Recently, a friend asked my husband and I to be Godparents for one of their children. Our first thought was “About time someone asked us; We’d make great Godparents!” Kidding … We were incredibly humbled and honored and are thrilled to fill such an important role in their family’s life.
This monumental event reminded me however, that there is confusion when it comes to the terms “Godparent” and “Guardian.” In my role as an estate planner, I often have clients who tell me that they have Guardianship covered because they have named Godparents for their children. In reality, these two roles are independent of one another and mean very different things.
|Description of Role||Charged with the responsibility of guiding your child spiritually throughout life. Godparents serve alongside parents and other trusted individuals to be a guiding light for a child.||Charged with the responsibility of raising a child. Guardians step into the shoes of parents when both parents pass away. Guardianship ends when the child is no longer a minor.|
|Relationship with parents?||Serve alongside parents.||Step into the shoes of “parent” upon natural parent’s death.|
|When are they appointed?||During the life of the parents and child.||Upon the death of both parents.|
|How are they appointed?||Usually by a church in a religious ceremony.||In a legal proceeding where the court decides what’s in the child’s best interest. If the parents have a Will designating guardians, this provides the court with a road map and blueprint.|
|Legal obligations||No. Godparents can quit whenever they want.||Yes. Guardians can’t quit unless the Court that appointed them Guardian in the first place agrees to let them.|
|When does appointment end?||Upon the death of the child or the Godparent.||When the child is no longer a minor (usually 18).|
In short, the adage that “it takes a village,” absolutely applies to raising children. Families, caretakers, teachers, and friends all have an integral role in helping us parents raise our kids. And while the role of Godparent and Guardian are both very important, they are not the same.
If you want to make sure you have a say in who should (and who should not) raise your child in the event that you die before your child is an adult, then the only way to do that is to create a Will in which you make those wishes clear to the court which will ultimately be the decision maker as to what’s in the best interest of your child.