Struggling with the Guardianship Question

Several months ago, I wrote an article entitled The Guardianship Question, where I discussed at length the challenges that parents face when making the difficult decision about guardianship in their estate planning. It’s a very challenging thing to think about – who can possibly take care of your children if something unexpected were to happen to you?

I wrote that article during a time when my wife and I were really struggling with that issue ourselves. We’d read quite a bit about how to select a good guardian for your children and were moving through the process of choosing such a guardian and I felt the information we had learned would make for an interesting article. I often do that very thing – if I’m working through an issue and researching it for myself, I’ll write about that issue on The Simple Dollar, because if it’s something I’m working through, there are likely many others who are thinking about that very issue.

To put it simply, my wife and I are still struggling with this issue. In my original guardianship article, I noted a big handful of questions that one should consider when selecting a guardian. We used these very questions to attempt to select guardians, but every choice we considered failed miserably in at least one aspect.

Here were our criteria:

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?

Our choices for guardianship really boiled down to four options:

Option A: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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.

So, each option has some strengths and some weaknesses.

During our discussions, I was a strong advocate for options B and D, while my wife was a strong advocate for options A and C. What does that really mean? My wife and I see different criteria as being the most important in selecting a guardian.

This realization has changed our discussion quite a bit. We know what the strengths and weaknesses of each option are – our question then becomes what criteria is the most important to us. Is it most important that we choose a family that matches our values? Is it most important that we choose a family that has a lot of support with our extended family? Is it most important that we choose a young family that will be able to provide parental support until our children fully leave the nest and find their own lives? How important is it that a family is in strong financial shape?

After a lot of discussion, we tentatively put down Option A as our choice on our will, but we’re still discussing the issue and it’s likely that the choice will change at some point. We pick up this discussion on a regular basis and twist it around, but we usually find ourselves just as far away from a real answer as we were when we began.

If guardianship is an issue that is of concern in your life – and if you’re a parent, it should be – now is the time to start thinking about it. From our experience, I recommend starting with the criteria. Do you want your child’s guardians to be young? Must they have a strong income? Do they need to have close ties to your family? What about their values – do they match what they want for your children?

There is no right answer here. Different people will come to different conclusions to these questions. What matters is that you put thought, care, and love into this question and do what you feel is truly best for your children.

Good luck.

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