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Choosing a Guardian

Who Will Raise the Kids?

My husband and I are the parents of one spirited 6-year-old. Although our nuclear family is small, the extended one includes grandparents, an aunt, cousins, a Godfather, self-proclaimed “agnostic parents,” and fairy godparents. And yes, I’m aware that those last two warrant a bit of explaining.

Shortly after our daughter was born, we decided to name back-up guardians for her. Our first choices were Katie and Zack, the fabulous friends who just happen to be agnostic. Next in line were Kyle and Ryan, a wonderful couple with whom we had been friends for forever. I can’t quite remember how we arrived at fairy godparents, but I think Ryan was key in picking the moniker. As for the one Godfather, that’s Mo, he serves in a non-guardianship role focused on bike-riding encouragement and theme park exploration. Yes, I know, lots of names, but we decided to give these specially chosen individuals titles that lifted their status to family, something we take very seriously.

And it is serious business, choosing guardians to raise the kids if something happens to a child’s legal caregivers. Virginia requires that guardianships be designated in a will, so plan on consulting with an attorney to create one. Choosing two sets of guardians is ideal, because if the first to be named is unable to serve, you have an alternate in place. I know it’s hard enough to find just one, but planning for all possibilities is best. Here are some guiding principles that my husband and I used and you should consider, too.

Values. If you cannot be around to raise your child, a primary concern should be choosing people who have similar values and approaches to parenting. Faith, world-view, and lifestyle all come into play here. Is your household playful and very communicative? Do you value education and environmental sustainability? Of course, you are not replaceable, but choosing someone who reflects your values is key.

Finances. Potential guardians should possess the financial ability to care for your child. If guardianship would prove a hardship, and your child would not be inheriting enough money to pay for living expenses, consider term life insurance. It can provide a thorough and often low-cost solution to naming guardians who could not independently take on the financial responsibility of your child. Note that beneficiary designations on these policies are important decisions and should be discussed with an attorney to ensure that the money would be required legally to benefit your child.

Geography. Another consideration is where potential guardians live. In the unlikely event that your child has to go into the care of a guardian, would moving to a different county or state be too disruptive for your child? Would a cross-town move allow your child to attend the same school and dance classes? Would the new home allow your child to bring the family pet? Consider the implications of location when choosing guardians.

Once you have chosen two sets of guardians, be sure to make sure they are on board. Have an in-depth discussion. Tell them why you are choosing them and what you would expect of them. Cry (I did). Hug and thank them (I did). Then, you’ll need to have a will created in order to make those designations legal. If you have a spouse or co-parent, you’ll each need one.

Once that step is complete, take a deep breath, and release your thoughts on the matter.  Advanced planning is a gift to yourself and your family, one that gives great peace of mind now, and, should the need arise, directions for the future.

Kelly Hall, Esq., is a full-time mom and part-time attorney. Through Legal Ease in RFM, she contributed articles about family law, legislation, and other legal issues for four years until she moved out of the area with her family in 2014.
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