A key component of a properlydrawn will is the importantchoice of a guardian. This isthe person or persons whowill be responsible for raising your minorchildren should you die prematurely andnot be survived by a spouse. It is criticalthat you understand that if you don't havea will that specifies a guardian, that decisionwill be left up to the courts.
As you are thinking about thisweighty choice, you should focus on peoplewho have family values similar to yourown. It is often the guardian who willhave the most influence over your children.Be sure to consider the guardian'sown family circumstances. Most peopledon't want their children split up betweenfamilies, so often people choose their parentsto be the guardians. However, taketheir age and health into consideration.
It's essential that your children will notbe a financial burden on their guardians.Review your assets and liabilities to makecertain there will be enough assets to payfor raising your children, including collegecosts. If you are concerned that you donot have enough, consider buying lifeinsurance. Second, make certain that yourwill allows your trustee to make disbursementsto the guardian for costs such ashome expansion for additional bedrooms,money to pay for vacation expense, camp,autos, etc. Most wills don't contain thisspecial language, leaving the guardian in adifficult financial position.
Being named guardian for someoneelse's children is a huge responsibility, andit would be unfair to assume the personyou choose will accept. Be sure you gettheir consent. A guardian is more likely tofeel good about accepting if they knowyou have your financial house in orderand that your trustee will make sure theirfamily will not be financially disadvantagedbecause of the situation.
If you originally got the guardian'spermission to serve but have not spokenwith them in several years, discuss thesubject again and make sure their feelingshave not changed. Make sure your willdirects to whom your children will go inthe event that the designated guardiansdivorce. You should also make sure thatyou have at least one alternate guardianin case your first choice is unable toserve for some reason.
Stewart H. Welch III is the founder
of the Welch Group, LLC, which
specializes in providing fee-only
wealth management services to
affluent retirees and health care professionals
throughout the United
States. He is the coauthor of J.K. Lasser's New
Rules for Estate and Tax Planning (John Wiley &
Sons, Inc; 2001). He welcomes questions or comments
at 800-709-7100 or visit www.welchgroup.com. This article was reprinted with permission
from the Birmingham Post Herald.