If you have children, what will happen to them in the unlikely event that you die and they are left with no parents to look after then? It may not be something you’ve considered, or wish to think about, but your children’s future security is important to you.

Perhaps they have God parents? Or grandparents or aunts and uncles? Even if they do, they will not automatically become legal guardians, and it’s not even up to them to decide what happens to your children.  If you haven’t made a will which names who you want to be guardians, a Family Court will decide for you who looks after your children and who manages their inheritance.  Isn’t it better for you to choose someone you trust and who your children also know and trust?

Why make a will?

An informal arrangement or agreement with someone to act as a Guardian is not enough.  In your Will, you can nominate someone to be a legal guardian for your children, just in case the worst happens and you die before they reach 18. 

Family members are often the most obvious choice.  Perhaps a sister, brother, cousin or your parents?   However, it may not always be practical or desirable to appoint family members, so you can name anyone you choose – perhaps close friends who have children of their own?

If your potential guardians live in a different part of the UK, or even in a different country, then careful consideration should be given to your children’s living and schooling practicalities.

If you name a husband and wife, perhaps your sister and her husband, what happens if they separate or divorce?  It may be better to just name the family member or friend without naming their spouse.  You can also name reserve guardians in case they are unable or unwilling to take on the role at the time.

Guardians and Trustees (for property and finances) – same people?

If you are leaving inheritance to your children (property, savings, insurance payout, etc) they cannot inherit this until they reach 18 years old.  Trustees will need to look after their inheritance until they are adults and you can also nominate Trustees of your choosing in your Will. These can be the same people as the guardians, or can be different.  What if the children need some funds released for housing or living costs?  Trustees have some discretion to decide on this. There needs to be at least 2 people as Trustees.  As the name suggests, choose people you trust.

  • Can the guardians also be Trustees?  
  • What if you prefer the Trustees to be someone other than the guardians? That’s ok. You can keep the finances separate if you prefer.
  • Can you have the guardians as trustees together with another person to manage finances? Yes
  • Can you delay your child(ren) receiving any inheritance to later than 18 years old? Yes, many people specify age 21 or 25, but the Trustees will be able to release some funds earlier in certain circumstances if it is appropriate.   
  • Can you also specify a ‘reserve’ guardian if the named guardian has also died, or is unable to act? Yes
  • Can you say what the money is to be used for? Yes, you can write a separate ‘Letter of Wishes’ as guidance for the guardians and trustees, detailing what’s important for you to include in your children’s upbringing.

Still not sure who is the right choice of guardians? 

You could be taking a big risk on your children’s future by doing nothing.  It’s better to have plans in place now that suit your current circumstances.  E.g., your parents are the obvious choice now, but you’re worried about what happens if they become more frail and unable to look after the children. You can add Reserve Guardians, and also amend your will and change the guardian(s) in a few years’ time if circumstances change.

Are you separated or divorced?

If the other parent of your children has legal ‘parental responsibility’ they will be responsible for the children in the event of your death, but you can still specify trustees for any inheritance, and if the other parent has also died, then the guardians you specify will be the ones responsible for your children.

Don’t put it off…

Writing a will and including named Guardians and Trustees of your choice is essential to guarantee the safety and security of your child’s future, should the very worst happen,  By taking the time now to consider this emotional but important issue, you can have peace of mind that you are doing the best for your children’s future, whatever happens.