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Guardianship 101: What You Need to Know About Appointing a Guardian for Your Child

Updated: Mar 16, 2023

Guardianship is an important aspect of estate planning that many parents overlook. It involves appointing a person or persons who will take care of your child or children if you pass away and your spouse or partner is unable to care for them. In this blog post, we will discuss what a guardian is, how to appoint one, and the responsibilities of a guardian.


What is a Guardian?


A guardian is a person or persons appointed to take responsibility for a child or children if the parent is not able to care for them after their death. In your will, you can name a guardian and alternates for this purpose. However, it is important to note that a testator cannot use a guardian to deny custody of their child to their partner.


A guardian is a fiduciary who is accountable for the child's physical safety, financial affairs, or both, depending on the child's age. Before naming a person as a guardian in your will, it is essential to consult with them. If a parent dies without appointing a guardian, the court may appoint one at its discretion.


In Washington State, the court will confirm the parent's nomination unless it finds that the nominee is not qualified to serve. The qualifications needed to serve as a guardian can be found in RCW 11.88.020. Starting on January 1, 2022, these qualifications will change, as outlined in RCW 11.130.090. It is important to stay informed about these changes and seek legal advice if necessary.


What is a Guardianship Account?


A guardianship account is designed for minors or adults who are unable to manage their money due to mental or physical disabilities. To open a guardianship account, you must present a court order that includes specific instructions regarding the account and its funds. As part of the court's order, you will be required to follow the legal instructions concerning your account management. The account funds are typically disbursed to your child when they reach the age of majority.


How to Avoid Gifting a Large Lump Sum When Your Child Turns 18


If you wish to avoid giving your child a large lump sum when they turn 18, you can add testamentary trust provisions to your will. These provisions direct your child's share to be held in trust until they reach a certain age. For example, you can specify that 1/3 of the funds are to be released when your child reaches age 21, another 1/3 at age 25, and the remainder at age 30.


Speak to an Attorney


As always, it is important to speak to an attorney before preparing your estate plan. They can help you navigate the legal requirements and ensure that your wishes are carried out appropriately. Estate planning can be complex, but it is an essential part of ensuring that your loved ones are taken care of in the event of your passing.

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