It is one of the most important choices a parent can make, but appointing guardians for their children is a decision which most parents seem to overlook.
Most of us try to avoid thinking about what happens when we die. As a result, making a Will isn’t always top of the list of priorities, particularly for parents. Over half of parents who participated in a recent survey said they did not have a Will. Of those parents with a Will, one in three had not appointed a guardian.
Choosing who should care for your children in the event you pass away might be difficult, but it is a very important consideration and not something that should be left to chance. When making a Will you should appoint a guardian (or guardians) for your children as well as setting out how your financial assets should be dealt with.
Why appoint a guardian in your Will?
Guardians acquire the ability (known as parental responsibility) to make important decisions about all aspects child’s life, such as where the child lives, choosing their education and consenting to medical treatment. Since a guardian can have such a significant influence on a child’s upbringing, an informal agreement you might have with a relative or friend to look after your child is not appropriate. In the absence of parents, only people with legal parental responsibility have the right to make decisions on a child’s behalf. If no one has parental responsibility, then a court application may be required to appoint a legal guardian for the child. The appointed person will not automatically be a family member, or the person you had informally nominated. This means key decisions in your child’s life could be made by someone you do not know or trust to make those decisions.
Things to bear in mind:
- Guardians can only be appointed to look after children who are under 18 – the appointment automatically comes to an end once a child becomes a legal adult. .
- If one parent dies, the surviving parent will look after the child. There are exceptions (particularly if the surviving parent is a father without parental responsibility) but this applies even if parents are unmarried, or get divorced.
- The appointment of a guardian will usually only take effect on the death of the second parent. As a result we suggest it is important to try and agree who the guardians are going to be and incorporate this into both parents’ Wills. This is particularly important where parents are unmarried or divorced.
- Check that intended guardians will accept the role. It is far better for guardians to know in advance that they may have the joy (and responsibility) of looking after your children, than to have the shock of finding out from a solicitor who is dealing with your Will and decide it is not for them. Just because you have appointed someone as guardian does not mean they have to take on that role.
What about the extra financial burden on the guardians?
When making your Will you are deciding who will benefit from your estate on your death. Money left to a child will be held in trust for them until they reach the age of 18, or older if specified in the Will. Until then, the trustees can usually use the income and capital in the trust for the child’s benefit. This can include paying guardians a monthly sum to cover their additional expenses.
Whilst it may seem very unlikely that young children find themselves without both parents, nevertheless it can happen. By making a Will and appointing a guardian, you have peace of mind that your children will be financially secure and looked after by someone you trust.
To find out more about making a Will, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org