If you die while your child is still under 18, your Will dictates the appointment of their legal guardian. This is so important and yet so many parents do not have a Will in place; we often having had the best of intentions, but just ‘don’t getting around to it’.
Guardianship considerations often take some discussion between parents. Assuming both have legal parental responsibility for the child/children, the surviving parent will undertake the parental role fully in the event of one parent’s death, but if both die or if there is only one parent then a guardian will be needed.
When choosing guardians, I often advise my clients to prepare a ‘Letter of Wishes’ or ‘Statement of Intentions’ to flesh out the appointment and perhaps explain reasoning for selection and also priorities for how the children would be raised. This can sit alongside the Will and be updated as a child grows and their needs change. This could include education preferences, the types of experiences one would hope their child would be exposed to and perhaps the importance of retaining family bonds even if the guardians come from one side of the family or are friends.
If you die while your child is a minor, without a Will, then potential complex family legal wranglings can ensue. It’s important that practical matters are thought about when choosing a guardian as well as the age life stage of a potential guardian.
A Will is also the way to make provision for finances for children and perhaps even ensure that certain personal items or family chattels are left to the appropriate people. It also covers the hopefully unlikely scenario of your children dying before you; your assets wouldn’t necessarily end up with who you would expect without a Will.
The discussion and thought that guardianship selection creates is vital. We have to be practical and realistic. As parents we spend so much time and money planning and thinking about what is best for our children, often not wanting to even imagine what would be appropriate if the worst should happen. In this case, a Will with guardianship appointment could be thought of as an insurance policy, a ‘peace of mind’ plan to ensure that, while your children are young, you know they would be in the right hands if you were no longer around.