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The difficult decision of choosing a guardian for your child

Parents have many things on their minds, and most days they probably spend their time focused on the needs of their children. Making sure the kids have everything they need and get to the places they need to go can be exhausting, and devoted parents may even take pride in the thought that their children couldn't do without them.

So what happens to your children if they must suddenly go on without you? This is likely a question you would rather not consider, yet you probably know families that experienced just this type of tragedy. If an accident or illness leaves your children without their parents, is there a plan in place for their care and protection?

Physical and estate guardians

Children who lose their parents are usually placed under the care of a guardian. In fact, they may have two guardians: one to physically care for them and another to protect and manage their estate. The court will appoint these guardians, typically family members, unless you have already designated someone in your will.

The physical guardian takes the children into his or her home and cares for their needs. This person will have authority to make the kinds of decisions that you would make for the children, including medical and educational needs. The estate guardian manages the finances and assets, usually from the estate the parents leave behind. If the worst-case scenario happens, and you are no longer with your children, the estate guardian will take responsibility for many details, for example:

  • Managing the liquid assets of your children
  • Maintaining any real estate inherited by the children
  • Budgeting for medical expenses, clothing, food, education and other necessities
  • Saving for unnecessary expenses, such as vacations or summer camp
  • Filing tax returns if the children's inheritance or investments require it

If you have not established a trust or savings for your children, the guardian may need to sell the family home, car or other properties to have funds for the needs of the children. In some states, guardians need court approval before doing so, and the court may also periodically require the guardians to provide a report of the well-being of the children and their estate.

When your children no longer need a guardian

When your children turn 18, which is the age of majority in Texas, the guardian will make a final report to the court, and the court will terminate the guardianship. Your child will be a legal adult and responsible for his or her own care, finances and property.

You may find yourself wondering who, of all the friends and family you know, would be the best fit to fulfill these critical duties. You may also know well the people in your life whom you would never trust with caring for your precious ones.

Nevertheless, depending on your relationship to those people, it is possible the court will determine them to be the most appropriate guardians for your children. You certainly don't want to leave this to chance. The best solution is to seek professional advice for establishing a solid estate plan that is legally sound.

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