If you have children under 18, you need to write a will and appoint legal guardians to protect their future. Here’s everything you need to know about guardians, their responsibilities and how to choose them.
Our online will writing service makes it easy to appoint guardians for your children in just a few minutes. But it’s important to understand exactly what this means before making your decision. In this article, we cover all the key questions you might have before appointing a guardian in your will.
What is a guardian?
A guardian is the person legally responsible for looking after your children if you die before they turn 18. If you don’t appoint a guardian, it's ultimately left up to the courts to decide what's best for your children, so choosing guardians in your will is a great way to have your say.
What are a guardian's responsibilities?
A legal guardian is responsible for all the roles you would usually play as a parent, including:
Bringing them up until they reach adulthood
Giving them somewhere safe to live
Maintaining their diet and health
Making sure they get an education
How to choose legal guardians for your will
When you write a will, you can appoint guardians for any children under the age of 18. It’s essential that the person (or people) you choose can carry out all the responsibilities listed above.
Between parents, siblings and close relatives, this could still leave you with a fairly long list of people to choose from. So here are a few questions to consider that can help to narrow down your options:
Do your guardians share similar beliefs to your family?
Could your children still enjoy their favourite hobbies?
Would your children be able to go to the same school?
Do your chosen guardians have children of their own?
The most important thing is that your guardians are comfortable with the responsibility, even if the chances of them being called upon are very small. So always talk things through with them before including them in your will.
Who can be a legal guardian?
A legal guardian can be anyone who doesn’t already have parental responsibility for your children, such as your parents, siblings or close friends.
You may also be able to name your partner as a guardian if they don’t already have parental responsibility. But if you were married when the child was born or your partner was named on the birth certificate, there's no need to appoint them as a legal guardian.
It’s important to note that, if you were to die unexpectedly, the child’s surviving parent would take full responsibility for them. Your guardians would only ever be called upon if there are no surviving parents with parental responsibility.
How many guardians should I choose for my children?
When writing a will, most people appoint one legal guardian for their children, but you may want to name two people if they’re a couple. You can also appoint guardians for each of your children separately, giving you full control over who they would live with if something happened to you.
Can I change the guardians appointed in my will?
If you use our online will writing service to make your will, you’ll be able to update your will anytime in the future. This is really important when it comes to guardians, as the people you would choose to look after them today may be completely different in 10 years time.
Should I appoint guardians for my step-children?
You can only appoint guardians for your step-children if you have parental responsibility for them. If you haven’t been granted parental responsibility, you shouldn’t include them in the guardians section of your will.
This also means that you won’t automatically take responsibility for your step-children if your partner dies unexpectedly. So if your partner wants you to continue bringing up their children, they should appoint you as a guardian in their own will.
Important: A guardian is only ever called upon if there are no surviving parents. So if you’re the child’s step-father and their birth father is still alive and continues to have legal parental responsibility, the child’s birth father would usually take full responsibility for them.
What happens to a child if both parents die?
If both parents die before appointing a guardian, the courts will be left to approve who takes care of them. This will usually be a close relative, but it may not necessarily be the person you would choose.
If both parents die after naming guardians in their will, the appointed guardians will be called upon. They would then take full responsibility for your children until they reach adulthood.
How to appoint a legal guardian in your will
By using our online will writing service, you can write a will in as little as 15 minutes from the comfort and privacy of your own home. As part of this process, you’ll be able to appoint guardians for your children. The only details you need for this are the person’s full name and email address, but you can include their postal address or telephone number instead if you wish.
After you’ve finished your will, our experts will check it over carefully to make sure your wishes are clear. Then you’ll be able to print it, sign it and put it away somewhere safe, enjoying the relief that your children’s future is protected.
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