The Baby that Came with Instructions
By Michele R. J. Allinotte:
A couple of weekends ago, I had the pleasure of watching my baby nephew while my brother and sister-in-law went out for the evening.
After playing with the baby and putting him to sleep, I saw the instructions from my well-organized sister-in-law, outlining his routine, eating habits and even how to change his diaper. At the end of the instructions, she noted where they store their important documents in their house, presumably in case something happened to them on their date night.
But there was a problem. I had no legal authority to keep and care for my nephew in the event that my brother and his wife didn’t come home from their evening. If that baby’s parents were in an accident, I’d have to call the police. Without any documentation appointing me (or anyone else) as his guardian, no one would have the legal authority to care for him until his custody had been decided. There’s a very real possibility that he’d be placed in foster care temporarily while more permanent arrangements were secured.
As a parent myself, I understand how busy things can get and naming legal guardians (or doing any longer term planning) often gets dropped to the bottom of the “to do” list. Many parents delay having an estate plan drafted because they have difficulty selecting a guardian for their children. It’s a huge decision. After all, the person they choose will be responsible for caring for their children in the event the unthinkable happens. And, let’s face it, no one will be as good of a parent to your children as you will.
It may be unpleasant to think about, but it’s an important topic. Parents must designate a legal guardian before tragedy strikes. Otherwise, a judge – who doesn’t know the children or their family dynamics – will select guardians for them. In some cases, the children can even be placed in foster care, rather than with beloved, trusted family members.
So how do parents name a legal guardian? I regularly speak to parents in our community, outlining factors they should consider when choosing a guardian, including potential candidates’ age and maturity, their relationship with the children, their personal values, their parenting style, financial stability, and character.
I also encourage parents to legally name a temporary guardian, who will care for their children in the event of an emergency, until the permanent guardians can arrive.
Do you know what would happen to your children if you and your partner didn’t come home from “date night”? If you think it won’t happen to you, I certainly hope you’re right. But, consider the recent tragedy of Brad and Krista Howe of Red Deer, Alberta. While returning home late one Saturday evening, their car was struck by a drunk driver who ran a red light. This young couple left five children at home.
I urge every parent to appoint long term and short term guardians for their children, and am happy to answer their questions in a Family Wealth Planning Session.
Cornwall lawyer Michele R.J. Allinotte, founder of Allinotte Law Office is a Personal Family Lawyer® and a Creative Business Lawyer® who specializes in guiding families and small business owners to make the best legal and financial decisions over their lifetime. For more information, please visit www.yourcornwalllawyer.com.
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