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The Heritage Law Center, LLC Blog

Choosing a Guardian for your Children in Massachusetts

POSTED ON: April 27, 2011

The goal of estate planning usually centers on protecting and caring for those closest to us. There can be little doubt then that making the proper arrangements to care for one’s child if the parent is absent should be at the top of every parent’s to-do list. Choosing and nominating a guardian for your minor child is a crucial aspect of estate planning and is an extremely personal decision. An estate planning attorney can help guide parents through this important decision by not only drafting an effective nomination document, but also by helping advise them in this crucial decision. Although the final decision on whom to nominate as your child’s guardian will stem primarily from the heart, there are some legal factors and implications that may affect the decision, and this is where an estate planning attorney can be helpful.

Forbes online recently published an article outlining the specific ways in which an attorney can be indispensable when choosing a guardian for a minor child; these include:

Explaining the laws regarding guardianship to parents.
As the article mentions, guardianship laws vary significantly from state to state. The manner in which you choose to name your guardians will likely be different depending on which state in which you live. For example, in Massachusetts, a guardian can be nominated through your will, which avoids the necessity of a court appointment. Also, Massachusetts differentiates between a guardian, who looks after the child, and a conservator, who looks after the child’s property.

Discussing factors parents should consider when naming a guardian.
There are many criteria to consider when choosing a guardian. Is the minor child old and mature enough to provide input in the process? Is your potential nomination able and willing to serve as a guardian? Do their religious/moral values and child-rearing philosophy conflict with your own? What should be the makeup of the guardian’s family? An attorney certainly can’t tell you which of your friends and family would be most fit to care for your child, but an attorney can help you asses the financial ability, emotional willingness, and compatibility of values of your candidates.

Emphasizing the economic implications of choosing a guardian.
Considering a guardianship for your children is an extremely emotion decision, and most parents tend to focus on the emotional considerations involved such as family dynamic and parenting style. However, financial considerations should also be a significant part of your decision-making process. Guardians are not necessarily legally obligated to use their own funds to support their wards, which means that parents will want to discuss with an attorney the best way to provide financial support for their children.

Drafting provisions indicating the client’s wishes for their children.
Parenting is an incredibly personal process and each person has a slightly different way of doing things. While guardians cannot be required to follow parenting guidelines when they accept a guardianship appointment, parents may want to express their wishes for how their child should be raised, even after their death. An estate planning attorney can suggest a few ways that parents can encourage guardians to respect their wishes regarding their child’s upbringing.

In addition to nominating a guardian for your children, parents should also nominate a secondary choice and an immediate guardian in case the long-term guardian cannot immediately reach your children in an emergency. A Massachusetts estate planning attorney can help ensure that every bit of information has been considered and addressed before you make this important decision to protect your children.