My husband and I have two minor children. I am concerned about who will look after our children in the event of my husband and I passing away at the same time. We have been advised to nominate guardians in our wills. What should I keep in mind when choosing guardians?
Choosing guardians for your children is one of the hardest and most important decisions you will ever have to make. The thought of someone other than you raising your precious children is gut-wrenching. The worst part about it? You’ll never be fully comfortable with the choice, because no one can do as good a job as you. There is no perfect choice. However difficult it may be, naming guardians is a must-do for every parent. If the thought of placing the future of your children in someone else’s hands makes you queasy, imagine leaving the decision to someone you do not like, or do not even know. That is why parents should pick legal guardians – the persons who should raise their children if both parents die before the children turn 18.
When preparing a Last Will and Testament, the emphasis is typically on the disposition of property. However, selecting guardians to care for your minor children and nominating them in your Last Will and Testament is just as, if not more important, than distributing assets. The transition to life with guardians is especially traumatic as children come to terms with new parental figures, likely following the untimely death of one or both parents. The guardians you choose will be responsible for helping to heal this wound. It is of the utmost importance to choose guardians with whom you and your kids are comfortable and who has the emotional intelligence, time and interest to raise your children.
The first hurdle in choosing guardians is finding someone who is willing to act in such an important and responsible capacity. Raising someone else’s children is not a decision potential guardians should take lightly, as assuming guardianship will change the rest of the guardians’ lives, as they step into the roles as surrogate parents. Besides finding willing persons, choosing guardians involves objective and subjective assessments different from choosing other fiduciaries such as trustees. Guardians should be reliable and stable, with sound judgment and values that are similar to your own. The guardians will need to comfort, teach and encourage your children as they grow towards adulthood. Guardians who already have a warm and loving relationship with your children would be immensely valuable in such an emotionally trying transition.
Selecting family members
Instinctively, many think the right guardians for their children are family members. However, in some cases, nonfamily members may be a better fit. Naming friends as guardians is increasingly common, though relatives are still the most popular choice. While family is frequently an obvious choice, circumstances may make this impractical or undesirable. Hopefully your children are comfortable with grandparents, or an aunt and uncle who may have similarly aged children of their own. If this is not the case, close friends with similar values, who live nearby, and who have kids of their own, may be a better option than faraway relatives. The choice is specific to your lifestyle and your relationship with your family.
Naming alternate guardians
Unfortunately, couples divorce and families break up. Choosing a couple as guardians could turn out to be problematic if they divorce or one is otherwise no longer able to serve in the role. Such a scenario could give guardianship to a person whom you are less inclined to have raise your children. If alternates are not named and the nominated guardians are unable to care for your children, the decision as to their care could end up being made by a court. As a result, it is advisable to name alternates in case the first choice is unwilling or unable to act. This way your wishes can be carried out and the paths of your children’s lives are not at the discretion of a judge.
Revisiting your choice of guardians
Once you have carefully selected the guardians and alternates and have nominated them in your Last Will and Testament, it is important to remember to revisit the choices as circumstances change. As children (and guardians) age, their needs and abilities also change. You will want to make sure that the people you selected a few years ago are still the right choice today.
In South Africa, all prospective adoptive parents are required to comply with the requirements as set out in the Act to ensure a successful application.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)