Guarding over my children: Tips for parents if tragedy strikes

A couple holding hands. Scott Olson/The Canadian Press

If you were to die today, who would take care of your kids?

It’s a tough but important question to answer. And avoiding it can actually make the situation worse. To help, we’ve broken down the steps:


If you were to die without naming a guardian, the court decides who takes care of your minor children.

Generally, the other biological parent will be named. But that is not always a guarantee, such as if they are deemed unfit. And if there is any question over the matter, it could wind up in a protracted court battle.

“You don’t want to make people guess and fight about your wishes, you want to make it known what they are,” said Chas Rampenthal, general counsel for LegalZoom.

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Make a list of any possibilities – don’t limit yourself to family, consider friends as well.

If there is already some disagreement among a couple on this issue, try making separate lists first. You may even find some overlap in your choices.


Narrow the list based on the emotional and practical needs of your child.

There are many issues to consider: Who does my child know? Does this person love them? Will they have to change schools? Can they physically care for them? Do they have the financial means to care for them? If you have multiple children, can they take them all?

This person is going to serve as parent, making decisions about your child’s health, education and overall well-being. Think very clearly about how you want your child raised and what values you want reflected for them.

Rampenthal suggests making a second list: not of people, but attributes you want and ranking them to ease the process.

“The most important thing is: who do you want taking care of your child?” said Raphael Vrenassal, head of attorney services at Rocket Lawyer. “What is the easiest transition for the child? The death of a parent is traumatic, you want a guardian who can guide them through this and there won’t be additional shock.”

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Talk it over with potential guardians. Are they willing? Discuss how you want your child raised and why you selected them. And be prepared to talk about finances too.

They may say yes or they may say no – be prepared for either outcome.


Create a will or other legal document that names the guardian.

While you don’t have to have a lawyer, they can help navigate any complexities, Vrenassal said. He also suggests naming at least two alternatives in addition to the other parent. That protects you should one of your guardians change their mind or be unable to do so.

And remember to revisit your will regularly and update as needed.

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