Letters of Guidance to Guardians of Minor Children– An invaluable, but often overlooked, component of an estate plan that costs you nothing to prepare.
Imagine that you have just laid your beloved sister to rest. While mourning the loss, the realization hits you that you are now entrusted with raising her two young children in her absence. From a legal standpoint, your sister’s Will allows you to obtain the court authority required for you to be able to make decisions on behalf of your niece and nephew. But what about their specific needs? What type of education should they receive? How should you raise them from a religious standpoint? These are specific details that would be extremely helpful for you, as your niece and nephew’s legal guardian, to know during this critical time.
Most of us know that we need to have a Will drawn up to ensure that our hard-earned assets are distributed in accordance with our wishes upon our death and to designate the individuals (aka guardians) we trust to care for our children should something happen to us while they are still minors. In addition to the Will, there is one document that is even more important for you to consider preparing as part of your overall estate plan. This is called a letter of guidance to your guardian and is, simply put, a detailed letter created by you that sets forth your specific wishes for how you want your children raised and includes specific information you want your guardian to know about your children.
While there is no specific template for such a letter because each letter should be unique based on your children’s needs and your wishes and dreams for them as their parent, here are a few issues to consider including in such a letter:
- Education Preferences: Do you want your children to go to private school or public school? Is higher education important for you? Should they have the opportunity to study abroad?
- Mental Health: Do you want your children to receive therapy following your passing, or at other times in their lives?
- Special Needs Issues: Do you children have any special needs considerations that should be handled in a specific way to give them the best options available?
- Vacation and Travel: Do you want your children to travel to certain countries? Do you want your children to be able to visit certain relatives who live far away?
- Likes and Dislikes: Include some of the unique aspects of your children that only you, as their parent, would know. How to get them to open up. How to cheer them up on a bad day. Things they love to do. Things they do not like (food, etc.). Names and contact information for their closest friends.
- Religious Beliefs: Do you want your children raised under a certain faith? Should your child go through certain religious ceremonies (i.e. bat mitzvah, communion, confirmation, etc.)?
- Political Beliefs: Do you want your children raised to follow a certain political party?
Preparing a letter of guidance to the individuals you are entrusting to care for your children is an invaluable gift during a tragic time that can help ease the burden and help ensure your children are properly cared for. A letter like this should be kept with your Will so the guardians can easily find it upon your death. This letter costs nothing to prepare and you can continue to update the letter as your children grow and their needs change, without the necessity of having to pay for a new revised Will with every change.