As an Orange County estate planning attorney, I regularly meet with parents who want to make sure their minor children will be cared for by the people they want, in the way they want, if something unexpectedly happens to them.

Of course that generally means making a will—and even in some situations it even means creating a trust.  Yet in both scenarios, we always create clear guardian nominations so parents have the opportunity to specify who they want (or don’t want) to legally care for their minor children should tragedy strike.

Yet sometimes as I get deeper into this conversation with my Orange County estate planning clients, it becomes clear that their kids would actually fare better if left in the care of different guardians (and yes, perhaps even be separated from one another) if the death of one or both parents occurred.

Of course this is a decision that’s not to be taken lightly, but legally, there is nothing stopping you from leaving your children to the care of different people if it seems necessary for their future well-being.

Not sure when this would be an appropriate choice for your family? Let me give you an example as to when the decision to assign separate guardians would come into play.

Let’s say you are a mother of 3 children.  You have two girls from your first marriage and your third child, a boy, is from the 2nd. If something unexpectedly happened to you, the law dictates that your youngest son would be placed in the care of his father, provided he is still living.

Yet you know that living with your current husband would not be the best arrangement for the girls.  The girls have never been close to your new husband and you can’t imagine the situation getting any better if you were gone.  Worst of all, the girls have no relationship with their biological father.  In fact, he signed over his rights in lieu of paying child support years ago.    So in your mind, leaving the children to him is not an option either.

So based on this scenario, you decide to make your sister the guardian of the girls, while your husband would continue to raise your son if something happens.

Of course that’s just one of MANY examples in which the decision to appoint separate guardians for your children comes into play.  As I tell parents all the time, YOU and only you know what is best for the physical and emotional well-being of your children in a time of need.   While I agree that the ideal situation is to leave the kids together, family dynamics or life circumstances may dictate that alternative plans be made.

Fortunately, that’s the beauty of Orange County estate planning.  Estate planning gently prods you to think about such situations in advance so your kids are given the best chance to thrive if something unexpectedly happens to you.  You can then document your wishes so there is no question as to who you want to care for your kids in your absence.

Haven’t made plans yet to legally appoint someone to care for your minor kids if something happens to you?