As soon as you have a child, it’s important to begin planning for the future and preparing for the unthinkable. That means putting together an estate plan, which should include a will that names the people who will care for your child in case you pass away or become incapacitated.

If you’re in Michigan, then you may want to read up on the laws related to naming a guardian in a will before you start the process. Then, you’ll know exactly how to go about the process with the help of an experienced estate planning lawyer.

Naming a Guardian in Your Michigan Will

A guardian is someone who is appointed to look after a child who is under 18 years of age and not married. By default, if one parent dies, the other becomes the sole guardian. If both parents die, then the court will look to the parents’ last will and testament to see whom the parents named as the guardian or guardians.

The guardian will physically take care of the child and make sure all their needs are met. The guardian might have control over your child’s assets, like a college savings plan, or the court could appoint a conservator for that role. A conservator is a person appointed by a probate court to handle certain financial affairs for an individual who is not capable of managing those details themselves.

To designate a guardian, your will needs to be signed with two witnesses present. You also need to make sure you follow Michigan law when creating and signing the will; an experienced estate planning lawyer can help. Any mistakes or omissions while creating a will could invalidate the entire document, including your designation of guardianship.

How to Choose a Guardian

Usually, a guardian should be someone you can trust to raise your child in a responsible manner that’s consistent with your wishes and values. Most often, the guardian is another family member with whom the child has a familiar and positive relationship.

Some parents are fortunate enough to have multiple parties who could serve as guardians. If you have several people you’re considering, you may want to consider factors such as age, location, family situation, and beliefs.

People of any age can serve as loving and capable guardians, but age is still a factor to consider. For example, you may want to name your own parents as guardians. However, your parents may be getting older and dealing with their own medical and financial issues as they prepare for or begin retirement. They may not be in a situation where they can fully care for your children physically and financially for the next several years of their lives.

When it comes to location, you might want to choose a guardian who lives near your current place of residence so that your child’s life isn’t completely upended. Especially when children are young, it’s often in their best interest to keep them close to home in an environment they are familiar with.

If you name a guardian who already has a large family, they might be too overwhelmed to give your child as much care and attention as you’d like. Plus, the opportunities for conflict with another child in the family multiply.

On the other hand, if a prospective guardian is single and has never had children, they may be too busy or inexperienced to parent. It could be easy for them to agree to guardianship but underestimate the responsibilities that will be involved.

In terms of beliefs, your child should be in a home that incorporates a belief system and values that are similar to yours. For instance, if your child has been raised with certain religious beliefs, putting them in a completely secular home may lead to an identity crisis, and it may put the guardians in a difficult position as well.

What Happens if I Don’t Name a Guardian?

If you don’t name a guardian in your will, a relative or interested person can petition the court to determine who the guardian will be. The judge will decide who will serve as the guardian after evaluating all the options and determining what’s in the child’s best interests.

Even though the judge will do their best, they may have values, priorities, and perspectives that are different from yours. There is no guarantee they will pick the guardian you would have chosen. So, if you want your wishes honored, you should appoint a guardian in your will.

Not only that, but failing to appoint a guardian could cause a family rift if more than one person decides to petition for guardianship. When you appoint a guardian in your will, you eliminate uncertainty and the potential for conflict.

RELATED: 4 Ways to Protect Your Children With Your Estate Plan

Work With an Estate Planning Lawyer to Create Your Will

To ensure that you’re going about the process of naming a guardian the proper way, you’ll need an experienced family lawyer to help you. They can prepare all the documents for you, help you find witnesses, and counsel you through the steps of writing your will and any other necessary estate planning documents. Your lawyer will file the documents as well.

When you work with an experienced attorney, you won’t have to focus on anything other than deciding whom you want to appoint as guardian for your child or children.

Contact the Law Offices of Kari Santana for Help Creating a Will or Trust in West Michigan

Whether you’re established and have a large, complex estate or you’re young and just getting started, the experienced estate planning team at the Law Offices of Kari Santana can help you get ready for the future with our affordable estate planning services. We understand that your estate planning needs are as unique as you are, and we’ll address them with creative, custom-tailored solutions that can give you confidence and peace of mind.

To get started today, call us at (616) 717-5759 or fill out our quick and easy consultation form below.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.