The thought of making a will is enough to make any parent squirm. I mean, no one wants to talk about death or the possibility of dying before their children reach adulthood. As a result, the activity of writing a will remains on many parent’s to-do lists waiting for the tomorrow that never comes.
The horrible truth is that death doesn’t wait for anyone, and no one can really know when their time might be. And a will should be on the top of everybody’s list of priorities. Yet more than half of UK adults have not made a will.
But a will is much more than who gets what, especially as a parent. It’s about the future of your children if the worst was to happen you – a horrible thought, but an extremely important one.
In 2015, it was estimated that 23,600 parents died in the UK, leaving behind dependent children under the age of 18 – that’s three parents every hour! One in four of these deaths were unexpected, leaving little or no time for the deceased to plan for those left behind.
For parent’s, making a will is the single most important thing you can do:
Why appoint a guardian?
A legal guardian is appointed to care for a child in the event both parents die before he or she reaches the age of 18. You should appoint a guardian for your children in case the worse was to happen or the courts will do it for you.
A guardian will supervise your children during their lives from childhood to adulthood while making all the important decisions that affect each of your children’s lives in areas such as medical treatment, education and how they’re taught the difference between right and wrong.
How do I choose a guardian?
Although important, naming a guardian can be a daunting task and many parents cannot decide to appoint. It’s also incredibly important that you and your spouse agree on the same person or persons. If you are having difficulty, here are a few things to consider:
- Who is the most able to take on the responsibility of caring for your children – emotionally, financially and physically?
- Whom do your children feel at ease with already?
- Whose parenting style, values and religious beliefs closely mirror your own?
- Would the person have enough time and energy to devote to your children?
- Would your children have to move, and would that cause any problems?
- Does the person you’re considering have other children? If so, would your children fit in?
Once you have agreed on a person or persons, talk to your choice to ensure he or she is prepared to take on the role. We advise having an alternative candidate if circumstances change and your first choice is no longer up to the task.
What if my partner and I can’t agree?
To avoid conflict, it’s advised that you and your spouse come to an agreement and appoint the same guardians. However, if you both select different guardians under your wills, then these separately appointed guardians must come to a mutual agreement on all matters relating to your children’s upbringing and education. If they can’t agree on important issues, they will have to refer to the court.
How do I appoint a guardian?
You can appoint a guardian if you have parental responsibility for a child or if you’re an existing guardian. The appointment must be in writing, signed and dated. It’s advised that you make the appointment in your will, as a will is less likely to be mislaid after death than a separate, less formal document.
Can guardians act as executors of my will too?
Guardians have the legal obligation of acting in the children’s best interests and this includes financial decisions if they become trustees of any ongoing trusts created under the terms of your will. Guardians can, therefore, act as executors and trustees.
How will the guardians manage for money?
A guardian is under no obligation to support your child from their own resources. This can be approached when making a will:
- Following the death of both parents, most wills leave the residuary estate on trust for the children. The executors, as trustees, usually have powers to use money held in trust for the benefit of the children or to pay it to the guardian(s), to be used for the children’s benefit.
- Parents may include in their wills a power for the trustees to loan money to the guardians.
- Parents may wish to leave a cash gift to a guardian(s) that is conditional upon the acceptance of the appointment as a simple thank you or the cash gift may be intended to enable the guardians to improve their home to facilitate the children.
- The parents can write a letter of wishes making clear how they would like the trustees of their wills to use their powers to provide financial support for the children.
It’s important that you don’t just see your will as something to pass on your wealth to your children and other family members and friends when you’re gone, but as a way to safeguard your children’s future should the worst happen.
The article gives examples and is intended to give guidance only. For further information on guardianship or drafting a will, contact us on 0161 814 7072.