It’s safe to say new parents have a lot on their plate – from getting to grips with nappies to establishing the night-time routine.
But a legal expert is warning of a key thing parents should be doing at birth but that very few do.
While many choose a godparent for their child, only a very small number of people appoint a guardian. A legal guardian is the person you would want to raise your child if you were not there to do so yourself.
And while it’s unnerving to think of a time when you’re not around, if both parents die while your child is under 18, and there is no legal guardian, the courts may appoint someone on your behalf.
Legal service, Frisk, offers a family risk report – a bit like a credit score but for dying – and if you’re a parent, one of the first points it will ask you is if you have a will and whether you have specified a legal guardian for your child.
Many specify their guardianship wishes in their will, but with two thirds of people not having a will, it’s no wonder hardly anyone appoints a guardian.
There is also the misunderstanding that a godparent has a legal standing should both parents die and a guardian needed to be appointed. There is no obligation for a godparent to become a child’s legal guardian should the child’s parents die whilst they are a minor, however it is fairly common for them to be asked to take on that role.
Needless to say, choosing who the right person is to become your child’s guardian is a big decision but ultimately your decision is going to be better than letting a court decide. You may think that the court has a pecking order when it comes to who will be appointed guardian (such as grandparents first, aunts and uncles next, friends of the family etc), but this is not the case.
Paramount consideration is what is in the best interests of the child and the court will pick the legal guardian best placed to care for the children.
Sadly in extreme cases if there is no guardian appointed and there is no-one either willing to take on your child’s care that the court feel can do the job, then your children will be placed into Local Authority care.
The issue of guardianship also goes hand-in-hand with the importance of parent responsibility rights (PR). Unmarried fathers must ensure they have PR over their children, if they don’t and the mother does not appoint them as guardian of their child, the father will have to apply to court for an order to become the legal guardian.
An unmarried father can get PR through a number of ways: If his name is on the birth certificate (after a certain date depending where in the UK they live); if both parents have signed a PR agreement; if he obtains a PR order from the court or if he becomes the child’s guardian.
Martin Holdsworth, founder and director of IDR Law and Frisk, said: “My advice is always to remove any doubt about who you would choose to be the legal guardian of your children in the event of your death.
“The best way to do this is firstly to decide on who you believe will come closest to bringing up your child in the way you would wish. Then speak with them to make sure that they are agreeable to taking on that obligation and role.
“Finally make sure that their appointment is detailed in a valid will – bear in mind that you should also be making sure that your will provides financial support to your legal guardians to care for your child.
“If you don’t do this in life, then in death you will be completely in the hands of the court to decide who the legal guardians should be.”