Building An Estate Plan That Is Right For You

Understanding the difference between godparents and legal guardians

You may have put a lot of thought into choosing a godparent (or maybe two) for your child. Godparents are probably most closely associated with Catholicism. In the Catholic faith, the godparent’s role is to be a spiritual advisor for a child and, if something were to happen to their parents, to help ensure that the child continues in that faith.

Many non-Catholics also name godparents for their children. Typically, they choose people because they value their wisdom and morals and want them in their child’s life. People often assume that a child’s godparent will automatically be allowed to take over raising them if both parents were to die or become incapacitated before they reach adulthood. However, your child’s godparents can’t be your child’s legal guardian in the event that something happens to you unless appropriate steps are taken to formalize this preference.

Designating a legal guardian

You can name your child’s potential guardian in your will, regardless of who they are. This formalize designation will help the person you’ve chosen more quickly take on the responsibility if needed. If you don’t name anyone, those seeking the responsibility, even temporarily, will need to petition the court. This can leave your child in limbo at an already difficult time.

Of course, you should never designate a legal guardian for your child without first discussing it with your chosen person. You need to be confident that they’re willing and able to take over the job of raising your child until they turn 18 (or possibly longer if your child has special needs). It’s also smart to name an alternate and to get their okay as well.

Certainly, you can designate your child’s godparent to be their child’s legal guardian, but it’s crucial to understand that this decision needs to be formalized in specific ways. There is no automatic transfer of authority to a godparent in the event of a parent’s death.

Additionally, if you’re ready to designate a legal guardian for your child, it’s important to keep in mind that there are also other things to think about, like how you’ll leave money and other assets for their care, who will be responsible for those assets and more. Having sound legal guidance will help you make the best decisions for your child as you craft an estate plan to better serve their needs.