Surprisingly, over half of all Americans do not have a will in place. With all this worry about your children, parents are ignoring (whether intentionally or innocently) the #1 thing parents should be worried about -- what will happen to your children if you die while they are still young. If you and your spouse (or the children’s other parent) both die, who is going to take care of your children?
In North Carolina, the only way to name a guardian for your children in the event that both parents pass away is to do so in a Last Will and Testament. Some states have different procedures, so if you are new to North Carolina and have another mechanism in place, you should speak with an attorney to ensure that your wishes will be followed. If you do not have a will, and both parents pass away, the State will attempt to locate your relatives and place your children with your relatives. In a lot of cases, this will be okay. Perhaps you want your children to live with your parents. But what if they are elderly? What if more than one family member wants them? A custody battle could ensue. What if the relatives they are placed with live across the country? For many people, a better choice for a guardian might be a close family friend who lives in your neighborhood.
When you name a guardian in a will, the court gives the named guardian a strong presumption that it will not disregard unless there are serious doubts that the named guardian would serve the best interests of the child. With naming a guardian, you can take into consideration many relevant factors, such as the following:
- Money: Hopefully, if you both pass away before your children reach age 18, you will do so later in their lives and have saved a lot of money for their care. However, if you are not leaving a lot of money behind for your children (which is especially harder to do when you are young and they are young), you need to consider the financial situation of the guardian, as they may need to financially contribute to the care of you children. The average cost of raising one child in North Carolina is $13,741 per year.
- Religion. Do you want your children raised in a particular faith?
- Location. Are you okay with your children making a large move to live with their guardian?
- School. If your named guardian has children, would you want the children to attend the same school? Or stay in their current school?
- Stability of your guardian’s marriage. First of all, you should name one person to be guardian, not a couple. But in the event the guardian becomes single, would you want your children to live with a single parent?
- Age of guardian. While your parent may be living an active lifestyle now, what about in ten years, when your children are still minors?
I encourage you to discuss these factors with an attorney who can provide guidance in making this decision. An attorney will also know the correct way to provide for contingencies and successor guardians. Again, in North Carolina, the only way for a healthy parent to name a guardian for your children is to do so in a will. Do not intentionally push this worry to the back of your head and avoid it or put it off. You never know when it could be too late. Naming a guardian is one of the most important things you can do for your children.
 Only 44% of Americans have a will. http://www.gallup.com/poll/191651/majority-not.aspx
 There is a procedure in place for parents who are suffering from a progressive chronic illness or irreversible fatal illness to name a “standby guardian” for their children.