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Even the Simpsons worry about estate planning - D'oh!

Yesterday I did something that I haven't done in probably a decade...I watched the Simpsons. I guess it was meant to be because the episode was about estate planning. After Homer and Marge narrowly survive a tornado, they realize that if something did happen to them, they did not know who would provide for their children. They then embark to find a suitable guardian.

Finding someone who can and is willing to emotionally/physically/financially take care of your children can be difficult and challenging. Ignoring the possibility that a guardian may be needed can put your family and friends in a more difficult situation should it arise.

HOW DO I CHOOSE THE RIGHT PERSON 

Deciding who will raise your child in your absence is one of the toughest decisions you'll face as a parent. As a parent, I know that whomever I choose will not be as good as me. So, don't focus on finding the "best" parent for your child. Now you can move on to choosing the next best person. Make a list of all the possible candidates, and then sit down with your partner and talk about the pros and cons of each one.

Here are a few things to think about while you're going through the process:

  • Whose parenting style, values, and religious beliefs most closely match your own?
  • Who is most able to take on the responsibility of a caring for a child — emotionally, financially, physically, etc.?
  • Whom does your child feel comfortable with already?
  • Would your child have to move far away, and would that pose any problems?
  • Does the person you're considering have other children? If so, would your child fit in or get lost in the shuffle?
  • Would the person have enough time and energy to devote to your child?

TALK TO THE CANDIDATES FOR GUARDIANSHIP

Once you narrow your list to a few key people, talk to them about how they'd feel about being named a guardian of your child. The conversations may reveal feelings and attitudes that will help you make your final decision. Perhaps one person will express a clear desire to play this role, or you'll find out that one of your choices isn't willing to take on the responsibility.

Guardianship can be flexible over time. If you really want your parents to be your child's guardian now but fear that they'll grow too old to handle the job, you can specify that they be designated guardians for a set period of time (until your child is 10, for example), after which responsibility passes to a sibling or friend. A switch like this can be difficult on your child, though, so carefully consider the ramifications.

The person you select as guardian may have a huge task ahead. She would have to meet your child's emotional and physical needs and raise your child to be a competent and fulfilled adult. Take the time to document your hopes and expectations for raising your child in a letter and attach it to your will.

Consider things like what kind of education you have in mind and what religious beliefs and values you think are important.

As with all estate planning documents, reread the letter every year or two and update it if necessary.