When I was a kid, one of the many questions I had for my parents was “why do I have a godmother and a godfather?” The answer my parents gave me was that if I needed somebody to take care of me, my godmother and/or godfather would be the ones to do so.
That is not truly the case though; yes, a godparent can have a significant role in your child’s life, as a mentor, spiritually or otherwise, but the designation of “Godparent” does not automatically allow them to become the legal guardian over your minor child if something were to happen to you.
Time and time again I hear people say their child has a godparent, so that is all they need. Unfortunately, that is not enough to protect your child; you also need to designate a legal guardian over your minor child in your Will. Before you choose a guardian, a discussion should be had with that person to find out if they are willing to take on that responsibility and what their current plans are within the years of your child being a minor and young adult. For example, if the person is a good fit as a guardian but his or her job may result in a relocation, that may factor into your considerations.
Although designating a person to act as your minor child’s guardian does not automatically appoint them as such, that person will be first in line to be appointed as their guardian, which can be helpful in situations where there are several relatives or friends who believe they are best suited to be the guardian over your child.
There is still a process your designated guardian needs to go through with the Probate Court before they can be appointed as the legal guardian, but the Court will look at the wishes you have written in your Will and as long as that person is competent to act as guardian, the Court will seriously consider, along with other facts, that you as the parent thought that person is best suited as your child’s guardian upon your death or incapacity. Without designating your wishes in your Will, the Court will decide who is fit to take care of your child, and if nobody comes forward to take on that responsibility, then your child may end up in foster care.
The person you designate as your child’s guardian can absolutely be the same person as their godparent, but you need to do both in order to ensure your child will be in the best situation should something bad happen to you.
Andrea Nelson is an attorney at Hamblett & Kerrigan who focuses her practice in the area of estate planning, including wills, trusts, health and financial powers of attorney, as well as trust and estate administration. Attorney Nelson can be reached at [email protected].