Do You Need to Explain Your Choice for Guardian?

For parents of minor children choosing who will serve as guardian is one of the most important estate planning decisions. The guardian is the person responsible for making legal and parental decisions for your minor children. Complicating this difficult and personal decision is when family members or friends that expect to be the chosen are not.

In a recent online discussion conducted by The Washington Post‘s Carolyn Hax, there were conflicting opinions on how to handle this issue. One perspective is that honesty is always the best policy, and that you should tell the people who expect to be designated that they are not. Another perspective is that it is best to only tell your chosen guardians and not anyone else. This is because a guardianship directive in a will only goes into effect in the limited circumstance that both parents die while the children are minors and so you should avoid needlessly causing harm to the personal relationship with those not designated.

A third way may be the best solution. First, you should always confirm that your nominee and successors are able and willing to serve as guardian. Then, if you suspect that not nominating someone as guardian would upset them, you should consider writing down the reasons for your decision and keep it with your will. In your writing you can explain why you believe that the people you chose were the best choice. You can also do so in a way that would ease any hard feelings. For example, you can detail why your choice would be better able to care for your children in an even and consistent manner. You may also describe how your choice shares unique cultural or personal values that you want maintained or cultivated. By supplementing your guardianship choice with a written explanation you can give your reasons on a need to know basis – after you are gone.

See Carolyn Hax, Carolyn Hax: Should Couple Explain to Kin Their Will’s Directive on Guardianship?, The Washington Post, Oct. 29, 2014.

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