Things I Learned At The Movies: Naming A Guardian For Minor Children

Family Law Attorneys Discuss Guardianship of Minor Children in Tacoma, Washington

Parents with minor children might be surprised to discover that Hollywood occasionally offers valuable suggestions about how to order their legal affairs. As often as not, the lesson learned is how not to do something. Take the Academy Award-winning film, “Manchester by the Sea,” in which Casey Affleck walked away with the Best Actor award. The basic lesson offered in the film: Be very careful in naming a guardian for your minor children.

Guardianship Issue Alone is Sufficient Reason to Have a Will

Many young parents mistakenly think that they can postpone the making of a will until a time when they actually have significant property. They fail to realize that the need to name a guardian for minor children is itself important enough to justify making a will.

Family law attorneys sometimes hear the argument, “Well, if something happens to me, won’t my children be cared for by my surviving spouse?” Indeed, as long as one parent is living, Washington state residents generally do not have guardianship concerns. Yet, these same parents ignore the fact that it is quite possible for both parents to be killed in a tragic accident. In other situations, one spouse may die and the surviving spouse (or surviving parent, in the case of a divorce) may die before making appropriate arrangements for the children. In any case, the easiest way to handle the guardianship issue is through a properly drafted will.

Discuss the Guardianship Issue With the Proposed Guardian

One important lesson learned from “Manchester” is that the entire guardianship matter should be openly and candidly discussed with the proposed guardian prior to when the will is drafted. In the movie, Joe commits an altogether common mistake – he fails to get Lee’s consent before naming Lee as the guardian of young Patrick. Recognize that in failing to get advance consent by the proposed guardian, you place your child’s well-being at grave risk.

Recognize that You Can Separate Money Management and Guardianship Issues

Many parents with young children may have the “perfect” person in mind to serve as a guardian, but they may have some hesitancy when it comes to that person’s money management skills. Alternatively, the person may be willing to serve as guardian but does not want the responsibility of managing assets. This need not be a problem with a properly drafted will. Since minor children can’t directly inherit some types of the property anyway, a properly drafted will generally contains some sort of trust language to protect, preserve, and manage assets for the benefit of the child or children – for example, you might not want your 16-year-old to have the financial ability to purchase a new car. A properly drafted will provide for appropriate distributions of principal and income from the assets of the deceased’s estate.

Recognize that Washington Courts Have the Final Say

This should actually make you rest easier: Simply because a person is named as the guardian in a will does not absolutely mean that he or she will be allowed to serve. Under RCW 11.88.080, the court will confirm the parent’s nomination unless the court finds, based upon the evidence presented at a hearing on the matter, that the individual nominated in the surviving parent’s will is not qualified to serve. Courts are quite hesitant to substitute a judge’s choice for that of the parent. They will do so only when it is in the best interests of the child.

Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S. – Experts at Protecting Families

Since 1977, the family Lawyers at Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S. have assisted hundreds of Washington clients with wills, trusts, and estate planning services. We recognize that a properly developed plan involves not only money and other assets; it involves important family issues, such as guardianship and appropriate care for children. We personally work with you from start to finish. We believe in solutions that are as simple and straightforward as possible. We work in a collaborative environment so that you don’t just have the experience of one attorney, you have a powerful, knowledgeable team behind you. Contact us on the web, or call our office at (253) 470-2356.

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