“Who will take care of our children if something happens to us?”
The decision about guardianship of minor children is one of the major hurdles facing parents when writing a will. Often it is because parents can’t agree on whom to name. Each parent may want his or her side of the family to be responsible. Sometimes they are in a new area and don’t yet have a lot of close friends to choose from. It may be that they have a special-needs child and have no one who could take on this responsibility.
Whatever your circumstances, when choosing guardians you should consider someone:
- You trust with the responsibility of caring for your children;
- Who is willing and able to take on this responsibility;
- Who has similar faith, values and lifestyle;
- Who lives close to your children, so as to minimize disruption to friends;
- Old enough, but not too old (think of the person’s current age and add 18 to 25); and
- With whom your children have established a trusting and loving relationship.
If your children are older, have a discussion with them to see with whom they would be willing to live.
Naming a guardian—and an alternate, in case the first choice is no longer able to accept the responsibility or declines the responsibility due to a change in circumstances—is a significant decision.
Once you have chosen your guardians, have a discussion with them to make sure that they are willing to act. If you change your mind and name someone else later, let the original guardians know that you have made a change. No one wants the surprise of finding out that they are now guardians when they weren’t expecting it, or expecting it and finding out that they have been replaced.
In the event that you agree to be a guardian for someone else, have a frank conversation with the parents: “I’m honoured to be chosen as guardian, but please tell me what resources you are setting aside for the children so that I won’t go broke caring for your children, and we know who will be in charge of the funds.” The trustee of the funds and guardians do not need to be the same people, but they need to be able to communicate well about money issues, as these conversations may go on for years.
Choosing a guardian for your children may be difficult, but don’t let this stop you from writing a will. Not having a will means leaving the decision to the courts. Your children will have a guardian, either your choice or the court’s choice. They will be better served by a decision you make and include in your will. Take good care of them.
Gary Sawatzky is a stewardship consultant at the Calgary, Alta., office of Mennonite Foundation of Canada. For stewardship education and estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest MFC office or visit MennoFoundation.ca.