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You have been busy preparing for your baby's arrival--you've set up the crib, installed the car seat and researched the benefits of breastfeeding. The last thing on your mind is the possibility that you and your partner might die--or otherwise become unable to care for your baby--and someone else will raise her. As unpleasant as it may be to think about, however, choosing a legal guardian is crucial. "If you don't do it, your child could end up in a foster home," says attorney Robert C. Brandt, a certified family law specialist in Los Angeles. The best time to make the guardianship legal is before your baby is born. To help you navigate the process, here are answers to some of the most common questions parents have about appointing a guardian.
Whom should we choose?
A legal guardian will generally assume the same basic responsibilities as a parent until the child turns 18. Naturally, you'll want to pick someone who will love your child. But love alone is not enough. Other important considerations are age, marital status, income, emotional stability, health, the size of their home, how many children they already have, their religious beliefs, where they live and whether they're in a strong relationship. (Most parents pick a couple, although it is legal to choose a single person.)
Ask yourself: Will they raise my child the way I would want her to be raised? Will they help her maintain ties with our extended family? Can they handle any special needs she may have? Are they willing and able to take on the added responsibility? "It should not be the heartstrings that push you in the direction of who should take care of your child," says Goldie Schon, a Los Angeles attorney specializing in family law.
"We chose my sister, Amy, and her husband because Amy and I have very similar attitudes about child rearing," says Carol Hildebrand, a mother of two in Wellesley, Mass. "There were no drawbacks, other than the fact that she lives in the South. I would prefer that the kids remained New Englanders, but that seemed to be a fairly minor issue in the end."
Kim Nash, a mother of two in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., also selected her sister. "Karen and I are nearly lock step in our views on how to raise happy, smart children, and I know she would--and does--love my girls beyond measure," Nash says. "Plus, she has the financial wherewithal to do it."