One of the things that motivates many younger adults to begin the estate planning process is the birth or adoption of a child. It is always wise to obtain or update wills when your first child comes along, so you can choose a legal guardian for them in case something should happen to both of you.
The person you named years ago, however, may no longer be the right person for that responsibility. That happens a lot. Much can change over the years. It’s crucial to make the necessary modification to your wills and not just hope that the person you named will never be needed.
Communication is essential
The first step after you’ve chosen another person is to talk with them, just as you did with your currently designated guardian. You need to be sure they’re willing and able to raise your child should they need to do so. Even if they’re currently listed as your alternate or contingent guardian, you need to let them know that you want to move them up.
You should also talk to the person who will no longer be your child’s designated legal guardian. If they didn’t ask to be removed, this could be challenging, depending on why you no longer want them to care for your child. If it’s because they’ve had health issues, are moving, or have had more children of their own, they’re likely to understand and perhaps be relieved.
If you’re concerned about a change in their life (for example, a substance abuse issue or even a troubling change in some of their beliefs or behavior), that conversation can be more challenging. It’s still important to have it. You’re not required to notify someone that you’ve replaced them. However, in a worst-case scenario where your designated guardian had to step in, they could create problems and delays that will only hurt your child at an already difficult time.
The actual modification of your and your spouse’s wills may be fairly simple. It might be a matter of adding a codicil (amendment) to your wills; however, in some circumstances, a new will might be recommended. If your designated guardian is listed elsewhere – for example, as the trustee for your child’s inheritance – you’ll need to make the change there as well. Having sound legal guidance as you make these changes can help ensure everything is handled correctly.