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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Guardianship Dilemmas

Brooklyn Wolf has posted a list of things every Jewish family should have, both spiritual and practical. On the subject of wills he writes, "make sure that you OK your choice of guardian with the people in question. It's *very* bad manners to just dump your kids on someone without asking."

We are in the process of working up a will that is appropriate for the here and now and we have a dilemma in regards to assigning a guardian (chas v'shalom we should ever need it). The short of the long of it is that we are playing with the idea of doing just that, i.e. writing the guardians right into our will and just forgetting to mention it. Now we agree this is quite rude, and it is probably a far cry from being ethical, but we aren't sure we have any good choices.

Unfortunately, neither of us are from large families and our choices are limited. (Writing a non-family member into the will as a guardian is not a choice we will consider at least at this point in time). Our parents have basically passed the point of being capable guardians. And when it comes to the minuscule pool of siblings, there is only one appropriate choice. There is only one sibling (plus spouse) who can and will raise our children in the path that we desire. Nothing can or will ever be an exact fit, but should the worst happen, we know that our children will receive an appropriate spiritual upbringing.

Recently, the father of the desired guardians overheard us speaking about our will and he stated that potential guardians are far too busy with their own children and jobs and that we should not ask them. He is certain that they will say no. We really don't have any other good options, and if they say no we are essentially up a creek.

What to do is obviously a question of great proportions and any decisions that we make will be in consultation with appropriate Rabbinic and legal advice. The courts give weight to the will of the parents, but it is not the final word in matters of guardianship either. Obviously we hope to never use a will except after 120. But we are unaware of Hashem's plans must do our hishtadlut in regards to our children.

Given this situation, what would you do. . . . . . write the guardians of choice into the will without telling them, knowing that it is human nature to step up to the plate in the face of tragedy ch"v, or do you ask their permission knowing that all other choices just are not good choices in the spiritual sense?


Anonymous said...

I would advise against writing in guardians without their express consent. While some people do step up to the plate, others can become bitter at having additional responsibility thrust upon them, especially without having been asked. Actually, the odds are they would say yes, because they figure it will never happen.

Also life takes surprising twists and turns and the people you currently feel best suited may not strike you as such in 5 or 10 years.

Ask them. If they say no, I'd try to find a good friend with the same spiritual outlook before I'd go for a relative with a spiritual outlook I didn't like.

Good luck, and may your children enjoy your company til 120.

David said...

There is nothing to be lost by asking them - if they say yes, then all is well. If they say no, then look to a close friend who shares your spiritual outlook and (in some vague way) parenting style.

God willing, this discussion will be irrelevant, as by the time you're 120, your children won't need guardians.

Mike S. said...

Besides, from a practical point of view, if they decline to accept the guardianship after the fact you will have no say in your children's upbringing.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I decided that the best idea for us would be to ask one of our single freinds. None of our relatives was an acceptable choice and it didnt seem fair to anyone to make a large familly the guardien. We went through our single freinds and decided the best choice was actually a male freind of mine who agreed.

triLcat said...

I would actually be surprised if they refused. No one expects to actually have to step up.

Now that I'm expecting my first, my husband and I have basically decided what we want, and we plan to have our wills made up. We need to speak to the couple in question. Thank G-d, I believe that they would accept our children without question and raise them well.

My parents, btw, had no one appropriate at all on either side of the family, and eventually chose friends of theirs who I met only once my whole childhood. I remember being terribly frightened that I'd have to go live with some family I didn't know. As soon as my oldest brother was out of college dorms, I started begging my parents to change their wills (I was about 8 at the time.) Unfortunately, with my dad being in the army, we just didn't grow up knowing any other religious families.

My parents made sure that their kids don't have that issue. There are 5 of us.

Scraps said...

My parents didn't have any appropriate relatives on either side to ask to be our guardians; there aren't any religious relatives on either side. I think that at some point they may have asked one or another of the families they are close to in our community if they would accept guardianship, but b"H it was never needed, because my siblings and I are all of age now.

Ezzie said...

Hmm, I never really thought about this (and I guess I should). I really don't have an answer, I'd have to think about it much longer. I'd first have to figure out who makes the most sense in terms of ability to handle it and hashkafa... then figure out if they are of the type to be willing. I wonder if some people think that in such a case, different kids should go to different siblings or friends depending on what's best for them, or if it's better to keep them all together. Age may play a role, too. (Okay, kinda getting off on tangents.)

It's a really interesting dilemma.

SephardiLady said...

Everyone-Keep the comments coming. I'm gaining a lot of perspective. Thanks!

Ezzie-Age is a big factor,probably the biggest factor at this point.

Anonymous said...

