Ugly Truth About Godparents

April 30, 2021

What is a Godparent?

Many parents in the Christian faith appoint close friends or family members as Godparents of their baby during the baptism or christening service. These Godparents promise to bring the child up in the faith and love and protect the child. Most find that being asked to be a Godparent is a treasured honor and take the role very seriously. Godparents maintain a close relationship with the child and help guide him or her spiritually and emotionally.

The concept has evolved beyond the church and many non-religious parents choose Godparents and foster those relationships for their children. A common mistake parents make is thinking that these designated Godparents will care for the child should tragedy strike and both parents die. This is misguided. Godparents do not have any legal rights over a child. Godparents are not the same as legal guardians.

What is a Legal Guardian?

A legal guardian is appointed by the court to care for the child if both parents are no longer able to do so. This could be due to death, incapacity or being deemed unfit by the court. The legal guardian may be appointed to serve over both the physical custody and care of the child as well as the guardian of the property owned by the child. The role may be divided and the responsibilities granted to two different legal guardians – a guardian of the person and a guardian of the estate.

Can a Godparent also become the child’s legal guardian?

Yes, they may serve as both roles but only if the parents appoint them as legal guardians in their will or a valid trust document. The parents need to also designate whether named Godparents should serve as guardians of the person, guardian of the estate or both – known as a general legal guardian.

The major difference between a Godparent and a legal guardian is the legality of the relationship. Godparents typically play a more religious, nurturing role; while legal guardians have one very specific role – to take care of the child if both parents cannot do so. It may not be in the child’s best interests for the Godparents to also be appointed as legal guardians in the parent’s estate plan. Some Godparents are only cut out for the role as Godparents and may not have the ability or resources to actually raise the child full-time.

Legal guardians assume parental responsibilities such as feeding, clothing and educating the child. They also make decisions about their education, medical needs and provide necessary boundaries and discipline. Legal guardians do not have any legal rights over the child while the parents are alive and able to care for the child. If both parents die, the probate court will review the will and appoint the designated person as legal guardian according to the terms stated in the will.

If only one parent dies, the child remains in the custody and care of the surviving parent. The guardianship provision of a will does not take effect unless both parents die. Most probate courts give heavy consideration to naming the guardian and lean towards honoring the designation made by the will unless it can be shown that the designated guardian will not serve the child’s best interests.

There are numerous factors to consider when choosing who to name as the guardian for your child(ren) in your estate plan. An experienced attorney can cover these considerations and provide guidance so that you make the best selection. To adequately plan for your child’s continued wellbeing, schedule a consultation with the knowledgeable estate planning attorneys at Stouffer Legal in the Greater Baltimore area. You can schedule an appointment by calling us at (443) 470-3599 or emailing us at office@stoufferlegal.com.

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