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In order to protect minor children, parents need to get an estate plan in place that includes a Declaration of Guardian for Minor Children.  If you don’t have this document or at least include your wishes in your will, then the probate judge will decide who should raise your children.  While it is unlikely that both parents will die before children turn 18, it does happen.  It is best to make your wishes known so children can have the best chances of adjusting. 

You can appoint an individual or a married couple to serve as Guardian of the Person for your children—this is who will raise your children, decide where they live, make medical decisions, and choose their school.  Guardian of the Estate for your children may be the same person or it could be someone else who is the best choice for managing the money they inherit from you. Here are some things to consider when making this choice.

  • Age—Choose someone who is old enough to provide proper care, but young enough to survive until your child reaches adulthood.
  • Parenting Style—Do they parent similarly to you?  
  • Morals/Religious Beliefs—Do they share your beliefs and would they help instill these in your children?
  • Location—if you want your children to stay in the same school, you should choose someone who is committed to staying nearby with your child.
  • Money—If the money from your estate runs out, can they afford to raise your children?
  • Commitment—Have you confirmed the person is willing to take on the job?

If the first-named person can’t serve, it’s wise to name at least one or two alternates who can serve if needed.  
The probate judge for the county will still need to approve of the person you’ve chosen after a parent dies.  If one parent is still alive, that parent is normally sole guardian unless evidence is presented that the surviving parent is unfit/unable to raise the children.

You should also consider including a testamentary trust for your children in your will or living trust.  A testamentary trust comes into existence upon your death to protect your child’s inheritance from a number of bad things that can happen.  You can set out your wishes as to who will be in charge of those assets—the Trustee—as well as when they will receive the money and how. Crafting a plan that fits your family can help minimize the influence of bad friends or other damaging choices.