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How to guard your guardians

Issue: "Bureaucratic burial," June 29, 2002

All states agree that parents can merely nominate guardians; the final appointment is up to the courts and the child-welfare bureaucracy. But family law experts say there are steps you can take to make your nomination more secure. Here are some suggestions from the lawyers WORLD interviewed in connection with the Prigge case:

  • Favor relatives over third parties wherever possible, because the courts almost certainly will.
  • Develop a relationship between the child and the person you've named. If the courts see a bond has been already established, they'll be more likely to honor your wishes.
  • Name at least three potential guardians. Courts and bureaucrats will have a hard time arguing that none of them is in your child's best interests.
  • State why you're selecting the guardian(s). If shared religious faith is one reason, say so. Courts are required to take such wishes into account, but parents often fail to make their reasoning explicit.
  • Most wills are drawn up by estate lawyers, not family lawyers. You need advice from the latter to help judge-proof your selection of a guardian. Because standards for guardianship vary widely from state to state, be sure to have your will reviewed if you move to a new state.

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