Making choices about guardianship, in case parents die before their children reach the age of 18, is an important part of life planning for anyone with a family. The best way to make this provision is in a legal will, complemented by a guardianship letter, which appoints a trusted family member or friend to take responsibility for the upbringing of the child. This person is known as a guardian; by appointing them in advance, the parents avoid the uncertainty of leaving the decision to a court of law.
NOTE: For the purpose of this article, we are considering permanent guardianship arrangements in the event of the parents' death, rather than the temporary guardianship arrangements that are often made when a child attends a UK boarding school while the parents are living abroad.
The Children Act 1989 made it simple to appoint a legal guardian (or guardians). Strictly speaking, all that is required are the following components:
- Details of the appointment in writing (a 'letter of guardianship')
- Clear demonstration of intent to appoint the guardian(s)
- The date of that the guardianship letter was written
- The signature(s) of the person (or persons) making the appointment
A much better way to make provision for the guardianship of children is by making arrangements in a properly prepared and witnessed will. Making a guardianship appointment in this way has the added advantage of making legally binding financial provision for the children.
A guardianship letter complements a valid will
Naturally, you'll have discussed the appointment with the chosen person(s) before agreeing their future role. As part of your planning, you can discuss your choice with your family, with the potential guardians, and with your child(ren). Even where the appointment is included in a will, an accompanying letter (sometimes referred to in the USA as a 'guardianship form' or 'guardianship forms') can outline your wishes for the upbringing of the child in much greater detail than can be achieved in a will; the letter can also be updated more easily. As such, the letter is not unlike a letter of wishes.
Long or short, the letter of guardianship will cover matters such as your preferences for religious upbringing, education, lifestyle preferences for the child, or even particular moral values that you would like them to adopt.
The naming of a guardian in a will, and/or an accompanying letter, is only a nomination. A court must then issue a certificate, known as letters of guardianship, before the formal appointment of the guardian(s). Obviously, where child guardianship preferences are documented in a will and a written guardianship document, it's reasonable to expect this to be relatively straightforward matter.
Make sure your wishes are fulfilled when you die
Has this article reminded you that you haven't written a will yet? If so, then you are among the three-quarters of British people who haven't taken this vital step. Do you really want to leave your executors (and your children?) with the heartache and worry that's likely to follow if you die intestate?
Why put it off when The Well Planned Funeral means it's probably never been easier to write a legal will online and make sure your wishes are fulfilled when you die? What's more, our Your Funeral Plan and Wishes product makes it easy to keep copies of your guardianship letter, letters of wishes, funeral plans, and other personal choices securely for your next of kin.