How can I choose the best option for my kid?
June 25, 2011 6:14 AM   Subscribe

In the event of our untimely demise, to whom shall we leave the children?

New baby in the house and my SO and I are struggling to come up with a suitable family or person who we might stipulate in a will guardianship for our child. Of the family options, the maternal grandmother is in her late 60s and on her own. We don't like her politics but she would be a loving caregiver... but it seems cruel to put our kid through loss of parents plus grandparent in possibly short order.

Maternal uncles are both irresponsible in different ways and single.

Paternal parents have potential but the grandmother on that side is in very poor health and prone to rages. Paternal sister and her family (husband, two kids) are the most obvious choice. We know that she and her family would love our child and care well for her but we have misgivings. We think his family is a bunch of lunatics (he's the cream of the crop) and they have deep religious convictions counter to ours and she likes a very "traditional" relationship where girls are the weaker sex and need to be taken care of (despite the fact that she is the smarter and more capable person in their two-some). They both smoke and he appears to be developing an alcohol (and maybe pot) problem. I just cannot imagine my daughter growing up in that household.

So, that leaves us with friends. And I wish I could say we were so close with another couple that there was an obvious choice out there but there's not.

Do you have a will that stipulated guardianship? If it was difficult to choose, how did you choose? Are you the guardian for a friend's kids -- do you take that thought seriously?

Anyone know how likely it is that a friend of ours would be granted guardianship anyway when it is most likely that if we did that, the family would fight for guardianship of our kid?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I've been asked if I would take on someone's child in the event of their death, because the person thought I would want it and would be a suitable parent. They seemed to think it was a no-brainer. I thought they were out of their mind.

Of the family you list, of the friends you have, who have you actually *discussed* this with? Find out who's willing, first. This may cut your list of potentials dramatically.
posted by galadriel at 6:27 AM on June 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

So, that leaves us with friends. And I wish I could say we were so close with another couple

For the record, I made a perfectly suitable guardian for my godchild before I was partnered or married. Expand your circle of consideration to include your single friends. I took my legal commitment to my god-daughter extremely seriously and made significant life decisions around her and her potential future well being, down to making sure my husband was an OK candidate and where we lived.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:27 AM on June 25, 2011 [16 favorites]

My best friend and her husband are the legal guardians of our children. Our families have been informed of our decision and while some of them weren't happy with it (namely my MIL, who couldn't understand why we didn't want her second son to be guardian...never mind that he's clinically depressed and often times suicidal) but they know what our wishes are and won't fight them in court. I don't know how your family would react, clearly, but I think being up-front about it is the best thing to do.

Yes, we do have a will, and a trust for the kids. My friend and her husband know that they would have to allow the kids to see their families, and we stipulated travel expenses into the trust for just that reason. Also, my friend was single when we asked her the first time. When we got to know her then-partner (now husband), we asked them both again, together. He didn't even hesitate when he said yes, so we feel really comfortable with our choice.
posted by cooker girl at 6:40 AM on June 25, 2011

Remember you can revise your will later, so you can always put your mom as the caregiver, but change it if her health declines past a certain point. I believe we put my parents as my son's caregivers upon our demise, but with a stipulation if they were unable that it would got to some long term friends of ours (my husband's mom has MD and no money financially, my brother and I disagree strongly on most aspects of life and weren't talking when my son was born, and my husband's brother had some serious responsibility issues as well). My parents are both in their 60s as well, but if I were to die today, they'd only be in their 80s by the time my son was grown, and that isn't that old (depending on your family history), so I wouldn't necessarily say your child would lose parents then grandmother quickly in a row. Darling Bri is right though too, single friends could be good too, so don't discount them.

But, given what you've said, go with the maternal grandmother and simply change the will if her health dramatically changes soon.
posted by katers890 at 6:41 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding katers890...

While you're thinking it over, I'd be asking the maternal grandmother and, if she's willing, getting that set up. Obviously, she is not likely to be in condition to be the guardian 10 years from now, but these things can be changed. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, to use that well-worn expression. The loss of both parents is fortunately unlikely, and in any case if that happens, it's not going to be a perfect situation.

Make sure you've got good life insurance and that the bulk of it is going to whomever has to raise your kid or kids in this event.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:46 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Bear in mind that there is the economic welfare of your child and then there is the environment in which it grows up. Somebody may be irresponsible, by your standards, financially but would be good a care giver in all other ways. And your will and estate can be structured to take that into account. And yes, clearly you need to talk to potential candidates.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:56 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

My sister has been stipulated as the guardian for her friends' kids. Either they didn't think about it when the kids were little, or their situation changed, because they asked her when the kids were 8 and 11. I should say that my sister is very close to the kids, babysitting often, and always doing special things for them... she's already like an aunt. What they did discuss further were the financial implications. For instance, they told my sister that they were also going to make specify that she would get the house they lived in, and that they had some hefty life-insurance on themselves that would leave my sister and the kids well situated if the worse should happen. My sister is unmarried and not particularly financially stable, so this made a lot of sense.
posted by kimdog at 7:00 AM on June 25, 2011

