Guardianships and trusts are difficult topics for many people to think about, much less discuss with others. Experts talk about how best to handle these sensitive but important conversations.
Advertisement

Discussing the logistics and realities surrounding death rarely makes for a fun or enjoyable conversation. Still, these are conversations we should all take the time to have given that death is, of course, an unavoidable certainty.

An image of women talking.
Credit: Getty Images.

It's particularly important to sort through such matters ahead of time if you have children who will require guardians in your absence or if a trust will need to be managed and administered. But how is one to start such a conversation with family or friends tactfully? When is the right time? And what should be covered when these discussions take place?

Industry experts weigh in to help sort through some of these key questions.

Communicate in the right environment

Like any critically important conversation, the best way to talk with loved ones about guardianships and trusts is to sit down face-to-face. And ideally, you'll want to do so in a relaxed setting, Mary Kate D'Souza, co-founder and the chief legal officer of gentreo.com, a boutique online estate planning software, tells Parents.

"Relaxed could mean different things for different people, but in general, you want to choose a time and place where you will be able to talk freely without distractions," says D'Souza.

Know the difference between a guardian and a trustee

A guardian takes care of the personal needs and welfare of minor children. This includes ensuring that your children have a home and that educational and medical care needs are met, continues D'Souza.

A trustee, meanwhile, is tasked with managing the assets held in trust for the benefit of your children so that the funds are carefully spent for your children's needs. 

Discuss the role and responsibilities with your chosen guardian or trustee

Settling upon who you want to serve as either guardian of your children or trustee for your trust, or both is merely the first step. Next, you need to determine whether the individuals you've chosen are actually willing to accept the job and able to handle the many tasks that go along with such an important role.

"Raising children is difficult and you should start by confirming that this is something your designated guardians fully understand and are ready to take on," Patrick Hicks, head of legal at Trust & Will, tells Parents. "Although it may be uncomfortable, having a conversation with the person or people you select to be your children's guardian can help alleviate any surprise or shock should the time come that they need to step in."

In addition to ensuring that the chosen individuals are on board for the role, make sure everyone is clear about what is expected when it comes to serving as a guardian or trustee.

"They have to be a fiduciary. In this case, that means they have a duty of loyalty and care; they must be loyal to the beneficiary and acting in their best interests, even if those conflict with theirs," Taylor Tepper, senior financial analyst with Forbes Advisor, tells Parents. "They need to understand how their actions affect all parties involved and have a comfort dealing with finances."

And while you're at it, be sure the chosen individuals have the time to do right by your kids, says Tepper.

Focus on the "Why"

After explaining that you're making plans to protect your children and loved ones should something happen, you might also want to make it a point to explain to your chosen guardian or trustee exactly why you've selected them.

"Explain that you selected them because you trust them the most to take care of your most precious concerns—your children and their welfare," says D'Souza. "At the same time, it's important to acknowledge that you recognize it's a big ask and that the job carries a lot of responsibility."

Empower your guardians

Once you know the individuals you've chosen are willing to serve as guardians or trustees, focus on empowering them to fill that role, suggests Hicks of Trust & Will.

"Let them know what's important to you about how your children are raised," Hicks explains. "What are your preferences on education styles, religion, and extracurricular activities? What values are important to instill in your children?"

Your goal is to ensure that the people you've chosen are fully equipped to fill your role when it comes to raising your children and managing decisions.

Allow time and space for questions and true discussion

Once you have discussed the different aspects of the role with your guardian or trustee, you should give the chosen fiduciaries an opportunity to ask questions so that there's a "true meeting of the minds," says D'Souza.

They should fully understand what you want them to do when the time comes and fully understand their responsibilities.

"Always give them an opportunity to think about everything so that they don't feel pressured to agree at the moment," adds D'Souza. "Once your loved ones agree to take on this role, make sure they know where your legal documents are stored and provide them with copies."

Finally, at least once each year, you should review all of your estate planning documents, including your guardianship nomination and your trust.