16 answers

How to Determine Who to Be Guardian for Your Children If Both Parents' Die

my husband and i are taking a trip overseas and my folks are watching our child while we are gone. we have a will and we have designated a couple though i am having second thoughts about the decision. we've only seen them once since the birth of our child. i am not sure who is right for the role though i am certain it is not them. this all came to the forefront when my in-laws sent an email yesterday. honestly, i understand being prepared, but really struggling with the gloom and doom of it all especially since we are departing within the week. i almost want to be on a different flight. here is the email.
"Not to be morbid, but would you please give us xxxx and xxxxx's last name
and phone number and address.
I know you and xxxxxxxxx have them as xxxx's care takers if something
happened to you both, but we have no info about them!"

thanks in advance.

1 mom found this helpful

What can I do next?

More Answers

First thing I wanted to ask...Did you fill out a medical release and have it notorized? Before you leave make sure your children's care taker has one in case of an emergency.

I HATE this part of parenting but it is a neccessary one. The key is to review your will often as time changes people and situation. As far a choosing a gaurdian I think your best bet is to go through the potential person(s)list with your spouse and pick the one you find best suited. I would start with immediate family, is there a brother, sister brother/sister-in-law that could provide care. I would think that they would have a vested interest in you so that interest and care would continue to your child. If they aren't able perhaps a family friend that you have come to love and trust that fits the appropriate age range and has the desire to raise children.

Secondly, don't forget to approach this person and ask them if they are willing and able. Perhaps you could set up a trust fund so they have some financial help if needed.

Best of luck, this is never fun but one of those things that has to be done!

2 moms found this helpful

If it doesn't feel right then you should change it! My parents had a long list of options 1,2,3 etc. In order to keep us from going to my dad's family. I think you have to take it seriously otherwise you never know what future your children may have. I also believe that even with a specified preferred guardian that a court can still decide the children should go to someone else. So I would really pick the right people so that the court sees no reason they shouldn't go to them. It seems strange that you would pick someone that hasn't even known them well. Why not their grandparents?

1 mom found this helpful

I agree the way they asked it could have been worded better, but if fact you do need to make sure your will is updated to your desires. Because IF something did happen, legally that couple is still in your will as guardians of your children. Also, please leave a medical consent form signed and noterized, because there is a greater chance of one of your kids needing the emergency room than of something happening to both you and your husband.
Have a wonderful trip!

1 mom found this helpful

It is SO HARD to decide, I just wanted to add that your in-laws are being proactive, and it's probably because they love your child or have had something in their past where they know how important these things are. If it helps, we picked my husband's cousin instead of brothers because it is just a much better fit. (But my no means perfect.) It doesn't matter to me if his SIL is mad at us after we're gone, my son won't be living with her for many reasons. Also, we split who will handle the money (my parents) and who will raise my son (husbands cousin). So we've had very open discussions with my parents about our values, not keeping all the money saved for college if the family who is raising him needs support to reduce the stress they are all under, etc. So I would say just look around for who you trust to watch your child now and think about it that way. Maybe it will help. Good luck! D.

1 mom found this helpful

I had a supervisor years ago who taught me a valuable lesson. He and his wife never traveled on the same flight when their children were young. It didn't make sense until he explained they were concerned about leaving their children without any parent. It's something to think about. I don't have that problem now because my children are grown. If you are feeling uncomfortable with your choice change it asap. My friend left someone as executor of her estate but started having second thoughts. She died unexpectedly and when she died it was an absolute mess. Trust your instincts. It's a hard thing to think about but you have to make the best choice for your children even when it's uncomfortable. When my children were young I chose someone who would make sure both families had access to my girls.

1 mom found this helpful

I hope you're not too down on the in-laws for asking this question. I know it's not what you want to be thinking about, but they are actually being very smart, honest and proactive to ask this; it's information they should have and keep on file from now on, not just when you travel. I'd congratulate them for being frank and staying prepared.

Good for you, too, to be reconsidering if you are not comfortable any more with your first choice. If there is a reason you did not choose any of the grandparents or other relatives as caretakers, then you need to find someone outside the family you know better than you now seem to know your current choice for guardians. Unfortunately, with one week left to departure you truly don't have much time left to think about this and, very importantly, to have long and honest talks with both the formerly named guardians and the new ones -- the new ones you choose could always say no, after all, leaving you having to find others. If there is not time for you to handle all this, you may want to just quickly get the will changed to designate the grandparents as guardians if you truly do not want these other people involved. But when you get back, find your new guardians and change the will again (you can change a will infinitely!).

Sorry I don't have much more to add. We have a wonderful friend who would be our guardian, whose values and lifestyle are a perfect fit, though lately I've wondered about that choice solely because it would involve uprooting our daughter geographically and sending her to an area that has far, far fewer options for good schools and other opportunities that not only we but she thinks are very important. We've got equally great friends here, but most of them are of an age where they don't want to start raising a young child and they have older family members for whom they'll soon be caretakers....So I'll be interested to see how others advise you on the choice. Try to enjoy your trip, please -- the odds are very, very low that anything would happen. My husband, daughter and I are leaving in just over a week to go overseas ourselves and it ties me up in knots too so I understand!