I've said this before on a similar link, but I'll *try* to concise up my thoughts on this one. How my partner and I made this decision for our son was thinking about how much it would absolutely suck to be left as an orphan and how to best mitigate that suck. For us, then, framing it that way, we realized that some of the biggest issues someone would have about losing their parents would be getting questions answered as they grew up--what we were like, what we would have thought about "X," how we handled "Y" when we were kids/young adults/adults. Also, we realized we would NEVER be able to choose someone that could magically recreate for a kid a family situation where it wouldn't matter that we weren't there--so this opened up the possibly of thinking that it was okay to choose something that was really different than us. To keep financials out of it--trust, life insurance, and a firm that is appointed to manage it (if financial savvy is a concern to remove).

This meant we ended up going with friends--friends that knew us well, had been through stuff with us, friends we had confided important and intimate things with. Friends who could tell our kid the real story of us and have the pictures to prove it, as they had questions. Friends who would understand our kid's grief. These friends do have a different lifestyle than we do, our kid would have a different kind of life with them, but they would have a different kind of life without parents, no matter what. But our friends will love them like crazy and keep us alive for our kid and make good decisions.

Also, I think what makes good families is three things--the ability to solve problems, resources (of all kinds, not just financial), and respect. There are bazillions of different kinds of families, but, to me, this what the successful ones have in common. We looked for this above other considerations like location/religion/structure/etc.

We also learned that there is the legal part, and the "wishes" part. You can draw up the more straightforward custodianship legal stuff, but include in your file letters that outline your wishes--for example, we have letters that stipulate to the guardian that it is our wish that our kid maintains a relationship with his grandparents/our other close friends/uncles through visits that they facilitate regularly as long as our kid and guardian are happy with the arrangement. This way, your guardian is still your guardian and can make the best decision for your kid (like, in case a grandparent goes nuts and is not a good influence, anymore), but they know you hoped that a relationship continued. Also, it makes everything clear for others what your expectations for anyone else's influence in your kid's life were while keeping it flexible for the custodian.

Our kiddo's people take their position seriously, and visit him and get to know him and spoil him a bit. It's nice that doing all of this sort of create a set of relatives for our kid out of what was previously our friendship with the couple. So the whole exercise was worth it for much more than theoretical piece of mind.
posted by rumposinc at 7:27 AM on June 25, 2011 [12 favorites]

Nthing that you can change your mind later. You should be reviewing these things every few years anyway. Go with grandma today and spend more effort on feeling out your friends over the next few months/years.

Because of the divorce and my parents' inability to speak civilly to one another, it's a really good thing both of them survived to my 18th birthday. I was left out of the arrangements they made for my siblings' care. My dad picked his brother and my mom picked her husband's first cousin, primarily on a "who knows our kids and likes kids and isn't nuts and has kids of their own" basis. They cut out closer relatives in both cases.

American courts generally respect wills and advance directives - if you aren't cutting a spouse out of an inheritance and aren't doing something crazy, you should be OK.
posted by SMPA at 7:29 AM on June 25, 2011

Yes, make two separate decisions: Who will be the best caregiver, and who will be the best financial manager (and this can be a bank, or a law firm, or some other professional, if you have no relative you'd choose). They do not need to be the same person; some lawyers will advise you they SHOULD not be the same person, but that comes down to family dynamics, IMHO.

You can also name one guardian and alternates (Grandma, and if not grandma, then Cousin Joe, and if not Cousin Joe, then ...) and in the day of word processors, changing a will is not the hassle it used to be. If it were me I'd start with grandma and, when her health declines, look at your situation again and change the will.

What not to do is what my neighbors have chosen ... they couldn't settle on a guardian when their child was a baby because they had no particularly stable or healthy relatives and not many friends ... so they just haven't done it. Meanwhile it's been SIX YEARS since they first mentioned they needed to get around to it and in that time the husband had a massive heart attack and the wife had her appendix burst ... and the kid still has no guardians named. (On the flip side, they're not in great health obviously, and the worst hasn't happened yet -- the worst is VERY unlikely.)

PS -- the court will respect your wishes, but they will ALWAYS choose in the best interests of the child (so far as they can discern them). So if you picked stable, responsible Uncle Joe and between now and when you die simultaneous untimely deaths, Joe becomes a crack addict with multiple drug arrests, Joe is not getting those kids no matter what your will says. Similarly if you picked a grandparent whose health significantly declines, the court takes that into account. Etc.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:32 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

>> Are you the guardian for a friend's kids -- do you take that thought seriously?

We are named guardians for my brother's children. I take it extremely seriously. But as immediate family of approx. the same age as the parents and with a resident financial expert, we're kind of the ideal caregiver situation.

