Choosing Who Will Take Care of Your Child if You Can't

Written by: Jennifer Guimond-Quigley

A lesson in compromise

As an estate planning attorney, I am obsessed with planning for life’s many contingencies. My clients’ files are backed up in so many places I’ve lost track. I have all my electronic passwords written down and sealed in an envelope containing the instruction “OPEN ONLY IN AN EMERGENCY” in a fireproof safe. Not surprisingly, my husband and I had our estate plan in place prior to becoming pregnant with our first child, complete with the designated guardians to take care of any future-born children. While getting the financial aspect of our planning figured out wasn’t too complicated, the area requiring the most thought and care was choosing guardians for our “future borns.” As we went through the process, and as I have guided my clients through it, a few key pointers have emerged:

  1. Nobody (I repeat: NOBODY) can ever take your place. The problem with choosing an appropriate guardian for your child can bethat nobody meets your criteria. Save yourself the grief and know that it is highly unlikely you will identify the perfect person because, after all, that person is not you. Develop a short list of candidates, then list your core values and beliefs and see how the proposed guardians stack up. You will likely choose the person who is the most similar to you in his/her beliefs and parenting qualities that you admire, but understand whoever you designate to care for your children will likely not possess everything you’d like.
  2. You don’t have to give the guardian the money to manage as well. I have spoken to many parents with the following issue. They feel confident they’ve chosen the right person or persons for the day-to-day care of their children, but that person can’t balance a checkbook. That’s okay. You don’t have to name the same person as guardian of the child and guardian of the money (estate). If your brother-in-law is a savvy investor whose fiscal management aligns well with yours, and your best friend is a nurturer who has formed an impenetrable bond with your children, appoint them both. They will thank you for giving them the roles they excel in and naming someone else to help with the rest.
  3. Have the conversation with the guardian(s) ahead of time. Regardless of whether you name the same person to be in charge of the money and care or whether you name multiple guardians, ask them the tough question. While it may sting to hear it, if the answer is “no,” you want to make sure they are willing and able to take on this monumental role for you. If the person can’t commit, thank him/her for being honest and move on to the next in line.

After going through our checklist of criteria, what ended up mattering the most to my husband and me was that our guardians be loving, stable family members and that our child be raised as a “city kid.” Luckily, my brother and his fiancée fit the bill and said yes. Here’s hoping no one ever finds out if our instincts were right.

Chicago families share fantastic advice on how to navigate city parenting in our Parent to Parent newsletter. Download the full NPN winter issue to read more! Did you receive your Parent to Parent copy at home? If not, visit My Account and change your mailing preferences.

Posted on December 13, 2012 at 5:59 PM