Q: Do I need to name a legal guardian for my children?
A: As parents, we would do anything to protect our children. We buy the best and safest car seat, the best strollers, we make sure they attend the best schools and receive the best education possible. But what if something happens to you? Have you done what you need to do to protect your children? Have you made plans to best prepare your children for a future without you? No parent wants to think about not being around to raise their children. I get it. It’s a scary thought. But what is scarier, is NOT thinking about it. If you do not decide proactively what will happen to your children if anything happens to you, a court will decide for you. The problem with that is the court doesn’t know your children. While the judge is obligated to consider the best interests of your child when appointing a legal guardian, the judge won’t know your children like you do.
As a parent, I want to be the one to decide who will raise my children if I cannot. I have worked hard to raise my children a certain way. Naming a legal guardian ensures that your children are raised by the person you want, in the way you want. When you name a legal guardian, you take the control into your own hands. You name the person/couple you trust, love and know would care for your children the way you want your children to be raised. You get to choose the guardian with whom your children have a close relationship, a guardian who has a similar parenting philosophy, similar moral and values, similar religious beliefs and a similar discipline style as you.
I have clients who tell me they know exactly what would happen to their children… “My sister (mother, brother, etc.) would raise my kids.” However, they do not have legal documentation in place to ensure their sister (mother, brother, etc.) would become their children’s legal guardian. The truth is, unless you have legal documentation in place, you don’t know who would raise your children if anything happens to you. That is why, if you have minor children at home, you need to have legal documentation in place naming a legal guardian to raise your children if anything happens to you.
Naming a guardian for your children can also help alleviate unnecessary confusion and conflict that could result if more than one family member petitions the court to become guardian of your children.
This is not an uncommon issue. This is what happened to the Barber Family. The Barbers were a young family from Southern California with three sons. The Barbers took their family on a road trip to Arizona and were involved in a fatal car accident. The parents passed away and all three children survived. They were placed in foster care until a relative came to get them. What happened next could have been avoided if the Barbers had taken the time to name a legal guardian for their children. More than one family member petitioned the court for guardianship of the boys. The family fought for months over what the parents would have wanted for their boys. Accusations were made, nine attorneys were retained and many thousands of dollars were spent fighting in court. In the end, the court made a decision to place the boys with one family member. However, by this time, damage had already been done, relationships were strained and the boys missed out on relationships with their extended family.
While the court did make a decision, we still don’t know what the parents would have wanted because they did not name guardians for their boys. What I can imagine is that the Barbers did not want their familial relationships torn apart fighting over who would be named legal guardian for their boys. This is one of the biggest personal risks we face when we do not take the time to name legal guardians for our children.
If you have minor children at home, it is imperative you take the time to legally document who you would want to be the guardian of your minor children if anything happens to you. If you cannot decide who you would choose, we can walk you through a series of steps that will help you reach the best decision for you and your children. It is not easy to make these decisions and they should not be made on your own. It is important to have good legal guidance. Contact an attorney in our office to help guide you through the process, answer all of your questions, help you consider all of your options and to help avoid harm in the future.