Caring for your children when you can’t
We don’t like to consider our mortality. We take it for granted that we will be around to watch our children grow up and go to university and see them get married and have children of their own too (in that order).
But what if tomorrow never arrives...? Who will look after our children?
Godparents vs guardians
Godparents - A godparent, in Christianity, is someone who sponsors a child's baptism and who takes responsibility for their religious education. Nowadays, the secular view of a godparent tends to be that of an individual chosen by the parents to take an interest in the child's upbringing and personal development, and who will take care of the child should anything happen to the parents. However, a godparent is essentially a spiritual role, not a legal one.
Legal guardians - A legal guardian, on the other hand, is the person who will make the important decisions regarding your child’s wellbeing should you die or become incapacitated; decisions about where your child will live, schooling and general care until the age of 18.
When choosing a potential legal guardian for your child, consider someone who:
- Has a cultural background and family values similar to yours
- Your child knows and is comfortable with
- Lives in the same neighbourhood, ensuring continuity of schooling
- Keeps regular contact with you and your children
- Is relatively stable financially and can be trusted to handle your children’s financial affairs honestly
It is recommended that you stipulate who you would like to appoint as your child’s legal guardian in your will. You can also include a short motivation for your choice, in a separate annexure to your will.
If one parent dies, the other biological parent will become the legal guardian, irrespective of any divorce agreement that may exist. If both parents die, the Master will consider your recommendation of legal guardian.
If no guardian has been nominated, the Master will involve child services and the family advocate who will then investigate the matter and make a ruling. The Master may, when deciding who to appoint, consider any godparents who have been named, since these people are likely to be family members or close friends trusted by the parents.
Godparents are usually selected for life, but your choice of legal guardian should be reviewed on a regular basis. People’s personal circumstances change and the candidate you selected at the birth of your child may no longer be an appropriate choice of guardian10 years later.
The guardian should be asked beforehand if they feel up to the task, and informed in detail of the financial arrangements that have been made (such as education policies and testamentary trusts). This gives both parties the opportunity to raise and resolve concerns, ensuring peace of mind that your chosen legal guardian will look after your child in the way you intended.
The guardian will be in charge of the child’s “legal” estate until the age of 18. For example, they will have to give consent if the child wants to marry before age 18, applies for a library card or goes on a school trip, etc. The guardian does not necessarily have to be the “custodian” (i.e. in charge of the child’s physical body) although ideally you would want the child to live with the guardian.
If you need to check whether your will is in order, or require assistance in setting up a Testamentary Trust, speak to one of our qualified financial advisors. It will be time well spent to secure your children’s’ future.
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