The single largest impediment to most of my clients completing their estate planning is the issue of guardians. The idea of choosing someone to raise your children because you are dead is unpleasant in any event, but, in circumstances where there is no ideal choice (which is just about every circumstance), it can be agonizing.
Important Points to Consider When Choosing a Guardian
1. First and foremost, you want to choose someone who will love your children and care for them as if they are their own. This is not always the closest relative—it can often be friends.
2. You want to look at the values of a potential guardian to ensure they are aligned with your own. Guardianship is a parental role and you should choose someone who shares your ideals and will pass them on to your children.
3. If your children are old enough to understand the concept of guardianship, you should ask your children about preferences. I am not suggesting asking, "Who do you want to live with if Mommy and Daddy are gone?" However, your children's views might give you insight into the final choice.
4. When considering guardians you should be cognizant of whether you would want your guardian(s) to act only if he/she were part of a couple (i.e. your sibling and spouse together but neither alone).
5. Consider backups as well as primary guardians.
An Imperfect Choice Is Better Than No Choice at All
The most important thing I impress upon my clients is to MAKE A CHOICE, even if it is an imperfect one. It is easy to change your documents if you change your mind or circumstances change. In fact, many clients DO change their mind once a choice is made and they have completed their Wills. Once the pressure to make a decision is gone, it makes it easier to discuss the issue and decisions come easier. The ramifications of not have a Will or naming guardians in the rare chance something happens to you and your spouse are severe and therefore the imperfect choice is better than no choice.