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A godparent is not the same as a legal guardian

On Behalf of | Oct 7, 2023 | Estate Planning |

Godparents have traditionally been associated with the Catholic faith. In Catholicism, a godparent is intended to be a child’s spiritual advisor and make sure they continue to be raised Catholic if something happens to their parents.

People of all faiths and even those who don’t follow any religion ask someone to be a child’s godparent. Typically, they do so to help ensure that their child has the benefit of this person’s wisdom and help if they’re no longer around.

It’s crucial to understand, however, that a godparent has no legal responsibilities or authority over your child if you pass away or become unable to care for them. That requires naming a designated legal guardian in your will. 

A person can be both

Certainly, a person can be a godparent and a designated legal guardian. However, they don’t have to be. For example, you may have a close friend or mentor of your own whom you would like to continue to be in your child’s life if you’re not, even though they wouldn’t be able (or want) to raise them. You may choose a couple of people who don’t even know each other to be your child’s godparents. Some people choose different godparents for each of their children.

None of these is a good idea for naming a legal guardian. A designated legal guardian should be able to care for your child right away if something happens to you and provide them with the same values, goals and opportunities as you would – at least as much as possible.

Thought and planning is required to choose a guardian

Choosing a legal guardian requires a good deal of thought. The same applies to anyone you ask before they accept such a large responsibility – even if it’s highly unlikely they’ll need to assume it. Often, parents make other provisions in their estate planning documents to ensure that their child will have all the financial resources they need and that they’re managed by a responsible person (who may or may not also be the legal guardian.

If you designate a legal guardian, but you’ve asked someone else to be your child’s godparent, it’s best that they know about each other and can co-exist to the extent needed in your child’s life if they don’t have you. Having legal guidance as you name a potential guardian for your child can help you protect their future.