Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho
The third birthday party for my niece, Eliza, was fun for the kids – with balloons, cake and ice cream and sticky fingerprints everywhere. Visiting with her parents, I asked if they had selected a guardian for Eliza should something happen to them. Looking embarrassed, they said no, but they had thought about it.
In my opinion, selecting a guardian to take care of young children is the most important part of estate planning. You have the opportunity to choose the people who will raise your child with the values, morals and standards you want reflected in your child. If you do not select someone, a judge will appoint a person to be your child’s guardian until that child reaches age 18.
The guardian does not need to be a family member. The person nominated is often a friend who has a lifestyle you admire and the willingness to assume the responsibility of raising your child. When you appoint a guardian, also name an alternate, just in case the first named person is not available to take the job. Talk to the potential guardians ahead of time to be certain they are willing to assume the responsibility.
When my cousin David was 12 years old, both his parents died. They had no Last Will and Testament, so no guardian was selected. David’s parents did not live close to either family. None of the family members were interested in taking a 12-year-old boy into their home. David was a stranger to most of the family. Finally one of his uncles said he would be the guardian. That only lasted for 2 years. The uncle had had enough and resigned. Thankfully, a great aunt became his guardian until David was 18. Another variation is a family where both sides want to take the child and cannot agree among themselves who is to serve. Rather than work out the best arrangement for the orphan, they end up fighting in court – a needless expense and heartache.
Even if the parents have little money to leave their child, having a Last Will and Testament is critical to protect the well-being of their child if the unimaginable happens and they die before their child reaches age 18.
The State of Idaho recognizes handwritten Wills. Instructions on how to make such a will are available on our website (www.senioredgelegal.com) at no cost. If you have minor children, please create a Will that provides for a guardian.