Choosing a Guardian, Trustee, and Executor
You and your spouse happily return from the hospital carrying your beautiful new bundle. You’re looking forward to spending your first days at home marveling at your baby. As time goes by, your days quickly blur into a blissful pattern of naps, midnight feedings, and hours spent enjoying the miraculous little person sharing your life. During this new life chapter, few first-time parents want to think about writing a will.
After ushering a baby into the world, it is difficult to think about one’s own mortality. But taking the time to write a will now is one of the most important things you can do for your child. Losing a parent at any age is difficult, and making sure your baby is cared for financially, emotionally, and physically will alleviate anxiety for you and your partner—and prevent undue stress for your child and extended family should a trauma indeed occur.
The first thing you’ll need to think about is a guardian for your child. For many families, this can be as simple as choosing the baby’s godmother and/or godfather. Other families choose one of the parent’s siblings. Remember that the person or couple that you pick will be taking on the lifelong commitment of caring for your child. The law center at www.nolo.com suggests asking yourself the following questions when considering a guardian:
- Do you have confidence in the individual(s)?
- Is your choice able to handle the physical requirements of being guardian?
- Does he/she have the time?
- If he/she has a family, are their kids close to the age of your child?
- Can you provide enough money to raise the child—and if not, can your prospective guardian cover the costs?
- After you’ve made the decision, choose an alternate guardian to include in your will. He or she will take care of your child in the event that your primary choice is unable to do the job.
When first beginning a will, Mike Palermo, attorney and certified financial planner suggests, “Focus should be on the people chosen as guardian(s) and/or trustee(s)—not only in terms of parenting skills, but also managing money. These two roles can be separated.”
Many parents follow this route and select one person to care for their child (a guardian) and another to watch the checkbook (a trustee). This is a wise choice for any family. “Thought should be given to writing guidelines for the guardian(s) and/or trustee(s) to follow, so they can make the same kinds of decisions that the parents would make. But it all starts with choosing the right people,” Palermo adds. His book, Crash Course on Wills & Trusts provides additional information and will be published through Barnes & Noble this September.
After picking a guardian and trustee, you’ll need to name an executor: someone to carry out your will and complete the necessary paperwork after your death. For your estate to transfer successfully, these three people will need to work together. Think about how your choices for guardian, trustee, and executor will interact in your absence. To help things move smoothly, you may consider including a letter with your will outlining how you’d like your child raised and educated, how you want your funeral to be presented, and so on.
Remember, a will isn’t just for dictating who should inherit your assets or care for your children. There are many other things a will can be used for, such as making contributions to charity or donating organs, as well as specifying funeral arrangements. You can also outline your preferences for life support by creating a separate form called a living will.