Your Heart, Your Will & Choosing Your Minor Child’s Guardian

“My husband and I have 3 minor children. The age difference between the oldest and youngest is 10 years. As parents, we know that our 2 teenage boys can function independently, but what about our 6-year-old daughter? We are concerned about who will look after our 6-year-old in the event of my husband and I passing away at the same time?”  

In preparation of Last Wills and Testaments, the emphasis is typically on the disposition of property. However, selecting guardians to care for your minor children and nominating them in your Last Will and Testament is just as, if not more, important. After all, most parents will undoubtedly regard their children as their biggest assets.

Choosing guardians for your children is one of the hardest and most important decisions you will ever have to make. The thought of someone other than yourself raising your precious children may be gut-wrenching. The worst part about it? You may never be fully comfortable with any choice, because in your child’s view “no one will ever do a better job than you". There is no perfect choice. However difficult it may be, naming guardians is a must-do for every parent. If the thought of placing the future of your children in someone else’s hands makes you queasy, imagine leaving the decision to someone you do not even know. 

The guardians you choose will be responsible for helping your children to heal the wound of losing their parents. It is of the utmost importance to choose guardians with whom you and your kids are comfortable and who has the emotional intelligence, time and interest to raise your children.


Choosing guardians

The first hurdle in choosing guardians is finding someone who is willing to act in such an important and responsible capacity. Raising someone else’s children is not a task any potential guardian should take lightly, as assuming guardianship will change the rest of the guardian’s life, as he/she steps into the roles as a parent. A guardian should be reliable and stable, with sound judgment and values that are similar to your own. The guardian will need to comfort, teach and encourage your children as they grow towards adulthood. A person or persons who already have a warm and loving relationship with your children would be immensely valuable, to consider as guardians, especially considering the emotionally trying transition.

In my experience: “Mommy, start involving your guardians while the child is still a new-born”.


Selecting family members

Many think the right guardians for their children are family members. However, in some cases, non-family members may be a better fit. Naming friends as guardians is increasingly common, even though family members may be the obvious choice. Close friends with similar values to yours, who live nearby, and who have kids of their own, may be a better option than faraway relatives. The choice is specific to your lifestyle and your relationship with your family.


Naming alternate guardians

Unfortunately, life happens, couples divorce and families break up. Choosing a couple as joint guardians could turn out to be problematic if they divorce. Such a scenario may result in guardianship given to a person whom you are less inclined to have raise your children. If alternates are not named and the nominated guardians are unable to care for your children, the decision as to their care could end up being made by a court. As a result, it is advisable to name alternates, in case your first choice of guardian is unable to act. This way your wishes can be carried out and the paths of your children’s lives are not at the discretion of a judge.


Revisiting your choice of guardians

Once you have carefully selected guardians and alternates and have nominated them in your Last Will and Testament, it is important to remember to revisit the choices as circumstances change. As children (and guardians) age, their needs and abilities also change. You will want to make sure that the people you selected a few years ago are still the right choice today.
 
MARLENE VAN DEN HEEVER

ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY

VAN ZYL KRUGER INC

 

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