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What instructions should I leave behind for my children's guardian in the event of my death?

UPDATED: December 29, 2019

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Determining a guardian for your children can be a difficult decision. Your children’s guardian will have the authority to make or influence all parental decisions for your children including where they live, the schools they attend, church practices, and more. Making preparations and instructions in advance can ease the transition for those you and/or your spouse leave behind.

Writing a Letter to Your Children

You may not be there to say goodbye, but you can leave a letter behind for each of your children that does just that. Cover everything that you wish to communicate to your children in this letter such as how much you love them, how much you miss them, and if you are religious, where you are. If you have any life advice for you children, offer it in the letter. This letter can either be evergreen, meaning that it is meant to last their entire childhood, or it can be specific to their age. If the letter is specific to their age, then you may wish to re-write the letter yearly. This letter is known as a "codicil" to your will, and should be attached directly to the will document.

Instructions to the Guardian Regarding Daily Routine

The next codicil you include can be an itemized list of your intentions for each child’s daily routine. Make this list similar to one that you would give a babysitter. Be sure to include any of your children's special activities. If the children are home schooled, mention the course order and length. Describing bedtime routines may be especially important for younger children. As with the age-specific letter, the daily routine document should be updated and re-integrated into your will annually.

Instructions to The Guardian Regarding Familiar Items

Whether it’s an attachment item such as a blanket, or songs they love, or their favorite recipes, make sure that the children’s guardian is aware of these items and their location. Encourage the guardian to go to your home and collect the items before relocating with the children.

Future Advice to the Guardian

A new guardian is going to be as overwhelmed as your children at your loss. Consider writing them a letter as well offering them encouragement and overall advice on how you wish your children to be raised, including requests regarding religious traditions and schooling.

How to Utilize a Trust for Your Children

One tool for ensuring certain expectations or requirements for your children is a trust. It would be managed by a trustee, not the guardian, and ensure that money is provided only for the activities specified in it. For example, if you want your children to attend a certain type of college, specify this expectation in the trust documents so that the trustee encourages the necessary decisions and actions on the part of the guardian. If you want to bless your child with a lovely wedding someday, create a reserve clause in the trust for wedding expenses.

Leaving behind instructions for guardians is an important process and one that takes time. However, it is the best decision you can make for your children. If you are unsure how to incorporate the instructions, consult with an estate planning attorney for helpful advice and ideas.

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