How do we tell the people we are considering?
"This is a very serious thing you're asking, and it has to be taken seriously," Schon says. "It should not happen at a cocktail party or a christening or a naming ceremony, when emotions are high." Sit down and talk it through so the potential guardians understand completely what you are asking of them.
Once you've made your choice, inform members of your family. If they disagree with your decision, you can discuss it now and prevent possible legal battles later on.
Schon recommends revisiting the decision every year, or at least every few years, to be sure you and the guardians you've chosen are still comfortable and agreeable with it, particularly if you've had another child. Also update your will or trust every few years, especially if you move to a different state.
How do we make it legal?
Make an appointment with an attorney who specializes in estate planning and trusts. Ask friends for references or contact your state bar association for referrals. You'll work with your attorney to draw up a will or trust (or modify your existing one) to include designation of the guardians you've selected. Appointing a legal guardian costs in the neighborhood of $250 to $350 per hour, for a possible maximum of eight hours, more if someone is contesting the appointment.
You'll also have to make decisions about finances. Will your money, life insurance and property go to the guardians to spend on your child as they see fit, or will you set up a trust and have a different person serve as the trustee of your child's inheritance? Most attorneys recommend a trust because it gives you more control over how your child's inheritance will be spent. For example, a trust allows you to set money aside specifically for college tuition or other priorities. You can even stipulate that you want your child to undergo therapy to help her deal with your death. If you are a single parent, your attorney can tell you what parental or guardianship rights the child's remaining parent may have if you die.