Choosing a guardian for your children

publication date: Apr 25, 2007

Two thirds of adults never make a will and of those who do, many do not appoint someone to look after their children in the event of their death. Godparents have no legal status and you may not have chosen them with a view to taking over the parenting role in the event of your death.

If both parents of a child under 18 die and no guardian has been mentioned in the will, then Social Services will appoint someone  - usually from family and close friends. However they may choose someone you would not have asked so it is important for you to think carefully and make your own choice. You should also be aware that an unmarried father who has not applied for parental responsibility cannot nominate a guardian.

Many people nominate family members but there may be good reasons why you shouldn’t: grandparents might be in poor health, a sister or brother might live too far away or you might not get on with them. You need to feel confident that the person you choose will look after the best interests of your children and will effectively act as their parents. Of course the potential guardian must agree to be nominated but even so  they are free, in the event of your death, to change their minds, so you need to be as sure of someone as you can be.
Whomever you decide on, it is wise to tell your parents and siblings and introduce them if they don’t already know each other. That will make life easier for your kids - the last thing they need is family contesting guardianship in the courts which has been known to happen!

Points to consider
Ideally a guardian should:
  •  Already know your children and get on well with them.
  • Live in the same area so your children’s lives are less disrupted at a time when they will need the support of  their friends and familiar routines.
  • Be of similar age to yourself.
  • Have similar ideas to you on child rearing.
  • Be someone whose children, should they have any, get on well with yours.
  • Have the same approach to discipline as you do - the way they react to your children is a good pointer.
  • Be able to cope with your children’s grief and help them work through it.
  • Have similar expectations to you.
Making it formal
Verbal arrangements are not legally binding but it is sufficient to write your wishes down on a piece of paper which you date and sign in the presence of two witnesses who also sign the paper. However the Law Society recommends that you make a will and appoint a guardian at the same time as you are working out the financial aspects. You can find out about solicitors in your area from the Law Society website  which also gives helpful information about how to choose one. Of course personal recommendation from a friend or family member is always an option but remember someone who suits them may not appeal to you.