A guardian is someone you have named in your Will as the person you would like to be responsible for your children if they are orphaned before reaching the age of 18.
On this page:
- Why appoint guardians?
- How to appoint guardians
- Roles and responsibilities of guardians
- Choosing guardians
- Who can appoint guardians?
- Changing your guardians
If you fail to appoint guardians in your Will and your children are orphaned before they reach 18, the courts will appoint guardians instead, but they won't necessarily choose the people that you would have preferred to take care of your children.
If when you pass away the other parent of your children survives, the surviving parent will normally continue to have full responsibility for the children. However, if neither parent survives (as in some road accidents) then the guardians you have appointed will take on the responsibility for your children.
By appointing guardians you can ensure that your children are looked after by the people that you have chosen as the best people for the job.
To appoint legal guardians for your children, you must name them as your chosen guardians in your Will. Before doing this you will need to approach the people you would like to appoint as guardians to find out whether they are willing and able to take on this responsibility. You may also wish to appoint alternative guardians, who will take their place if your intended guardians pass away.
The roles and responsibilities of guardians include the following:
- Day-to-day care of the surviving children.
- Making decisions about the children's upbringing, education, health and welfare.
- Usually a Guardian will also be one of the Trustees for the property held in trust for the child/children.
When considering who to appoint as legal guardian for your children, you will need to consider the following:
- How do I feel about their values and parenting skills?
- Are they able to offer a stable family environment?
- What is the quality of their present relationship with my child/children?
- Are they willing and able to handle the responsibility of caring for my child/children on a long-term basis?
How many guardians should I appoint?
You may appoint just one guardian, however, most people when writing their Will choose to appoint two, typically a couple.
Should I make the guardians trustees as well?
Many people choose to do this, as the guardians will be taking care of your children's finances until they are 18. If you do this, it is advisable also to appoint another trustee who is not related to the guardians, e.g. a solicitor or accountant. Doing so will help to provide objectivity and guard against conflicts of interest. It will also provide the guardians with some support in handling the financial and legal aspects of a trust.
You may only appoint guardians for children in your Will if you currently have 'parental responsibility' for the children. To find out whether you have parental responsibility under the law, follow one of the links below:
- For births registered in England and Wales click here
- For births registered in Scotland click here.
- For births registered in Northern Ireland click here.
In some circumstances it may become necessary to change your appointed guardians, for example:
- One of your intended guardians dies
- Your intended guardians have separated or divorced
- Your intended guardians have left the country or had some other major life change
- Your intended guardians are no longer able or willing to take on the responsibility
You can change your appointed guardians in one of two ways:
- By writing a codicil
- By appointing in your Will alternative guardians who would take on the responsibility for your children if your intended guardians die before you do.