Choosing your kids testamentary guardians

Do your children have testamentary guardians? Have you appointed someone to take care of them if you die and are no longer around? Nobody ever wants to think about themselves dying, least of all parents of small children, but it can and does happen, and it can be really hard for children if there is no plan in place.
So how do you go about choosing your kids testamentary guardians?

Appointing someone to take care of them if you die and are no longer around.

Find out how to put some plans in place before it's too late.

Choosing your kids testamentary guardians


1. What will happen to your kids if you die?

Nobody ever wants to think about themselves dying, least of all parents of small children, but it can and does happen, and it can be really hard for children if there is no plan in place.

Unfortunately there is no perfect solution in finding someone else to look after your children once you’re gone.

You’re also unlikely to find someone who will tick all the boxes and care for them as much as you do, but if you consider what matters to you most, you will probably be able to make some reasonable choices.

Your instinct counts for a lot and writing down the pros and cons can help too.

You might assume your mum, your sister or your best friend will look after them, but without them having agreed to it and without you having recorded it in your will, it may not actually happen.

The problem is that if you don't choose, someone else might do it for you, whether it's social services or the courts.

2. Questions to ask yourself

Firstly, put yourself in your children's shoes. Where would they want to be and who would they want to be with? Family? Friends?

The most important thing is that they will feel they're wanted and with someone who will love them for themselves, not out of duty or money. Someone who will also help them to cope with their grief of losing their parents.

Are the guardians you're considering loving and affectionate and good role models? Are they young or mature? What’s the state of their health?

These are all things that will affect your children's everyday life if you weren't there.

If you choose a family with children there is an assumption that they'll already have a child-centred approach to life. However on the flip side will your children always come second to theirs? Are tensions likely to arise?

Think about the family dynamics too. For instance an only child might find it really hard to share, whilst a girl with 3 brothers might find it really hard not to be the only girl anymore. On the other hand, they might relish it.

The point is, don't make assumptions.

Try to find a solution that will ensure that all your children will stay together. It could be tempting to split them up, but it can also be very damaging to split children up when you die and they need each others’ support more than ever.

3. Maintain stability 

Maintaining stability should come high on your list of priorities. When someone dies in a child's life, it's important for things to stay the same as much as possible in the rest of their life.

Think about location and where you children will live. Will they be able to stay in the same area with all their friends and perhaps family and childcare, or will they need to move?
Try to pick someone with similar values and parenting style to you. Being orphaned is about as unsettling as it gets, so you don't want them to have a huge culture shock on top of that. You want it to be as smooth a transition as possible.
Children’s grandparents are a really popular choice as guardians, but think about the age they will be when your kids reach adulthood and whether they are likely to have the health and stamina to parent children in the meantime.

Don't rule out people because you don't think they have enough money or bedrooms as you can take care of those problems.

You can leave instructions for the provision of funds for your chosen guardian to build an addition to their home or move to a larger home to accommodate your children.

4. Remember to update your will

Your guardian choices may change over time, perhaps when someone moves further away or they become too old or sick to look after your children.
Once you've made your decision remember to actually ask the people involved, giving them the option to say no even if they are flattered, and then get your wishes recorded in your will. Now is not the time to make assumptions.

For more information about guardianship in New Zealand the NZ Ministry of Justice website and Citizens Advice Bureau website are good places to start.

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