Naming a Guardian for Your Child

As a parent, you love your children more than anything and would do anything to protect them. Naming a guardian for your minor children is one of the most important steps you can take to protect your child or children. If you haven’t named a guardian, a judge who doesn't know you or your family will choose a guardian for you. 

Attorney Christopher Heritage helps parents in the Palm Springs area ensure they appoint a guardian they trust in a legally valid will. He wants to ensure that if something happens to them, their children will be raised by someone best suited to provide them with a loving home. 

What Is a Guardianship for a Minor Child?

A guardianship is a legal arrangement in which a non-parent has legal custody of and raises another person's child or children. Guardianship most often occurs when both of the child's parents have passed away or another issue prevents the child's living parents from caring for the child, such as substance abuse. For parents, one of the most important aspects of estate planning is appointing a guardian to protect them and help them thrive.

The Process of Appointing a Guardian

When a child's parents pass away, and they have not nominated a guardian in their will, a court will be required to appoint a guardian. First, someone must start the process by filing a petition for guardianship with the court. A close family friend, a relative, or a social worker can start the process and propose that he or she become the child's guardian. Next, a judge will appoint a guardian. If only one person comes forward to be the guardian, the judge will require enough information to ensure that he or she will provide the child with a safe environment. 

If more than one person wants to be named the child's guardian, a guardian contest will occur. Guardian contests usually involve conflict and can become highly emotional and stressful for everyone involved, including the child. In a guardianship contest, the judge will be required to decide as to who will provide the child or children with the best home environment. Judges have to make these decisions based on limited information. A judge may select a person you would never want to be your child's guardian if you do not nominate a guardian in your will.

Who Should I Nominate As a Guardian for My Child or Children?

Many parents put off nominating a guardian because they aren't sure who to appoint. Taking time to reflect on this decision is important. Think about all of your friends and family. Who is the person most likely to step up and care for your child daily? Who will ensure your child or children's physical, academic, emotional, and other needs are met? Who would be willing and able to take over this responsibility? These are some questions you can ask yourself to determine who you should appoint. 

Choose a Guardian Who Shares Your Values

Choosing a guardian can be difficult, but the main criterion should be appointing a guardian who shares your values. After all, parenting is about imparting your values to your children. Stability and financial security are essential attributes of an effective guardian, but they should also be able to parent in a way that conveys their values.

Every family is unique and places emphasis on values that are important to them. Family values include academics, the arts, work ethic, athletics, religion, and more. As a parent, if you take yourself out of the picture, consider who will model these values for your children. A person who doesn't hold the same values as you will not be able to model them for your child or children, even if they are a loving and caring person.

Focus on the Next Two or Three Years

Thinking about your child or children being raised by another person can be emotionally challenging and overwhelming. Sometimes, it's easier to focus on the next two to three years. Thinking about who will be the best guardian for your children for the next decade can make the decision seem nearly impossible, especially because kids change so much at each developmental stage. When deciding, focus on the right choice for the next few years based on your child's current physical, emotional, and academic needs. 

There may be a family member or friend who would be much more equipped to care for older children than to care for an infant or toddler. It's wise to review your decision every few years. If necessary, you can revisit your estate plan and choose a new guardian. If you and your spouse are at an impasse and not able to agree on the same guardian or guardians, working with a mediator can help you come to a decision together. 

Do Parents And Guardians Have The Same Rights?

No, parents and guardians don't have the same rights in California. Parents have inherent legal and decision-making authority for their minor children. Guardians, appointed by the court, have limited legal authority granted by the court order, typically for children lacking parental care or whose parents' rights are restricted. Guardianship powers vary depending on the type of guardianship (person or estate) and the court order's specifics. So, while both have responsibilities towards the child's well-being, their legal rights and decision-making powers differ significantly.

Guardianship Contests

When a concerned friend or family member disagrees with the appointment of a guardian, they can contest the guardianship in court. If you are concerned about a guardianship contest, speaking to an attorney can help you understand what that process would entail and how you can best prepare. 

Clearly stating your guardianship nominee in your will and ensuring your will is legally valid in California are essential steps you can take now to protect your children. Suppose a mother and father appointed their friends and neighbors to be their children's Guardians should they pass away. They are concerned that the wife's sister and her husband may attempt to gain custody of their daughter if there is a guardianship contest. Without a named guardian, in many cases, judges frequently pick family members over friends.

Schedule a Case Evaluation with a Skilled Estate Planning Attorney

If you’d like to appoint a guardian for your child or children, attorney Christopher Heritage is here to help. He will guide you through the process of appointing a guardian and answer any questions you have. Whether you’d like to create a will and appoint a guardian within it, or you’d like to update an existing will, don’t hesitate to contact Heritage Legal, PC to schedule an initial consultation. 

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