Guardianship refers to naming a surrogate parent for your minor children in the event that you and the other parent are unable to care for them.

Normally, you nominate the guardian(s) in your Will. The court has final approval, but state laws generally require the court to give your nomination the highest regard. If you do not make a provision for guardianship in your Will, however, the court will name a guardian for you based on the circumstances (for example, are there any volunteers?).

Selecting a guardian for your minor children

You can nominate more than one adult as legal guardian for your child or you can name different guardians for each child, as your circumstances require. You should also choose an alternate guardian in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to take on the duties of a guardian if and when it becomes necessary. You should select a responsible person with good character who has the time and willingness to take on the job.

1. Choosing the right guardian

Choosing the right guardian may be a difficult decision. Generally, the surviving parent of a child is entitled to custody of the child should one parent die. However, it remains customary to name the other parent as the primary guardian. You should also name an alternate guardian in the event that you and your spouse should die simultaneously (in a car accident, for example). This is the choice that will be hard to make.

If you are divorced, you may want to name your ex-spouse as guardian, especially if there is already joint custody. However, remember that if you do not name your ex-spouse, that person can petition the court for custody of the children, which he or she is likely to get unless there are compelling reasons for him or her not to be named. It is a good idea to work this out in advance, if you can.

If you are a single parent, choosing a guardian is even more critical, because your child depends on you alone.

Customarily, people have named parents, brothers, or sisters to act as guardians for their children. However, these people may not be the best choices to raise your children. If you started your family late in life, your parents may be elderly and unable to cope with raising young children. Your brothers and sisters may have lifestyles that make you uncomfortable entrusting your children to their care, or they may have large families of their own and would be burdened by additional children. Because family structures are not as stable as they used to be, it has become more acceptable to look outside the family when choosing a guardian. Proper planning can ensure that you make the best choice for your children.

Tip: The best guardian for your children may not be the most obvious choice. For example, your best friends may have problems of their own and be unwilling to assume the responsibility. On the other hand, you may find that a brother or sister whom you’ve never particularly gotten along with would make an excellent guardian.

2. What to look for in a guardian

Here are some things you may want to consider when choosing a guardian:

• Who loves and cares about your children?

• Whom do your children love and respect?

• Whom do you trust?

• Who is emotionally able to take on the responsibility?

• Who is willing to take on the responsibility?

3. Things to discuss with a potential guardian

When you nominate someone to serve as guardian for your children, you are not doing that person a favor. The person you choose will have to deal with all the parental decisions you would have had to make, as well as the additional paperwork associated with the legal guardianship status.

Talk with any prospective guardian before you nominate that person and impress on that person the gravity of your request. Discuss your reasons for the request and the financial consequences. If necessary, give the potential guardian relevant details of your estate plan (e.g., are you leaving life insurance or other financial assistance?). Discuss your wishes about how your children should be raised (that you want them to have a religious upbringing and you want them to go to college, etc.). Give your potential guardian plenty of time to think over your request carefully.

4. Keep your plans flexible

You should review your guardianship plans yearly. Your children change as they get older, and the person who seemed right in the past may not be the right person to deal with an older child.

The above information is provided for informational purposes only. The opinions/views expressed within do not necessarily reflect those of Voya Financial Advisors or its representatives. In addition, Voya Financial Advisors is not responsible for the accuracy of the information provided. Neither Voya Financial Advisors nor its representatives offer tax or legal advice. Please consult with your tax and legal advisors regarding your individual situation.

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