Choosing Guardians for Your Children

Yesterday morning, I posted an article

discussing our decision-making process with regards to deciding whether or not to become named guardians for several children. Is it something we could handle?

After posting that article, several parents emailed me to state that they had been struggling with the guardianship question in their own lives. They were unsure who to select as a guardian for their own children. So, I thought I would revisit this question.

This was an issue my wife and I struggled with a great deal in the past, and I

wrote an article about it in 2009. For us, the decision to choose a guardian came down to these questions:

Does the potential guardian share your values?

Do you believe the guardian will raise your child in accordance with those values? Is that potential guardian a good person?

Does that potential guardian have a strong family network around them to help with the burden of having unexpected (and likely traumatized) children?

Will that potential guardian teach your children the basics of success in life?

Does that guardian have the financial security to ensure that your child’s needs are met?

Will that guardian have an expected natural lifespan that will allow them to remain as guardian until your child enters adulthood?

During that time, we were considering five different options for our guardianship issue.

Option A is a couple without children at home in their mid fifties. They strongly share our values and are closely tied to our extended family.
Option B is a couple in their forties with three children at home, all older than our children. They share our values pretty well and have some ties to our extended family, but they live far away from both sets of grandparents.
Option C is also a couple in their forties with three children at home, all older than our children. They weakly share our values, but have very close ties to our extended family.
Option D is a couple close to our age that’s unable to have children. They very strongly share our values and probably fill me with the most confidence to raise our children well, but there is virtually no tie at all to our extended family.
Option E is a single female younger than us with values that perfectly match what we want and close ties to family. However, her income level is extremely low and her future and life path would be greatly altered by the burden of children. Likely, Option E will grow in likelihood as time goes by and she figures out where her life is going.

Since then, “Option D” has vanished from the table due to marital issues, and “Option E” is now part of a committed relationship that’s going to culminate in marriage sometime in the fairly near future.

Currently, we have “Option A” listed as guardians, with a strong likelihood of switching to “Option E” in the next year or two, particularly if their plan of moving back to the Midwest takes hold.

So, how did we reach that decision?

Our Thought Process on Guardianship

1. Values trumped everything else

It’s not about lip service, either. The actions that a person takes tells you loud and clear what the priorities and values in their life are. In this regard, I would put “Option E” easily on top of the pile, followed by A and B. In fact, “E” is so far ahead in this regard that “E” wins the day, even though “E” isn’t winning in other respects.

2. Financial security was much less of a priority due to our own life insurance situation

Again, we weren’t as concerned about income level as we were about the values expressed by the person. Were they frugal? Did they spend money seemingly beyond their means? Were they happy with wearing clothes until they were actually worn out? Do they routinely get themselves into precarious financial positions? Are they willing to go out there and get a job – any job – if they need income? Did they have at least a bit of an entrepreneurial bent, especially one that didn’t damage their financial situation? I’m more concerned about these things than about their current bank statement.

3. The capacity of parenting was a major concern

Are the people (reasonably) young and in reasonably good health? This, of course, isn’t a guarantee of future good health, but it’s a start. More importantly, have they shown the ability to care for others? Option E doesn’t have children, but has done other things in life that shows me that “E” is capable of such a task.

4. Do they want to do this?

I don’t expect a person to immediately say “yes” if I ask them to be a guardian for my children, but I do expect that they take the choice seriously and give me a real answer at some point. I’m more trusting of a delayed “yes” than an immediate one, in other words, because that person has taken the time to think about the challenges of the situation.

It isn’t all about the money for us. It’s about the people. If you have good people and adequate life insurance, you’re creating a good place for your children in the future.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.