Friends or Family?
You will also need to consider who should be the guardians of any children under the age of 18 years who may survive you. The law has certain requirements particularly where the parents are unmarried or have divorced or separated.
Assuming that either parent has the power to appoint a guardian or guardians on their death, it is usual for such appointments to take effect on the death of the second parent.
The normal choice is to appoint family members, particularly where very young children are involved. As children grow the appointment of friends may be more appropriate as they are more likely to share your lifestyle and in these modern times live nearer than your family.
How many Guardians?
There is a danger where the appointment of family is being considered to appoint a ‘committee’ of all the grandparents or brothers and sisters. This has its obvious disadvantages in that the most important issue, the well being of your children, may at worse get overlooked and at best be difficult to manage. It is best to limit the maximum number of guardians to two and it is preferable that they share a home as partners. Thus your children will become part of a familiar and stable environment at probably the most difficult time of their lives.
By all means appoint substitute guardians as this will ensure continuity if circumstances change.
The Guardian’s duties
The duties of a guardian are essentially the same as those of a parent. They are responsible for the day-to-day upbringing of your child and would stand in your shoes in that respect. The organisation of holidays, birthday presents and all the everyday things that we take for granted.
The terms of the Will should be such that the executors and subsequently trustees can do all that is necessary to assist in financial terms. The expression of your wishes in an informal letter to the trustees is often an easier way of ensuring that your child or children are brought up, as you would wish. However, a word of warning, do not try to enforce too rigid a routine either in the letter or in your Will, as times change and so do your children. It would make the guardian’s job even harder, for instance, to impose the attitudes of even ten years ago at this time!
It is normal for the financial management to be separated from the day-to-day upbringing of children. Whilst the guardians have the daily responsibility it is better for the financial control to be handled by someone different, normally the trustees of your estate. The two tasks demand different skills that may not always be found in the same person. It also means that the trustees, the guardians and, when they are old enough, your children, can share what can be difficult decisions.
In your Will, where your children are underage and are to benefit from your estate, you should nominate them as the beneficiaries. In no circumstances should you nominate the Guardians – as mentioned above, the money will be held in trust, and will be controlled by the trustees for the benefit of the children.