“Make sure the kids are in bed by 8:30,” Ruth Jackson called as she closed the front door. She was excited for her first ‘date night’ with Robert since their third child was born seven months ago. “Just a 20 minute drive down the interstate before the best meal you’ll ever eat.” Robert turned and winked at her as he took the on-ramp to I-70. “This is my favorite –” Ruth never found out what was his favorite. The merging, speeding semi obliterated the driver’s side of their SUV, killing both Robert and Ruth instantly.

do you know where your children will go?

There’s No Substitute for You as Parents, but What if You Need One Anyway?

The Jacksons, like 55% (or more) of the population, didn’t have an estate plan when they died. They had talked about getting their wills done, but never pulled the trigger because they couldn’t confront the question of what would happen with their kids. And that’s perhaps the most tragic part of the story: where will the children go now that Mr. and Mrs. Jackson are gone?

If the point of an estate plan is to protect your estate for the benefit of the people you leave behind, then the most important thing you can hope to protect with your estate plan is your children. You can achieve this protection by appointing a watchdog, or guardian, to look out for your children’s best interests. Typically, the guardian will work together with the trustee of a testamentary trust to ensure that your children receive the care they need. Long story short: your guardian’s primary concern should be the welfare of your kids.

Pick a Watchdog For Your Children

Obviously the choice of a guardian for minor children can be an emotional one. Your children are precious, and your options are limited. But not deciding ahead of time could result in a judge—who doesn’t know you or your kids—choosing the guardian for you.

It can help get the conversation rolling if you have a roadmap for how to get from start to finish. To help guide you down the road, here are five questions you can ask yourselves:

  1. What do we know about each candidate and how will those facts affect our kids? List things like the guardian’s age, marital status, and lifestyle. What is their financial status? How old are their children, if they have any? What are their moral or religious beliefs? Can they provide the same standard of living that you would provide?
  2. Where does the proposed guardian live?
  3. Does the proposed guardian practice similar parenting methods to the ones we use?  For example, would they use corporal punishment? Do they give “time outs?”
  4. Does your child have special physical or emotional needs that might affect the guardian’s ability to care for them?
  5. Are you going to name the guardian as the trustee of your kids’ trust? If not, will the guardian work well with the trustee you choose?

Once you decide who you would like to appoint, the last thing you need to do is contact them and ask if they will be willing to be the guardian for your children. Make sure they are willing and able to take on such an important role in your kids’ lives if called upon to do so. It’s also wise to appoint an alternate, just in case your first choice is unavailable for any reason.

Accidents like the one involving the Jacksons don’t happen often, but they’re certainly a possibility every time you drive your car. Safeguard your kids’ future and appoint a guardian in your will today.