Top 4 Steps for Choosing Guardians for your Children
Learn how to choose and nominate custodial guardians for your children. This is important because in any situation when you could not get to your kids (accident, death, arrest, etc.), the goal is to avoid even short-term foster care by having a plan and people in place.
Step 1 Have a Real DiscussionWhen you consider naming legal custodial guardians for your kids, don't ask yourself who is the best to serve in this long-term position. Rather, ask yourself who is the "least offensive." When parents focus too much on making the "perfect" choice, they become frozen in action. There is no perfect choice. The parents are the best choice and anyone else falls flat. But, as parents, we need to make these decisions, so try to make a rational choice.
Start with these considerations: 1) religious beliefs; 2) cultural differences, 3) amount of money proposed guardians have, 4) whether they have children, 5) their ages, 6) their willingness (don't assume--ask!), and 7) their arrest records (no felonies or crimes against children.
As you consider long-term guardians, keep in mind they may live far away from you currently. If that is the case, you should also name local, temporary guardians that can care for your kids while the permanent ones travel to get to them.
Step 2 Fill out the Legal PaperworkIn Florida, there are a couple of ways you can name custodial guardians. In a Last Will, as a standalone document, or a statutory "preneed guardian." Find the best avenue for your family and list the guardians, as well as alternates.
When you list guardians, keep in mind that "co-guardians" are rarely a good idea, even if they are a couple. It is recommended that you list one person of the couple, but you could state that you only want your children to go there if the proposed guardian is married. Remember, these are your written designations to the Court, so tell the Judge how you feel. You may list multiple names and restrictions. "To Sally, if she moves to Tampa." "To Jude, but only if still married, if not then to Paul."
Ensure you fill out each document properly. Some documents require a notary and some require two witnesses.
Step 3 Maintain your PaperworkIt is always a good idea to start a Legacy Folder. In this folder, you will keep your Estate Plan Organizer, which has important account and other information. Store it all in a fireproof and waterproof place, such as a filing cabinet.
You should also give the permanent and temporary guardians a copy of the documents which name them. I suggest creating an Emergency Phone Tree as well so a babysitter knows the contact information for these important people. Keeping copies of the forms in a central location (such as your kitchen) in a bright envelope named "For Emergency Use" will alert emergency personnel that you have these documents. You cannot just fill out the paperwork, you must also make sure people know they exist.
Step 4 Don't Stop ThereYou did the first step of naming custodial guardians for your kids. Now, you must name financial ones as well. You do this through Estate Planning. As children cannot inherit money above a certain amount (low number), a Court would have to appoint a guardian to manage the funds. To avoid dealing with the guardianship process in Florida, you would name a "trustee" of your Revocable Trust, or a Testamentary Trust in your Last Will. The trustee would guard and protect the funds. He/she may seek financial advice about investments, and provide for your children. This is your chance to tell the guardians what is truly important to you by allowing the trustee to have discretion to give distributions to your children for travel, a new house, lessons, etc. Your kids would be entitled to income for care, support and maintenance, up until a certain age and then the major distributions would happen where the money is given outright to the kids.