early Parent Support, "Nominating a Guardian," Megan Gebhardt, last accessed May 18, 2015

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