I love British period dramas a little too much for an Irish person.

Downton Abbey, The Crown, Poldark, I love them all.

My current obsession is Victoria. For those who are not as enamored with British period dramas as I am, the show chronicles the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign and her marriage to her husband, Albert. Spoiler, the sexual repression associated with the Victorian era did not originate in the queen’s bedroom.

So what does Queen Victoria have to do with estate planning? She had terrible guardians.

Her extremely protective mother and her mother’s comptroller raised Victoria under an elaborate set of rules and protocols devised to render Victoria weak and dependent on them. For example, she was never alone for one minute of her childhood (slept in the same room as her mother every night until she was 18), was isolated from other children, and wasn’t allowed to walk down stairs without holding an adult’s hand. If that doesn’t screw a kid up, I don’t know what will.

While your kids might not be real princes and princesses, they are the kings and queens of your heart and you want the best for them. This includes picking a good guardian for them in case you are not able to be there to raise them.

So what are some of the common mistakes people make in naming guardians for their kids?

  1. Not naming a temporary guardian. What happens to your kids in the hours before the arrival of the person you have named as guardian? What if your kid’s daycare or school can’t reach the person you named as the emergency contact? Would your babysitter know who to call if you never came home? Make sure anyone who takes care of your kids has a list of temporary guardians (and make sure you execute a document giving those guardians legal authority to take care of your kids). If you don’t and the police cannot quickly locate a close relative, your kids could end up in foster care temporarily.
  2. Not naming back-up guardians.  People change, circumstances change, things happen. Your first choice guardian may not be in a position to (or want to) take care of your kids. Ideally you should name three to four alternate guardians.
  3. Not excluding unsuitable guardians. No way you would ever want your lout of a brother and his unbearable wife to raise your kids? Make your wishes known in a confidential letter to be revealed if your brother and his wife challenge your guardianship designation.
  4. Not taking into account the possibility of declining health, death, or divorce. Your parents might be in good shape to take care of your kids for the weekend, but could they handle taking care of your kids every day for the next 16 years? What age will your parents be when your youngest kid turns 18? If you named your sister and her husband as guardians, would you still want either one of them to take care of your kids if they got divorced?
  5. Not planning financially for someone else to raise your kids. Kids are expensive, really expensive. If the guardian you choose is not financially well off, make sure you have purchased a life insurance policy to help cover the costs of raising your kids.

I can’t imagine my kids being without me for a week much less a lifetime. Contemplating your own death and your kids navigating the world without you is scary stuff. But for your children’s sake, think carefully about who you would want to raise them and execute the proper paperwork. Like today.

What factors did you consider in naming a guardian for your kids? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

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