Many parents do not recognize the importance of having a last will and testament. Television shows and books often focus on the asset distribution component of wills, so parents may not realize how having a will can protect their children. Although you can use a will to list who should inherit certain assets, you can also use it to name a trusted person to serve as the guardian of your child in case something happens to you.
What happens to my child if I die without a will?
In Missouri, if one parent dies, the other parent will most likely be the one to care for the child. However, if both parents die or if a court determines that the only living parent is unfit to care for the child, the court may have to appoint a guardian.
In situations like this, the court will often consider someone chosen by the child, if that child is at least 14 years old. Although the court will consider this nominee, the court will not appoint any nominee that is determined to be against the best interests of the child.
If neither a parent nor a person of the child’s choosing can be appointed guardian, the court will choose someone else to serve as guardian. The court will look for the most appropriate person who is willing to be guardian. When determining the most suitable guardian, the court will prioritize the best interests of the child, which includes a need for stable and permanent placement.
Parents usually know best
Some parents may wonder why they should specify a guardian if the court will otherwise appoint one. The choice to specify a guardian or not is ultimately a person one. However, as a parent, you probably have a more intimate knowledge of your children’s best interests than a court does. You also probably know your family and close friends better than the court does.
Although the court will try to find the best possible guardian for your child, there may be no way for a court to know that your sister has a similar parenting style to your own or that your child and your father-in-law have had a special bond ever since they started building model airplanes. Families are filled with complicated relationships, and as a member of your family and a parent of your child, you are probably an expert at navigating those relationships.
As a parent, you probably have a good understanding of who you would trust to raise your child if you were unable to do it yourself, but without a will, you will not be able to influence the court’s decision. There is no way to know what the future may hold, but you can protect your child by naming a trusted guardian in your will.