By Susan Hely
Money magazine, April edition
Susan Hely explains the role of a guardian
Have you ever thought about who will look after your kids if something happens to you and your partner? If not, make sure you do. I thought this through when my kids were young as it is one of the responsibilities that come with being new parents. Many parents find it straightforward; others agonise over the choice of guardian.
What’s meant by “guardian”? It’s an adult who looks after the welfare and upbringing of a child. The guardian can take care, custody and control of the children as part of the guardianship, explains Stephen Hardy, an estate planning specialist at Equity Trustees Limited. Or if you wish, a guardian can be different from the custodian who looks after the care and custody of the child. A guardian holds the legal authority and can direct their wishes to others who have control of the child.
The best place to record your choice of guardian for your children is in your will. If you don’t have a will, put one in place. Only half of all Australians have a will and even those who do many make mistakes that can lead to confusion, according to Hardy.
The problem with having a poorly worded will or none at all is that the decision on who will be the guardian can be made for you – possibly by a court of law.
Hardy says looking after the care and custody of a child on a day-to-day basis is a huge role, both socially and financially. This is where your life insurance comes in, providing a financial safety net for your children’s needs and reimbursing a guardian’s expenses for care and school fees.
Why do you need a guardian? There are plenty of nuts-and-bolts reasons your child needs a guardian. They provide consent to get a passport, open a bank account, getting married or adopted, having an operation or entering certain types of employment. The court can consent to specific actions in the absence of a guardian.
In my case, my first thought was to select the children’s doting grandparents as guardians as they spent more time with them than any other relatives and friends. But they weren’t getting any younger and had some emerging health issues that weren’t compatible with tearing around after young children, let alone living with moody teenagers. Instead I had to consider younger relatives and friends.
Whoever you choose, you must talk it over with them. Hardy, of Equity Trustees, says the children or the chosen guardian may be unwilling to fall in with the arrangement. Teenage children may have strong views, which have to be respected, Hardy says. Even where the children are very young when the will is made, the appointment may prove unsatisfactory if the children are teenagers when the will comes into force.
Hardy says the appointment of a guardian is unnecessary if the children have reached 16 or 17 when the will is made. He recommends parents review their choice of guardian from time to time, as the guardians may well become inappropriate over the years.
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