How to Raise the Question of Guardianship

How to Raise the Question of Guardianship

It’s important to decide who will be in charge of your child if something happens to you, but figuring out the best candidate can be a tough task.

Although your child may already have godparents, know that the role of a godparent (emotional support mostly, and in some cases a religious role) is very different from that of a legal guardian. The people you pick to be your child's godparents won't necessarily be able to fulfill all the responsibilities you're looking for in a guardian to watch your child for the rest of his life if something happened to you.

Once you’ve picked out the perfect person, you might feel like wiping your brow, popping the champagne cork and celebrating.

But while celebrating is certainly on the cards (you’ve made sure your child will be taken care of!), you still have one big step left to take—asking that person if she’s up to the challenge of guardianship.

Four Things to Keep in Mind

This is a situation where a bottle of wine and home-baked goods might not quite fit the life change you are about to ask your parent/sibling/best friend/cousin/etc. to be prepared for.

Although the usual ‘buttering you up’ gifts won’t apply, there are steps you can take to make the person feel more comfortable and to ensure that she makes the decision that’s best for everyone involved, not just the decision she feels you really, really want her to make.

Below, Victoria Collins, Ph.D., CFP, senior managing director for First Foundation Advisors and author of "Best Intentions: Ensuring That Your Estate Plan Delivers Both Wealth and Wisdom" offers some advice.

1. Toot His Horn

You’ve done a lot of soul-searching to pick the best candidate to be your child’s guardian, and you should let him know that. Build on the relationship that you already have with him, as well as any relationship he might have with your child. “Say something like, ‘We’ve been good friends for a while, and you know our child well and know how important she is to us,’” suggests Collins. Talk about the values that you both share and, if he has any children of his own, about how you respect the way he is raising his own kids.

2. Let It Settle

Set this person at ease—let her know that you don’t expect her to make a decision right away. Assure her that you know this is a significant thing to ask, and you’d just like her to consider it for now. Suggest getting back together in two to three weeks to discuss the answer, but that you’re open to discuss any questions or concerns she might have in the meantime.

3. Bring Up Finances

The person you’ve picked might understandably start factoring cost into his decision, so you need to allay any fears he might have about that. Make him aware of all the ways you plan to leave your child in a secure financial state (through life insurance, inheritance, etc.).

If you’ve decided to select someone else as the guardian of the estate—or the person who will manage the money left to your child or for your child’s benefit—make that fact known now as well. (Not sure how to pick that person out, either? We help you figure it out here.) Assure this person that you understand money might be a factor in his decision, so you’ve set up a trust to handle everything you’re leaving for your child.

To avoid offending the person because you aren’t asking him to handle the money as well, you can note that he is exactly who you want providing love, care, support and inspiration to your child if you aren’t around, and that the role of a guardian is the most important. In order to make it easier for him to do that, you’ve eliminated any financial issues that might go along with it.

4. Discuss Your Concerns

Yes, you think this person is the perfect match for your child—but that doesn’t mean you don’t have any expectations at all. Now is the time to voice those. Are there any issues in this person’s life that worry you (say, the fact that she’s a smoker)? Would you need certain reassurances (for example, that she’ll do her best not to move too far away from where your kid already feels settled)?

Have an open and honest conversation about what you will expect from this person as your child’s guardian, and then, if and when she accepts, you can feel assured that the person you've picked will do everything in her ability to raise your child the way you would want her to be raised.


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