I’ve been reminded in the last week just how fragile life is. A Choice Mom friend unexpectedly lost her younger sister last week — a mother of three — in a tragic accident. And a neighbor couple are BOTH battling cancer, one of them terminal, with 7- and 9-year old daughters at home.
I know how hard it is to choose the right guardian for your child if something happens to you. But it is VITAL that you do, even before you become a mother. As we learned from the example of the Choice Mom whose son was born posthumously two years ago in D.C., we must ALWAYS prepare for our children in the event that tragedy strikes. For more on that story, and this topic, check the “legal” category on this website.
I myself have put guardianship papers in place, but am about to change them for the fourth time since my daughter was born 11 years ago. I find at our networking events that what women report most often as the reason they don’t have an estate plan in place is because they are procrastinating about who to choose as their child’s guardian.
On that front, read this excellent insight from a Minneapolis-based estate attorney about choosing a guardian.
Margaret Cronin’s female-led firm Grandchamp, Guyette and Cronin was recommended by a local Choice Mom. I had a wonderful conversation with Margaret, in part to help me stop procrastinating on my own new guardian picks. She is listed on our directory of Choice Mom-friendly attorneys.
Here is some of the advice Margaret offers her clients:
It is common for Moms to have two problems in selecting a Guardian for minor children: not enough choices or too many choices.
In the first situation, the Mom may have several family members or close friends who, combined into one person, would be the perfect Guardian. For example, one person may be able create a warm, loving environment for your child but might not share your values. Another person might share your passion for academic excellence but won’t be out in the yard kicking a soccer ball with your child. In these situations, I recommend creating a “web” of supporters for your child.
While one person may be the official Guardian, the others in the “web” will be key players in raising your child. You should spend some time now creating this “web” of supporters and letting them know how important they are to the whole picture. Your estate planning documents should reflect this “web” approach and structure the role of the Guardian as both a caretaker and a facilitator of the “web” of supporters.
You may want to allocate some financial assets to make sure that the members of the “web” can stay in close contact with your child.
In the second situation – too many choices – the Mom may have several family members or close friends who would make great Guardians. However, who might be the “right Guardian at the time” would depend on many factors, such as where the Guardian is physically located at that time, and the ages of their other children. In these situations, I recommend listing a “pool” of Guardians without a particular ranking or order.
Your estate planning documents should state that you believe each person in the pool would make a wonderful Guardian, and you would like the pool to get together and decide collaboratively who might be the best choice as the primary Guardian. The others in the pool would form the “web” of supporters for the child.
Margaret A. T. Cronin
There are also good Choice Chat podcasts on this subject. Search the “podcast” menu above.