But. We have discussed at length what to do in our own situation, and it's complicated. As Eyebrows McGee pointed out, "the best caregiver" and "the best financial manager" are not always the same person. We are considering going with a third party to oversee a trust.

In your situation, I think we would likely go with the maternal grandmother for the present, and reassess the plan if/when things change. Have lengthy discussions with her and provide documents that support your wishes for visitation, college financing, etc.
posted by pineapple at 8:07 AM on June 25, 2011

I'm going to assume when you said "irresponsible in different ways and single" that you meant that they were irresponsible and didn't have someone else more responsible to back them up, rather than "single people are terrible parents" or something. But yeah, given your list, grandma sounds like the only choice. By all means, do not give the kids to anyone "prone to rages" or the religious budding addicts. Please, please, no. Hell, I'd say give the kids to the irresponsible ones over those people.

Maybe you need to start cultivating some friendships (not that that's a bad idea in general!) as a backup for grandma, just in case.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:08 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

My husband and I have neither children nor a will, but we've discussed this and are working towards both. The obvious person for us is a single friend, who's been my best friend since high school and has become friends with my husband as well - she's our age, loves children, and shares similar religious, political, and childrearing ideals as us. We will list back-ups as well, in case she isn't willing or able to take on the responsibility at the time - second is my mom, third is his parents - we argued a bit about this order, since my mom is more different from us religiously, but her home is less chaotic and more similar to ours. We already asked our friend, and I'm sure our parents would be perfectly happy to take care of our children. We will stipulate in our will that the kid(s) must be allowed to visit their grandparents frequently.
posted by Safiya at 9:30 AM on June 25, 2011 seems cruel to put our kid through loss of parents plus grandparent in possibly short order.

Sure, but, Grandma's going to die no matter what, and likely your child would be grateful to've gotten closer to her before that happens.

Ask yourself who your daughter would want to live with. Is she going to be pretty close to that Grandma growing up? If Mom and Dad die, she'd probably derive more comfort from living with loving-caregiver-Grandma than anybody else; she really does sound like your best option, for now.
posted by kmennie at 9:38 AM on June 25, 2011

Choosing friends can be a good idea, but keep in mind that friends' lives can sometimes change unexpectedly, and/or the friendship could decline in its closeness. In our case, we are the appointed guardians of the children of some formerly very close friends. They asked us, after much deliberation, shortly after we moved halfway across the country. At that point, we all thought that our friendship was the equivalent of a family bond. It's now been close to a decade, and we've moved two more times, even further away, for job opportunities and they've moved too, further from our extended families, making it more difficult to see them when we're visiting family. Although we all tried to keep the relationships strong, we hardly know the children at all. It's actually been on our friends part more than ours: as busy parents, they've had a harder time keeping our friendship current.

I worry that if the very unlikely were to happen, the children would be shipped off to live with us -- some distant old friends of their parents who they mostly know from pictures. Yes, we share the same values and lifestyle as our friends and would probably parent their children in much the same way as they would have themselves, but it would surely be much more comfortable for these kids to just go live with their grandmother, who wasn't chosen because she's older and has different values.

Choose someone who has an individual relationship with your child/ren, and not just with you and your partner. And be sure to revisit the issue frequently, as SMPA said above. In our situation, it would be very awkward to ask our friends to find someone new -- and maybe they already have and just haven't mentioned it to us for fear of the same awkward conversation. The best case in a worst case scenario would be that the child is raised by someone they know well and feel very close to and connected.

If you do choose friends, be sure to establish in the beginning that you'll give them a gracious "out" if the situation changes for either your family or theirs at some unforeseeable point in the future.
posted by mmmcmmm at 10:14 AM on June 25, 2011

Maternal grandmother; revisit as needed.

The worst, to me, would be with the grandmother prone to rages (not that she is a bad person, but my personal feeling is that some level of benign neglect or dysfunction is preferable to rage episodes. Children can sometimes be made even stronger or more self-reliant under some trying conditions, but exposure to toxic anger can have no benefit, and almost always leaves emotional scarring.

Since you are not mentioning the ages or specific irresponsible traits of the uncles, I'm assuming that they are de facto out of the running at the moment, so no comment there – though, again, I'd rather someone who is perhaps less than perfectly responsible about money or career matters, if they are excellent in other ways, over an anger-management dropout.

Second choice after the maternal grandmother is paternal sister and family if you don't have friend(s) close enough that they would make sense.
posted by taz at 9:39 PM on June 25, 2011

You can update your will at any time, right? So, I'd go with the maternal grandmother for now until (a) her health begins to decline, or (b) the maternal uncle or a friend becomes a better choice.

Sixty is not death's door seriously. (I just knocked on wood for my family, yours, and everyone reading this thread). All but one of my grandparents lived into their very late 80's, if not mid-90s. Your daughter could have a career and children of her own by that point.
posted by salvia at 9:56 PM on June 25, 2011

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