How to Choose a Guardian When

May 2009
How to Choose a Guardian When
You and Your Spouse Can’t Agree
By Thea Beatie Eliot
For some people, choosing a guardian is easy. For others, it can be very difficult. One of the most common
challenges that faces couples who are having trouble
choosing a guardian is that they can’t agree. In fact, this
challenge prevents many people from doing any estate
planning at all.
In my experience, employing an objective process to
choosing a guardian can help to defuse much of the emotion that often bogs down these discussions. To help
break through the barrier that occurs when couples can’t
agree, I’ve devised the following 7-step process.
Step One: Get Motivated. Know that if you don’t
nominate a guardian for your kids, it will be up to a judge
to decide without the benefit of your understanding of
your children or the cast of characters. None of us knows
when we’re going to die and it’s unlikely that you’ll die
prematurely. But if something does happen to you prematurely, the results can be disastrous. Disputes can
arise among even the most loving families when your
wishes aren’t clearly spelled out and legally enforceable.
Your kids would already be devastated by their loss.
Don’t let them be harmed further by a court battle.
Step Two: Let Go. Most importantly, realize that
there truly is no “good answer” to this question. You are
far and away the best people to take care of your child.
Having them be raised by anyone else if something were
to happen to you would only be what’s known as a
“necessary evil.” For some reason, for many people it’s
easier to search for the “least bad” answer instead of the
Step Three: Make Your List of Candidates. You
and your spouse should each make your own list of everyone who would be better to raise your kids than foster
care. Think beyond your siblings and parents. Include
people like cousins, aunts, uncles, godparents, nieces and
nephews, friends, college roommates and any childcare
providers with whom your family has a special attachment. Do not consider financial resources. A good estate
plan will ensure there are enough financial resources by
preserving your existing assets or making up the difference with term life insurance.
Step Four: Make Your List of Attributes and
Values. You and your spouse should each make your
own list of the attributes and values you consider most
important in raising your children. This includes things
like age of the guardian, parenting style, parenting experience, existing relationship with your kids, geographic location, political affiliation, religion, disciplinary style, etc.
Be mindful of what’s truly important for your kids to you
and try to avoid worrying about what others might think
or feel.
Step Five: Combine Your Lists of Attributes
and Values. You and your spouse should trade your
ranked attributes and values lists at this point. Each of
you should share your most important values and attributes and discuss why they are important to you. Your
spouse may have thought of important things that you did
not and vice versa. Try to combine your lists into a single
list of 4 to 6 of your most important attributes and values.
If your lists overlap a great deal, this will be easy. If they
don’t overlap at all, each of you can choose an equal number of attributes and values (2 or 3) to add to your combined list.
Step Six: Compare Your Combined Short List of
Attributes and Values to Your List of Candidates.
Together, you and your spouse should go over your lists of
candidates in light of your combined list of attributes and
values. Consider each person in turn and write down the
number of each of your top attributes and values that this
person shares.
Read more of “How to Choose a Guardian…” on page 3
Surviving and Thriving During Crisis
It seems everyone
has taken a deep
breath in the past few
weeks and starting to
wonder “now what do
I do?”
I am hearing more people ask how
to move forward after enduring tremendous economic declines. There
are two primary strategies to help you
survive and thrive during this financial crises: first gain perspective and
second take prudent measured actions.
In terms of gaining perspective, I’m
not simply taking about studying past
bear markets. While the lessons we
can learn from studying past returns
are important, they often are drowned
out by the fear of “this time is different.”
And you know what? This time is,
in fact, very different. Collateralized
debt obligations, credit default swaps
and a list of other financial instruments were only developed in the last
12 years. Not to mention the rise of
China, fall of the dollar and the free
flow of capital around the world like
never before.
Consider the bear market of 197374. In 1973 the S&P 500 returned 14.67 percent followed by a further
drop of -26.46 percent in 1974. And if
I really study the data, I can see ’73
and ’74 were just the last painful years
of a terrible 10-plus years of equity
Yet it is plausible that if someone
had the courage to invest $100,000 in
1973 and “hang in there” through
multiple recessions and market
crashes, they would have had
$1,972,000 at the end of February
2009 (not a bad return since it is 50
percent less than it would have been
18 months earlier).
But I still don’t “feel” better knowing others have gone through this and
prospered by taking a long-term view
and staying disciplined.
In 1973, the Vietnam War was
grinding on and, for the first time,
America failed to achieve her goals in
a war. Oil and gasoline prices were as
high or higher than last summer, in
relative terms, a president was getting
impeached and the country was questioning its moral character and direction. Those were certainly
“unprecedented events.”
