A Family Member Is Usually the Best Guardian – But Not Always

By Chris Tymchuck
Founding Attorney

How do you choose the right guardian for your children if you become incapacitated? Many parents choose family members because of their close emotional ties and intimate understanding of the child’s needs. However, there are situations where an alternative guardian might be a better fit. This decision can significantly impact your child’s future well-being, so it’s important to carefully explore all options to find the best fit for your child’s unique circumstances.

The Default Choice: Family as Guardians

Family members are often the default choice for guardianship due to the deep trust and emotional connections they may share with the children. This arrangement is typically favored because family guardians already have a strong understanding of the child’s history, needs, and preferences, which can make the transition during a difficult period much smoother. Moreover, choosing a family member can sometimes simplify the legal aspects of guardianship, as courts often prefer to keep children within their family network unless there are compelling reasons not to do so. 

This choice also aligns with social expectations and supports the continuity of familial relationships and bonds, providing children with stability and security. While this option seems naturally advantageous, it’s important to consider the dynamics of the individual family situation to ensure it truly serves the best interest of the child.

Considering the Alternatives: Who Else Can Be a Guardian?

When family members may not be the best fit for guardianship, considering alternative guardians is a prudent step. This could include close family friends or godparents. Such options are worth exploring when unique circumstances—like geographical distance, financial limitations, or potential family conflicts—make a family member less suitable. Choosing a non-family guardian can bring benefits such as impartiality in decision-making and potentially better alignment with the child’s needs. Legally, this requires thorough documentation and possibly a more detailed court review to ensure the guardian’s suitability. It’s essential to evaluate all these factors to make a choice prioritizing the child’s long-term welfare and stability.

Pros and Cons of Family vs. Non-Family Guardians

Appointing a guardian for a child involves weighing the benefits and drawbacks of choosing a family member versus a non-family individual. 

Pros of Family Guardians

Family guardians often provide emotional stability and continuity, which is crucial during the unsettling period following a parent’s incapacitation or death. They usually have a deep understanding of the child’s personal history, emotional needs, and familial relationships, which can help maintain a sense of normalcy. Their pre-existing emotional bonds with the child can also facilitate smoother transitions in guardianship.

Cons of Family Guardians

Family guardians might bring potential conflicts or biases into their decision-making, especially in larger families where multiple interests intersect. Sometimes, family dynamics can lead to disputes or uneven care, particularly if the guardian has other obligations or limited resources.

Pros of Non-Family Guardians

Non-family guardians might offer more objective care and decision-making, which is especially useful in complex family situations. They can act without the potential for familial bias and might also bring specific skills or resources that family members lack, such as professional training in caregiving or special education.

Cons of Non-Family Guardians

Non-family guardians may lack a deep personal connection with the child, which can affect the child’s emotional well-being. Additionally, the adjustment period can be longer as the child adapts to someone who was not previously a part of their inner circle.

Hypothetical Scenarios

Consider two hypothetical scenarios that illustrate when different guardianship choices might be more appropriate:

Scenario 1: Family Guardian Preferred

Imagine a scenario involving Emma, an eight-year-old with a close-knit extended family. Emma’s parents are involved in a serious accident, rendering them unable to care for her. Her aunt, who lives nearby and has a strong bond with Emma, is chosen as her guardian. This arrangement works well because the aunt has a deep understanding of Emma’s emotional needs and daily routines, and there is already a strong, trusting relationship. This continuity in her care helps Emma maintain her emotional and psychological stability during a tumultuous time, reinforcing the benefit of having a family guardian in cases where family relations are strong and supportive.

Scenario 2: Non-Family Guardian Preferred

Now, consider Liam, a twelve-year-old with special medical needs due to a chronic condition. His nearest relatives are his elderly grandparents, who, despite their love and dedication, might not manage his medical routines effectively. A family friend who is a retired pediatric nurse offers to become Liam’s guardian. Her professional background and close relationship with the family make her an ideal candidate to manage Liam’s complex needs, demonstrating how a non-family guardian’s specific skills can be crucial in certain situations.

Unique Estate Law Can Help You Consider Your Choice of a Guardian

At Unique Estate Law, we guide you through the complexities of choosing the right guardian for your child. Our tailored approach ensures your peace of mind. Contact us today to secure your child’s future with a guardianship plan that best suits your family’s unique needs.

About the Author
As a Minneapolis Estate Planning and Probate attorney I help build and protect families through the adoption, estate planning, and probate processes. I also have experience working with families on issues related to their small businesses. I know how difficult it is to find time to plan for the future and I am here to help walk you through it.