Finishing your estate plan gives you a sense of relief. It is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family. However, as you grow older and your family grows, so too should your estate plan.
One of the big considerations is whether you need to add a guardianship designation to your estate plan. This is the person who takes over parental responsibility for your minor children and your special needs dependents.
The consequences of having no guardianship designation
According to Virginia law, if you die without a guardianship designation, one will be appointed by the state court. The judge will attempt to make that designation based on the best interests of your dependents (children, special needs dependents, etc.), but their choice may or may not be who you wanted to raise your children.
Worse yet, in the interim, depending on your family dynamic, your children could be placed in the foster care system.
Moreover, if you become incapacitated, or in some way lose your ability to make decisions for yourself, you may need a temporary guardian for your dependents and someone to manage your affairs. This can be accomplished by naming a guardian in your power of attorney or an advanced medical directive.
How do I choose one?
First, you do not just choose one. You should choose a primary and several backup guardians. Otherwise, something may happen where your preferred guardian cannot fulfill their duties, and without a backup, your children will face the court’s whims.
To be clear, choosing your guardians will be a difficult decision, but you are not the first to face this arduous decision.
First, consider the potential guardians’ age and health. How long will they be able to care for your dependent? While your grandma may be the best mother you know, she may be too elderly to serve as a primary guardian.
You should also consider the potential guardians’ financial stability. Even if you leave enough money to pay for your dependents’ care, if the guardian is financially unstable, they may spend the money too quickly or irresponsibly.
Next, think about who already has a relationship with your children and who has a compatible parenting philosophy. Having a guardian who already has a relationship with them and will parent like you will make this transition much easier.
The takeaway here is that if you have dependents, you need a guardianship designation. However, even if you do not, you need a power of attorney for yourself, who essentially, acts like a guardian for you.