1 mom found this helpful

Your in-laws are smart. If something does happen to you both the courts could put your child into foster care until caretakers are found. Is there any reason your in-laws or parents couldn't/wouldn't take your child? Or someone else who you an more importantly your child are familiar and comfortable with. You can have a notarized letter for this done before your trip as an addendum to your will. Also make sure you leave a notarized medical treatment form with your in-laws should any emergencies come up while you are on your trip. Leave detailed instuctions for your in-laws regarding illness, etc. so you don't get "worrying" phone calls while away.
My husband always does not want to do this before we go away, but I remind him that if we are prepared for the what-ifs then we will have more peace while we are gone and the chances we will need it are slim. Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful

If you have an existing will and lawyer, then s/e can quickly change it for you I bet. All you really need ot do, is give your in-laws a business card for your lawyer. There is more to your estate then contacting the couple you meniton.

If you have doubts, change it. Pick the people who you feel will be most loving to your kids, and who hold similar values as you in terms of education and discipline. ALso, think about where you want your kids raised. If you live in VA, would you pick a family in TX who might uproot your kids? In my case, we picked my Mom even though she is in her 70s for these reasons. My younger sister in law and brother in law are the back-ups, but they are young new parents, and I couldn't see them "ready" to parent yet. However, in the next few years, we may change it.

Good luck, try not to worry.

1 mom found this helpful

My husband and I took our first week long trip over-seas when our daughter was 18 months old. We did not have a will or anyone designated on paper who would get our daughter if heaven forbid anything happened to both of us while we were travelling. All I can say is that I did not want to ever experience again the fear and anxiety I had as our airplane flew over the ocean when we left for that trip. It was the most nerve-wracking and unsettling feeling I have ever had. You are wise to already have a will in place, but I would highly advise you to think very carefully about the reality of who you really would want to care for your child if something were to happen. It is not something to take lightly. It is a huge and very difficult decision once you REALLY think about who you would want raising your child. I am not sure if this is completely true or not, but if you have not made it clear beforehand as to who would be the caretaker, the State would step in and make that decision for you. That would be very hard for me accept.
Several years after our first trip we went on another vacation just my husband and I and we had 4 kids at the time and we had everything laid out and in writing. It was a much different experience and so much more enjoyable.

1 mom found this helpful

If your heart/intuition is telling you the couple you originally chose as guardians aren't the right people, then listen. My parents ALWAYS rode on separate flights. Not convenient but they looked at the bigger picture. Best of luck with this decision as to who to appoint.

1 mom found this helpful


First of all - being prepared is not the same as being morbid. Death is a fact of life and accidents do happen.
You need to have people that you love and trust as guardians for your children. It would be horrible if there was an accident and you and your husband both died BUT it would also be horrible if people felt they had to go to court to fight over your children. Maybe you think this would not happen but just believe me - people fight over much less. You owe it to yourself and your children to do as much as you can to ensure that they have a life filled with love, safety and security. Grandparents are often chosen as first line for guardians, then add someone (like an aunt or uncle) who is younger just in case the grandparents are unable to care for your children. Discuss your decision with the people you choose and make sure they are willing. Make sure they know where all your important documents are. Have a will - with these people listed in it and make sure that the disposition of all your wordly goods goes where it is needed (such as being used for the care of your children or put into trust funds for their college years.) Good luck.

I'm not sure that the courts would grant custody of your children based on a will. The courts decide who to place children with after the death of parents because children are not property. That would be especially true if any of the grandparents file for custody. Just my opinion, not legal advice, seek an attorney for that information. The attorney who drew up your will could tell you this, or you may just want to draw up a handwritten will for the time being, then change later to a formal will. Handwritten wills are legal, they are just easier to contest.

If those you designated have shown no interest in your children, I think it is time to amend your will, and quickly. This is not morbidity, but just being good parents.

Just think of the nightmare your relatives and friends would go through if THEY had to decide who to raise your children. It is imperitive for you to do that, so no one has to fight or go thru the difficulties of that.

Last year, my husband and I were going away alone and we have 3 small boys. We handwrote a will (legal in VA) so if we died, there would be no question.

I think the most important consideration is that the guardians you choose raise your children in the way that is the most like how you would raise them. I personally don't think it matters whether you are close emotionally to them, or geographically, or even related. As long as they have the same core values, and family philosophies as you. We got life insurance for each of us so that the guardians (my step brother & his wife) would not have the added financial burden of raising our children.

You can always change the guardians, etc., but it is very important to make the choice YOURSELF.

Have a great trip, don't worry! Have FUN!!!

If you're certain it's not them, then for goodness sakes change your will. The inlaws have a very valid point; if you die, these people get your kid and your parents/inlaws will have to go to court to contest custody, even tho they're the grandparents. It's not a tv movie, it's real life, they'd be under no obligation to keep the grandparents in the loop. And if your child doesn't know them, then why did you pick them? I picked the sister most like me in attitude and values. If you don't have sibs, pick your parents; they, at least, will have memories of you to share with your child. Not to be morbid, but...

I'm not sure why you didn't designate your parents or in-laws. A couple that you either don't know well or don't see often seems like a pretty poor choice. No one is going to love and care for your children in your absence better than your own or your husband's parents. I would draw up a new clause to the will (doesn't have to be long I think, just a page in length) with yours or his parents as the children's guardians in case of anything happening to you and have it notarized before you leave, then provide copies to whoever you designate and to your attorney, or the executor of your will. This is legally binding enough that they can fight the battle with it and most likely win if anything does happen and custody of the children becomes an issue. It is my understanding that (provided that you are of sound mind of course) the most current document is seen as the one truly reflecting the will of the departed.

You can certainly put in your will whom you would prefer to be your child's guardian, but permanent custody is always before the court. It will certainly consider your wishes, but should anyone else go before the court, they also will be heard. The judge makes the final decision.

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