Like the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Aside from teachers, grandparents and a local babysitter, many families also choose a godparent.
This is someone outside your immediate family who helps you guide your child spiritually throughout their life. Usually it’s someone who follows the same faith as you. This role often means being there for their baptism and beyond.
This could mean attending birthday, graduation or other types of special events, and being there if the child needs advice or someone to advocate on their behalf.
Many folks choose very trusted and beloved friends as godparents, and might assume that those are the people who’d step up to care for their children if something happened to them.
But—surprise, surprise—the concept of a godparent isn’t legally binding, so as you’re thinking about your estate planning and who should raise your children if you’re not around, it’s important to understand the distinction.
Simply put, the major difference between a godparent and legal guardian is the legality of the relationship. Being a godparent means you’re an active participant in the child’s life, but it’s generally more of a religious role. A legal guardian, on the other hand, has one very specific role: Take care of the children if both parents were to pass away.
Mark F. Moss, Esq, an estate planning attorney licensed in Florida (and therefore can only speak to Florida law), says, “Just because someone is a godparent, the child will not be released to them because there is no legal relationship.”
The short answer is yes, but only if you appoint them as one. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to choosing your child’s godparent as a legal guardian, so weigh your decision carefully.
Having your child’s godparent appointed as their legal guardian means this person is in your child’s life from birth. In the event something does happen to you, it may not be as traumatic of a transition to live with the godparent because your child is already familiar with this person.
However, just because someone can be a good godparent doesn’t mean they’re well-equipped to be your child’s legal guardian.
For example, a godparent might be warm and affectionate toward your child but disorganized in their personal and financial life. That means that they may be the perfect person for your kid to speak to when there’s a squabble at school, but not the best person for coordinating all the logistics of your child’s financial and educational needs.
“It is possible, and often a good idea, to appoint two different guardians. One is a guardian of the person and one is a guardian of the property,” he says. That way one person steps into more of a parental role, and a different person manages the finances on behalf of the child. Moss says, “That way you can appoint the best people for each role to ensure the best care for your children.”
Of course, if you have a relatively small estate, you might want to make sure that you aren’t creating an additional hurdle for the person watching your child, if they need to go through a third party every time they need money for basic expenses.
Again, it’s a lot to consider, and appointing more than one guardian can feel complicated. If your family situation is complex or there are other factors such as your nominated guardians living outside the state, you might want to consult with an estate planning attorney to make sure your paperwork is in order. Here’s more on how to decide on a legal guardian.
Generally, you can appoint a guardian in your last will and testament. In Florida, where Moss is licensed, another document called a Designation of Preneed Guardianship, or DPG, complies with laws in his state as well.
“I recommend putting guardians in both those documents. A DPG is a ‘safety net’ of sorts, especially for minor children,” Moss says. “This allows for a guardian to serve immediately upon the incapacity or death of the surviving parent instead of the minor becoming a ward of the state until completion of a guardianship proceeding.”
If your attorney recommends a DPG or your state requires one, you’ll need to file the document with the clerk.
While wills typically do go through the probate process—meaning that a judge in court would need to rule that the document is valid before its instructions are carried out—guardianship wishes tend to be honored unless there is a specific reason why the appointed guardian is deemed unfit. (For inspiration, here are the choices one real mom made about who should be her kids' guardian.) For questions about your own situation, we recommend speaking with an attorney.
Once you’ve decided on who to appoint as a legal guardian, you’ll want to make them aware of their role. (If you create a will through Fabric, you can share key information with the people you’ve chosen, so your guardians can have their own logins to view their role in your will.)
Moss suggests discussing these obligations, including talking with the other guardian if you’ve appointed one to care for your child and one to oversee the finances. Make your wishes clear and ensure that the guardian has the contact details for all relevant parties.
As a parent, you know what is best for your child.
Whether or not you choose a godparent for your kids (and whether or not you name your godparent as your children’s legal guardian), the most important thing is to prepare for the future—now.
Fabric exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.
Fabric by Gerber Life exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.
Information provided is general and educational in nature and is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, financial, legal, or tax advice. Laws of a specific state or laws relevant to a particular situation may affect the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of this information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. We make no warranties with regard to the information or results obtained by its use, and disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or reliance on, the information.
Fabric by Gerber Life offers a mobile experience for people on-the-go who want an easy and fast way to purchase life insurance.
If a family member names you as his or her POA agent, here are some things you’ll want to discuss beforehand.
There are a number of different types of POA, which vary according to how much control they grant the agent, how long they last and when they take effect.
Pre-existing conditions can make getting life insurance more challenging, but you may still have coverage options. This is how insurers look at common health conditions.
Term Life Insurance Policy Series ICC22 2205-4004 WSA and Accelerated Death Benefit Rider policy series ICC22 2205-2623 WSA (and state variations where applicable) issued by Western-Southern Life Assurance Company, Cincinnati, OH which operates in DC and all states except NY, and distributed by Gerber Life Agency, LLC using Fabric Technologies. Gerber Life Agency, LLC is an affiliate of Gerber Life Insurance Company (est. 1967). All are members of Western & Southern Financial Group (Western & Southern). Issuance of coverage for Term Life Insurance is subject to underwriting review and approval. Please see a copy of the policy for the full terms, conditions and exclusions. Product provisions, availability, definitions and benefits may vary by state. Payment of benefits under the life insurance policy is the obligation of, and is guaranteed by, the issuing company. Guarantees are based on the claims-paying ability of the issuer. Products are backed by the full financial strength of the issuing company.
All sample pricing is based on a 30-year old F in Excellent health for the coverage amount shown and a 10-year term policy, unless otherwise stated. Gerber Life Agency, LLC (GLA) is an insurance agency licensed to sell life insurance products. GLA will receive compensation from Western-Southern Life Assurance Company for such sales. The NAIC Company Code for Western-Southern Life Assurance Company is 92622.
Western-Southern Life Assurance Company's A+ Superior A.M. Best Rating: Superior ability to meet ongoing insurance obligations (second highest of 13 ratings; rating held since June 2009). Ratings are subject to change from time to time. The ratings shown here are correct as of 09/03/2022. For more information about a particular rating or rating agency, please visit the website of the relevant agency.
Plan like a parent. is a trademark of Fabric Technologies, Inc.
Gerber Life is a registered trademark. Used under license from Société des Produits Nestlé S.A. and Gerber Products Company.
In the State of California, Gerber Life Agency, LLC is known as and does business as Gerber Life Insurance Agency, LLC.