What is a Guardian and How Do I Choose One?

It’s difficult to think about someone else raising your child, but if something were to happen to you or your spouse picking a legal guardian will help secure their future.

What is a Guardian?

A Guardian is a person or people who will assume legal, moral and financial responsibility for your children if you and your spouse pass away. Guardian(s) are usually a family member or close friend.

When and Why do I need to name Guardians?

Naming a Guardian(s) is a critical task, as your child or children will need to be put in the care of a responsible adult in the event of an emergency that leaves you unable to do so.

We recommend updating your Will, appointing a guardian, and amending your list of beneficiaries as soon as a child is born or adopted. Failing to choose a Guardian(s) will result in the courts deciding for you, and it may not be the person or people that you would have chosen yourself.

Alternatively, not naming a Guardian(s) can result in a painful tug-of-war between family or friends who believe they would be your choice in caretaker. Without your expressed wishes, a case like this can end up in court and in broken relationships.

Who should I discuss this decision with?

If you’re married or in a common-law relationship it’s a good idea to sit down together when drafting the Will, especially when making important decisions like who will care for your dependents when you both pass on.

After making your decision with your spouse, you need to speak with the Guardian of choice and make sure they are a willing participant ready to take on the responsibility. You should meet with them privately to share the news and explain the process, including when the duties would be required, and other important details.

How do I choose Guardians for my minor children?

First, grab a pen and paper and write down traits that you would want in a guardian.

Choose things such as:

  • Values
  • Educational style
  • Geographical location
  • Parenting style
  • Other qualities that matter most to you

You should also factor in the person or people’s age, health, current family situation and financial stability as those factors can affect their ability to provide sufficient care for the child.

Think about the people in your life that best align with the general qualities you’re looking for in a Guardian. Most importantly, choose someone who you trust completely.

Who can be named as a Guardian(s)?

Below are some best practices when choosing a guardian for your child or children.

  • They must be considered an adult (age of the majority)
  • The Guardian(s) must be mentally competent to make decisions and understand the consequences of their actions
  • The Guardian(s) should be someone you trust completely
  • Consider a family member or close friend(s)
  • It can be either a couple or an individual

Remember to talk to your chosen Guardian(s) to make sure they are mentally prepared to take on the role and responsibilities.

Do I need a backup Guardian(s)?

Specifying backups (also called substitutes) will add additional layers of certainty to your plan. Your initial choice may refuse the task, or be unable to act for other reasons, which is why it’s important to have a plan B.