As a Cobb County estate planning lawyer, I know one of the most important decisions a parent can make is determining who will care for their kids if something tragic happened to them. I also know it’s very easy for parents to get stuck during this critical decision making process. Do you choose this person for financial reasons? Religion? A certain parenting philosophy? Do you care if the couple you chose stays married or eventually gets a divorce? Then what?
While it’s great to put a lot of thought into who you would want to raise your kids, indecision and ultimately inaction is a very dangerous place to be, especially with young children at home. It’s important to remember that SOMEONE will determine what happens to your kids….so it might as well be you! The alternative is a judge who knows nothing about you, your family or what truly is in the best interest of your children.
So to avoid having a judge make life-changing decisions on your child’s behalf, I would like to share four easy steps that will help you finally take action and choose the right guardians for your kids:
1. Sit down and brainstorm all the people who could possibly raise your kids if you were killed or incapacitated in an accident. Don’t limit your choices to family either. Think outside the box and write down everyone who even remotely fits the bill.
2. Determine who you would NEVER want to raise your kids in your absence. You’ll need to tell the court who you DON’T want raising your kids so they can protect your family should that named individual (s) contest your wishes and seek custody of your kids following your death or incapacity. (This can be kept private and only revealed if the need arises)
3. Weigh your values. Make another column and write down what is important to you and/or your spouse. Do you value education? Religious or spiritual training? The ability to live in a certain community? Being raised in a two-parent family? Whatever your values may be, write them down, prioritize them and eventually rank the top three.
4. Match your top choices to your top values. This will give you a clear picture of who you can trust to raise your children with the values you hold near and dear to your heart.
And of course, the last (and arguably the most important step) is to legally document your choice of guardians so there’s no question as to who you want to raise your kids if something happens to you!
To ensure you legally get the documentation you need for naming guardians for your kids—or if you’d further like to create a comprehensive estate plan that will ensure your children, assets and wishes are protected something the unexpected happen to you, please give me, your friendly neighborhood Cobb County estate planning lawyer a call at 770.425.6060 to schedule a no-charge Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session (normally $600 value) with the mention of this article.
It’s “Date Night” Friday…
The one night a week when you and your spouse spend time together…talk about the week…have a nice leisurely dinner…just the two of you.
You’ve lined up a babysitter…
You left money for the pizza delivery guy and a list of contact numbers on the refrigerator door…right under the magnet you bought in Yosemite last summer…
You’ve got everything taken care of…
Except what happens to your children if the unthinkable happens and you never make it back home.
If you have minor children and you’re severely injured or worse in an accident, the police may have no choice but to place your children with Child Protective Services if they don’t have information or documentation indicating who you would want to care for your children.
Once the immediate situation has passed, your children could then be at the mercy of the “system”. There is no way the State can know who would be the best choice as a guardian for your children.
So…what do you need to do?
First, Put Your Guardianship Wishes in Writing
Just telling your chosen guardian that you want them to take care of your children is not enough. What you “said” is not legally sufficient and you could be placing your children at the mercy of the foster care system for a long period of time. You need to have a plan in place, written instructions, and the proper legal documentation in order to ensure that your wishes are followed and that everyone knows what those wishes are.
Another misconception is that if you name a guardian in your Will, that’s all you have to do.
A guardianship provided for in a Will only takes effect after you die. If you become incapacitated but are still alive, it means nothing.
Proper Documentation for Guardianship
A good, solid guardianship plan will allow you to choose guardians either on a permanent or temporary basis and leave instructions for those guardians so they know exactly what you want them to do and under what circumstances.
You need to have at least these documents in place at all times if you have minor children:
1. Legal documentation naming a short term or temporary guardian in case you become incapacitated for a short period of time, or in the interim between your death and the time your permanent guardian can arrive. The best option for this guardianship is someone close by that can take immediate custody of your children and keep them out of the court system. Make sure that you talk to these individuals about your plans and that they are willing to serve as temporary guardians. Have their names at the top of a contact list that is available immediately in the event you are not able to communicate. And always make sure they have a copy of the documents naming them as temporary guardians.
2. Legal documents naming permanent guardians. The same information applies for this document as for temporary guardianship papers. Make sure you talk to the people you select and that they have copies of these documents to provide to the court.
3. Make sure you have written instructions for anyone taking care of your children so they know exactly what needs to be done if something happens to you. Make sure they know who to call. Even if you’re leaving your kids with the 16 year old kid next door to babysit on Friday night, make sure she or he knows what needs to be done if the worst happens. And always have written instructions in place for the person or persons you choose as a guardian to tell them how you want your children to be raised.
4. Always have a Medical Authorization and Power of Attorney for your children, especially if you’re sending them to Grandma’s on their own. These documents will allow the person taking care of your children in your absence to make medical decisions that could be a matter of life and death.
Really makes you think, doesn’t it?
He said/She said will not hold up in court, so if that is the only plan you’ve made for your children if the unthinkable happens, you could be placing them at the mercy of the foster care system without even realizing it.
If all this has made you realize you would like to get your documents in order to make sure that your children and your property are taken care of, call us to schedule your Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session today. We can identify what you need to do to plan for your family’s future and answer any questions you have about an effective estate plan. Our Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session is normally $750, but mention this article and you’ll have a complete planning session with me at no charge. Call 770-425-6060 today and mention this article.