When most people write a will, they consider it to be for the division of their financial assets way off in the future. And, for the majority of us, that will hopefully be the case. But it may surprise you to hear that there are a great number of parents with children under the age of 18 who don’t have a will in place.
You may be thinking, do I need a will? Well, if you have children, the answer is yes. Just imagine that you, or you and your partner, are no longer around and you didn’t take the time to make a will, or name a legal guardian for your children. Who would be there to care for them after you were gone?
Most parents would admit that their children are their most precious possession. It’s natural for us to want to do absolutely everything we can to make sure that they are happy and secure. And specifically legally, until they are over the age of 18, we as parents are responsible for them. 👪
What would happen if you died and there was no legal guardian appointed?
If you don’t assign a legal guardian in your will, it would be left to the courts to decide who should look after your children. The courts would be responsible for choosing where your kids would live and go to school while they’re still under the age of 18. Depending on the situation and your family situation, it’s possible that they would be taken into the care of social services while their case was going through the courts, a process which could take quite some time.
A verbal agreement between family members or friends would also not be recognised in a court of law. So making a will and naming a legal guardian for your child, or children is putting their best interests first.
Who should you choose to be your child’s guardian?
This may be an obvious choice. Perhaps you would choose your own parents or your partner's parents, the child’s grandparents, to care for them in the event of your death. Perhaps the answer is not quite so obvious for your family. You may want to consider the age of your own parents, and whether they would be able to care for your children in the years to come. Do they have the energy to deal with stroppy teenagers when they are in their seventies themselves? 😲
Maybe you have a sibling who would be a great choice but they live on the other side of the country. This would mean that your child would have to leave their school and make friends in an entirely new area. What is the best choice in that situation? 🤔
There is no one size fits all answer, and in all honesty, the only person who can make that choice is you.
What does the law say? 📚
If your spouse is your child’s other parent, the law states that they would care for your child if you were to die. However, your legally appointed guardian would care for your child if both of you were to die. In England and Wales, where the parents are not married, there are some important factors you may want to consider. If the father was to die, the mother would retain responsibility for the children. If the mother was to die, then the father would only be fully responsible if he had been named on the birth certificate. This is known as the law of Parental Responsibility. You can read more info here.
Talking about your decision
It’s important to make sure that everyone concerned is aware of the decision to appoint a legal guardian, and that includes your kids. You could try asking them who they would want to stay with if you were to go away for a holiday without them, or if you had to work abroad for some time. This would be a more subtle way to find out what their wishes are and if they align with your own.
Your chosen guardian would also want (and need!) to be kept informed of the decision, so you may want to discuss this with them before putting anything in writing. It’s important that they are supportive of the decision and prepared for all situations.
What can we do to help? 💻
We are here to help you with all aspects of writing a will and with our quick and easy online process, there’s no reason not to do it. You may want to read more about the process on how to make an online will with us or see some of our FAQs, please take a look.
Most parents would do anything to protect their children. Making a will and appointing a legal guardian is no different. We don’t know what’s ahead of us in life, but by making these decisions now, it saves your loved ones any hassle in future if the unthinkable were to happen.