By Evan H. Farr, CELA
If you’re making New Year’s resolutions this year and still have minor children at home, don’t forget to add naming legal guardians to the list!
Statistics show that 69% of parents do not have legal guardians named who can raise their kids if something tragic happens to them. Many assume a family member would step in, or that they can simply “tell” someone about their guardianship wishes, but unfortunately, our legal system does not work that way.
Instead, if you don’t legally document your choice of guardians, a judge (who does not know you or your wishes!) will have to step in and make this decision on your behalf. That means your kids could be placed with someone you would NEVER choose if something happened to you.
I’m often reminded of the Barber family car accident in 1996. Mel and Casey Barber were killed in a horrific crash, while their 3 small boys survived. If that’s not terrible enough, the boys were forced into foster care because their parents did not have documents in place that would allow them to stay with another family member. A lengthy court battle ensued, and eventually a judge (who didn’t know Mel or Casey Barber) made the decision as to who would care for the boys. Was this the same person the Barbers would have chosen? We’ll never know because they didn’t put their wishes in writing.
But here’s the thing—naming legal guardians to care for your minor children is EASY! There is no reason to go another day, week or year without them! Here are simple 4 steps to help you get started with the process:
1. Sit down and brainstorm all the people who could possibly raise your kids if you were killed or incapacitated in an accident. Don’t limit your choices to family either. Think outside the box and write down everyone who even remotely fits the bill.
2. Determine who you would NEVER want to raise your kids in your absence. You’ll need to tell the courts who you DON’T want raising your kids in the event that individual contests your wishes and seeks custody anyway (This can be kept private and only revealed if the need arises).
3. Weigh your values. Make another column and write down what is important to you and/or your spouse. Do you value education? Religious or spiritual training? The ability to live in a certain community? Being raised in a two-parent family? Whatever your values may be, be honest about them, write them down, prioritize them and eventually rank the top three.
4. Match your top guardian choices to your top values. This will give you a clear picture of who you can trust to raise your children with the values you hold near and dear to your heart.
Finally, get with your estate planning attorney and legally document your choice of guardians so there’s no question as to who you want to raise your kids if something happens to you! It’s the only way to guarantee your kids will be physically and financially protected in your absence.
You can schedule a meeting or sign up for a seminar with Mr. Farr by calling 703-691-1888, or online via FarrLawFirm.com
Evan H. Farr, CELA, is one of the leading Elder Law and Special Needs Planning Attorneys in Virginia and top Medicaid Asset Protection experts in the U.S. Evan has more than 23 years of experience creating, updating and modifying detailed and complex trusts to plan for complicated circumstances, and dedicates a large part of his practice to planning for special needs families. Virginia has no procedure for approving certifying organizations. The Farr Law Firm is located at 10640 Main St., Suite 200, Fairfax, Va.