Thinking the unthinkable
Trying to decide in advance who might fulfil the role of guardian in the case of a tragedy is not easy. Everything about children changes so quickly. You may know lots of wonderful parents who would love and care for your children if the worst happened, but do they share your values, your hopes and aspirations, your parenting style?
In England, a parent with ‘parental responsibility’ can appoint legal guardians for children under 18. This can be an informal arrangement between friends; be written formally into your will, or achieved by signing and dating a written statement. The role of a guardian is quite similar to that of a parent. Your child’s guardian will have a legal duty of care towards your child, being responsible for their personal safety, health, care, education and upbringing.
An obvious choice?
A family member is an obvious choice, especially when your children are young; but older children have close friendship groups and strong ties to school and the local area – moving them away after losing one or both parents could disrupt their lives further but for some could be ideal. Over time, the circumstances of your own parents, your brothers and sisters, and your friends will change. Staying over with grandparents for a week in the school holidays might be your teenagers’ chance to be spoilt rotten but could your parents cope if the arrangement became permanent?
An impossible decision
Deciding who would look after your children, should the worst happen, might feel like an impossible task. Often parents cannot agree as there is a natural inclination to appoint someone from your side of the family. You may have delayed making your Wills because you cannot agree. But if you are having a difficult time making the decision now, imagine how much harder will it be for your children if your families are trying to agree on who should be responsible for them without knowing your wishes.
Is any decision better than none?
One solution is to appoint the most suitable person as your children’s guardian and give them powers in your Will to appoint substitute guardians. Leaving the decision to be made by a person you trust, taking into account the circumstances at the time could give you real peace of mind. Ideally, you should review your Will whenever your circumstances change and you can amend it at any time (providing you have the required mental capacity to do so).
Many people don’t make provisions because they don’t want to consider the awful possibility of not being there for their children. As with all things in life, failing to plan doesn’t stop bad things from happening. Appointing a guardian will avoid making a distressing situation, however unlikely, less painful for your children.
Sadly, if you die without appointing a guardian, and there is no other parent with parental responsibility, the Court will decide who is appointed to look after your child, and this could be a person you would not have chosen. By preparing a correctly worded Will, you can eliminate this potentially upsetting situation and be confident that you have made provision for the care and protection of your children should the unthinkable happen.
Our blog author, Donna Hames, is an affiliate of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, a full member of the Institute of Professional Willwriters and chose to specialise in estate planning following her LLB Hons law degree. With a former career in financial services, compliance and audit, Donna is Carisma Wills’ principal, a paralegal and director; she is well-known in the local area as a mum, swim coach, charity volunteer and networker.