If we put ourselves in the shoes of
people who have gone before us, we
can gain perspective critical to helping
us craft our course of action during
today’s tumultuous times.
So what is that course of action?
Each of you is in a unique situation
with different goals, so your specific
action plan is unique, but there are
some strategies we can all consider.
• Refinancing: Mortgage interest
rates have fallen and refinancing
could be a critical component to longterm success. For example: If you refinance a $625,000 loan from 6.25 percent to 4.75 percent, you can lock in a
very low rate and free up $588 each
Reassess: Those of you who pur-
chased your home in the last five
years should consider having your
home value reassessed by the county
appraiser, as you may qualify for a
reduction in property taxes.
• Re-bid: Anyone who is considering a major capital expenditure should
get a fresh round of competitive bids.
Businesses of all types are hungry for
work and you could be the beneficiary.
Re-invest: Notice I did not say
“stay invested.” For many, it has been
tough to stay committed to regular
savings and investment plans. For
those with a more flexible savings approach, it can be even harder to invest because of the emotional pleasure
of building cash surpluses in uncertain times. It is possible that implementing a serious investing program
today could decrease the time it takes
to achieve your goals. Here are a few
ways to think about reinvesting:
Re-direct the savings from your
refinancing into your investment portfolio. It is easy to set up an automatic
deposit so you don’t have to “see” the
money come and go.
Make a one-time “make up” contribution to a child’s or grandchild’s
529 account. Or encourage “education
gifts” this year in place of more traditional gifts.
If you did take some money out
of your portfolio, consider developing
a systematic reinvestment program so
you don’t have the burden of having to
“find the market bottom.”
If you are fortunate enough to
have built up some extra cash, consider lump sum or systematic investment programs to deploy the funds
into your investment program.
Continued on page 3
“How to Choose a Guardian...,” continued from page 1
Eliminate anyone who does not share any of your top
attributes or values. Rank the rest in order of those who
share the most of your top attributes or values to those
who share the fewest. This might be your final answer –
that is, there may be one clear first choice and a couple of
backup options. In any event, try your ranked list of candidates on for size and see how it feels. If either of you
feels uncomfortable, talk about why and see where you
might be willing to compromise. If you get bogged down,
take a break, but make a commitment to pick it back up in
a day or so. But don’t delay past a week because this is
the kind of thing that if it can be put off, it will, sometimes
Step Seven: Consult An Expert If Necessary. If
you can’t reach consensus after going through this process, it’s time to consult an expert. A counselor or therapist who works with couples and/or an attorney who
plans from a parent’s perspective can be an invaluable
resource in that instance.
Remember, you and your spouse are clearly the best
people to parent your kids. But if something happens to
you and you haven’t specified who should care for them,
you run the risk of putting your children, your family and
friends through a lot of unnecessary pain. It is so much
easier for you to take care of this today than for them to
deal with it later.
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“Surviving and Thriving During Crisis,” continued
from page 2
Ensure your workplace savings plans are being fully
Simply remember the mathematical fact: As stock
prices decline, the future expected return increases. A
portfolio that experiences regular investments during
down markets will outperform a more static portfolio.
Lastly I think we can all reflect on others who are in far
worse situations than our own and be glad we have the
opportunity to gain perspective and take prudent actions.
It is certainly not an easy thing to do, but then again most
things worth doing are not all that easy.
Chuck Bowes, CFP® is a founder of Runyon &
Bowes LLC who lives in the Bay Area with his wife
and two children ages 8 and 6. With offices in San
Francisco, Walnut Creek and Newport Beach
Runyon & Bowes helps individual and families
achieve what is most important to them through
comprehensive planning and wealth management
services. He can be reached via:
[email protected] or (877) 768-4802 ext. 4
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Celebrating Motherhood
Mother’s Day is this month so I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom. I know
I’m not alone in saying that I owe so much (besides that little thing called my very
existence) to my mom. She’s an incredible and inspiring lady.
My mom taught me not to accept the limits that other people, society or even I
might try to impose on myself. “Failure to ask is an automatic no” and “Just keep
pedaling” are some of her favorite sayings. At age 76, she is a Photoshop expert,
was on Facebook before I was and recently went indoor skydiving. My love for my mom is boundless, I
admire her and I am tremendously grateful for her presence in my life. You can see some photos on my
blog at
I can only hope to one day be as inspiring to my daughters. For all you moms out there, Happy
Mother’s Day! Our influence on our children cannot be overstated; we truly do one of the most important jobs on earth.
Wishing you health, wealth and happiness,