How Naming Guardians For Your Kids In Your Will Can Leave Them At Risk
As a dad with three young children, caring for them is far and away my most pressing responsibility. If you are also a parent of minor children, estate planning is the chief legal means that you can use to ensure they will be cared for by people that you have selected in the event that something happens to you and your spouse. Specifically, this is done through selecting and legally documenting both long-term and short-term guardians for your kids. Guardians are the people legally named to care for your children in the event something happens to you.
And if you’ve named guardians for your children in your will—even with the help of another lawyer—your kids could still be at risk of being taken into the care of strangers.
One of the most disturbing aspects of this situation is that you probably had no idea that this was possible, since this is usually a blind spot in the traditional approach to estate planning. Even many lawyers aren’t fully aware of this issue—and that’s because most lawyers simply don’t understand what’s necessary for planning and ensuring the well-being and care of minor children.
Why? Well, most estate planning over the years has been primarily focused on the elderly, not on young families. And until my mentor discovered this hole in the estate plan she had created for her own child, no one had thought about it. You can read all about her discovery, as well as a lot more detail on what to do about it in the book Wear Clean Underwear!: A Fast, Fun, Friendly, and Essential Guide to Legal Planning for Busy Parents.
Fortunately, whether you’ve named guardians for your kids in your will or have yet to take any action at all, you’ve come to the right place. As your local estate planning lawyer, we specialize in legal planning for the unique needs of families with minor children, and we can ensure that you have all of the proper legal safeguards in place to make sure that your kids will always be cared for by the people you would want, in exactly the way you would want, should anything ever happen to you.
A Far Too Common Problem
As you’ll learn here, unless you’ve worked with an attorney that specializes in these matters and have named guardians for your kids, your children could be vulnerable to being taken out of your home and placed in the care of strangers. This might be temporary, while the authorities figure out your next of kin, though even a brief time spent in the care of the state could prove incredibly stressful and bewildering for your kids.
Even if you don’t have any minor children at home, please consider sharing this article with any friends or family who do—it’s that important. While it’s rare for something to happen to both parents of a minor child, it does occur, and the consequences are simply too severe to not take the few simple steps to select and legally name guardians the right way.
Regardless of whether you own any other assets or wealth, it’s vital to complete this process immediately, so you know the ones you care about most—your kids—will always be in the care of people you’ve chosen, no matter what.
What’s So Complicated About Naming Guardians?
Naming and legally documenting guardians for your kids might seem like a fairly straightforward process, but it entails a number of complexities most people simply do not think about. Even lawyers with decades of experience typically make at least one of six mistakes when naming long-term legal guardians.
If you named legal guardians for your kids in your will—whether on your own using a do-it-yourself (DIY) online document service or with the help of another lawyer—consider each of the following scenarios to see if you have a blind spot in your estate plan that would leave your kids at risk:
Did you name back-up candidates in case your first choice of guardian is unable to serve? If so, how many back-ups did you name?
If you named a married couple to serve and one of them is unavailable due to injury, death, or divorce, what happens then? Would it still be okay if only one of them can serve as your child’s guardian? And does it matter which one it is?
What would happen if you become incapacitated by illness or injury and are unable to care for your kids? You might assume the guardians named in your will would automatically get custody, but did you know that a will only goes into effect upon your death and does nothing to protect your kids in the event of your incapacity? Have you created a guardianship plan that goes into affect if you become incapacitated?
Do the guardians you named live far from your home? If so, how long would it take them to make it to your house to pick up your kids: a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks? Who would care for your kids until those guardians arrive? Did you know that without legally binding arrangements for the immediate care of your children, your kids are likely to be taken into the care of strangers until those named guardians arrive?
Would your care providers even know where to find your will and other legal documents if you didn’t make it home? If not, what would the authorities do while they tried to figure out who should care for your kids?
If you named a family who live nearby as guardians, what happens if they are out of town or otherwise can’t get to your kids right away?
Assuming the guardians you named can immediately get to your home to pick up your kids, do they even know where your will is located? How will they prove they are the people you wanted named as your children’s legal guardians if they can’t find your estate planning documents?
The Kids Protection Plan®
These are just a few of the potential complications that can arise when naming legal guardians for your kids, whether in your will or as a stand-alone measure. And if just one of these contingencies were to occur, your children would more than likely be placed into the care of strangers, even if just for a short period of time. If the idea of this is as frightening to you as it was to me when I discovered it, you need to put the Kids Protection Plan® in place to make sure this never happens to your family. The Kids Protection Plan® was created by a nationally recognized attorney, who is a mom herself, to make sure that her kids would always remain in the loving care of people she knows and trusts and never be raised by anyone she didn’t want. And now, you can put this same plan in place for your kids.
The full Kids Protection Plan® provides parents of minor children with a wide array of legal planning tools—including legal documents to name short- and long-term guardians, instructions for those guardians, an ID card for your wallet, and much more—to make sure there is never a question about who will take care of your kids if you are in an accident or suffer some other life-threatening incident.
Get Started Right Away
While you should meet with us to put the full Kids Protection Plan® in place as soon as possible, protecting your children is such a critical and urgent issue, we’ve created the totally free website we mentioned earlier, where you can visit to get your plan started right now.
After you’ve completed those initial actions, schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session™ with us, your local neighborhood Personal Family Lawyer®, so we can put the full Kids Protection Plan® in place. From there, we can determine if there is anything else your family might need to ensure the well-being and care of your children no matter what happens.
⇒ If you have already named long-term guardians in your will, either on your own or with a lawyer, we can review your existing legal documents to see whether you have made any of the six common mistakes that could leave your kids at risk, and then revise your plan to ensure your children are fully protected.
Comprehensive Protection For Those You Love Most
While selecting and naming guardians for your minor children should be at the top of your to-do list, when it comes to estate planning, that’s just the start. Once you’ve named guardians, you should seriously consider putting a variety of other estate planning tools, such as a revocable living trust, in place for your kids.
These tools can help ensure that the wealth and assets you want your children to inherit will be passed on in the most effective and beneficial way possible for everyone involved. Meet with us, your neighborhood Personal Family Lawyer® to determine which planning strategies and tools are best suited for your family’s unique situation. Contact us today to get started.
This article is a service of Joshua Ryden, owner of Horizon Law Firm. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Life and Legacy Planning session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Life and Legacy Planning session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.