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Why single parents need to designate a guardian

A tragic accident leaves a young boy without a father. His father had been the most stable figure in his life for some time. What happens now? Inertia and worries about the cost of an estate plan keep many unmarried parents from putting a plan in writing. This leaves the court to designate a guardian.

Advance planning can take some of the uncertainty out of this scenario. This process is easier than most expect. Our March blog post included considerations for selecting a guardian. In this post, we want to discuss unique issues for single parents.

Whether the other parent has been absent or is not suited to parenting, a guardian and a back-up designation in a will can protect a child. This is important because the other parent is often a natural consideration. In addition, a court may not give significant weight to any unwritten informal agreements.

Stability

Judges in guardianship cases are guided by what is in the child’s best interest. This is a standard that allows some discretion. It can lead to unexpected results. When the other parent and/or relatives are involved, disputes can drag out proceedings.

All of this can delay the amount of time it takes to provide a stable home for a child. Even six months can seem a long time for any child and fears about where they will ultimately live might interfere with school and relationships.

What to do today

Estate planning is something that can be difficult to start. Often difficult decisions and conversation are required. But making a call to an attorney is a first small step in the right direction.

Grandparents are often considered first, but are they still in good health? Will they be able to raise a child to adulthood? Would relocating be tough on a child? Depending on their age they might not be the best option.

Who else can be considered? Many people choose a relative (sister, brother or cousin) as a guardian; however a friend with similar values is often a good choice. Always ask for permission prior to naming a guardian. This ensures there are no surprises and the person is willing and able to take on the commitment.

Because there is no way to know when a fatal accident might happen or illness might strike, it is important to start working on a will today.

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