I apparently have reached the time in my life where I’m surrounded by babies. In addition to three new nieces recently, I’ve also been working with several new parents. It has been my pleasure to work with these new parents protecting the newest members of their families. I’ve talked before about guardianship and trusts and the methods to protect young families. But as I’ve worked with more and more of these families I hear some common concerns and themes.
One of the concerns I hear most often is that the parents want all sides of the family (whether mom’s side, dad’s side, or whomever) able to visit the child. Most parents want to make sure that if they are not there to connect the children to their extended families, their guardians will do so. Unfortunately, guardianship issues go through the probate court and not the family court so the procedure is not the same as a custody hearing. Probate court handles guardianship and who has the right to make legal decisions for the child, but does not dictate visitation rights or schedule.
But there are a few things families can do to facilitate visitation. First and foremost if this is a priority, choosing a guardian who understands should also be a priority. However, choosing a guardian is only one part. It’s also possible just to express your wishes in the documents. This is NOT legally binding, but often times writing down your intentions have more effect than just telling people what you want.
Another method is to choose a trustee or conservator (aka people in charge of the assets for the children) from the other side of the family. I don’t recommend this often, because it can cause problems if the trustee/conservator and guardian do not get along. However, as long as these people can work together, it can also ensure different parts of the family are involved.
It is also possible to include a member of the other side of the family as a beneficiary for a small amount (so they have rights to the trust), then condition any compensation to the trustee (if the same person as the guardian) upon visitation rights. This again can be a decisive provision and does not allow for flexibility on the parts of the guardian. As such, it may not be a good option for everyone.
Because these issues are important and there are many possible problems and solutions, it’s extremely important to talk about these things with possible guardians. If this is a sensitive subject for your family, I would also recommend consulting a professional who can walk through some of the advantages and disadvantages of the different possibilities and find the right solution for you.