"What to do is obviously a question of great proportions and any decisions that we make will be in consultation with appropriate Rabbinic and legal advice. The courts give weight to the will of the parents, but it is not the final word in matters of guardianship either."

What is the role of Rabbinic advice in this question?

SephardiLady said...

Anon above-You don't think there is a religious element to raising children and assigning guardianship? The to tell or not to tell issue alone is itself a halachic question. . . . or at least I'd hope so.

It really isn't nice to drop your kids in someone else's lap. But for us, appropriate guardians in the family are just limited and we feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. Sometimes life isn't easy.

Ezzie's mom said...

Along with writing a will and appointing a guardian you must buy life insurance! When you approach the potential guardians you should tell them that you have "this & this" amount of life insurance which will cover your childrens expenses and if necessary add on to their house so there is room for your family. Once the financial aspect is explained the potential guardians will be able to decide more clearly whether they can handle raising an additional family.

Mike S. said...

I too would expect that your relatives are likely to accept, no matter what their father said. As soon as I hit 18, may parents asked me if I would be the guardian for my younger siblings, if need arose. Much as the prospects terrified me, I understood their reasoning, and agreed after they explained the arrangements they had made to make that possible. And I have a some friends who have asked us to be guardians for their children, should the need arise. Although we would, at our stage of life, not find it an easy task, we have agreed and if necessary we will do the best job we are able to. I understand, as will your relatives if they are the kind of people you would want to trust with your children, that we have been asked to do this because someone will need to step up in an emergency, and our friends considered us the best option for such an emergency. No one will think you are planning on dying just to stick them with the chore of raising your children.

If your relatives are not the kind who will step up willingly and do what is needed, you are really better off knowing that now while you are still around to make other plans.

SephardiLady said...

Ezzie's Mom-You must not be a regular reader. I have at least 2 posts on life insurance, if not more. Welcome!

Mike S.--An excellent point that you made in the last paragraph. I really would rather find out now so we could make a different arrangement.

twinsmommy said...

oh my gosh you read my mind---- we're having the same dilemma!! The only family members who are young and frum enough wouldn't raise our children with our lifestyle. The kids would grow up frum and loved with family, but instead of being exposed to the choice of being college educated and career bound, they'd be kollel kids in what is sure to someday already be a large enough, dumped off in daycare enough, family.

We have friends we may ask-- close friends who share our hashkafa mostly, even if they are more frum, but would respect our parenting choices for our kids and try to raise our kids in our "style".

We should have done this already and plan to soon. May your family and ours not NEED because at 120 our kids will be grown!!

I typed this with one hand only --- baby in the other!! Impressive, eh? :)

ari kinsberg said...

emes ve-emunah has an interesting post on tainted money.

triLcat said...

ari: tainted money? I wouldn't call this money tainted. It might be painful money to accept/use, but to use a parent's life insurance money to make a life for their child is hardly tainted.

Mike S. said...

trilcat: The tainted money post had nothing to do with life insurance--it was about Yeshivot taking donations from people who publicly flout halacha.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

I totally agree with your decision, regardless of how rude it may sound.

Of course, that's only in the case there's no other alternative.

In Israel, there have been some rather amazing instances of grandparents who adopted their grandchildren -- after their children were killed in a terror attack.

In fact, I know of one such bar mitzva this upcoming shabbat in Alon Shvut.

Ariella said...

I don't think anyone should be appointed to care for someone else's children without their prior consent. I don't have a good solution to the problem. I can't think of anyone I would be able to appoint for my own children.

SephardiLady said...

Hello Everyone,

I didn't think the dilemma was so widespread. Keep discussing.

I'm leaning toward bringing a copy of our will once it is drawn up to our guardians of choice and asking them what they would need from us that we don't already have.

G-d forbid we ever need this. Truth be told, I'm not sure what plans my parents ever had. I still don't know what my parents have in place in terms of their own plans for any life altering event.

Stefanie said...

While we ourselves are lucky enough to have family to ask, my husband and I have been named guardians to the children of 2 couples. These friends' families are not options for a variety of religious reasons (some too frum, most not frum enough) and for responsibility issues (um, the relatives don't have any). Although we were more than willing to be named, you must ask the potential guardians about their own willingness. Don't depend on someone else's opinion about the potential's willingness. People can surprise you.

triLcat said...

ari & mike,
then why on Earth did it get into the comments here??!

I have to agree that you have to ask the people. If they really are unwilling, then you'd rather know now than have your kids tossed around when it's too late.

Which reminds me that I have to talk to my chosen family... I went through all the possibilities pretty much as soon as I found out I was pregnant.

Now I need to find someone who'll agree to take guardianship of my dog... And anyone in Israel want to be named guardian of a really attractive but super-paranoid hamster??

Ari Kinsberg said...


"then why on Earth did it get into the comments here??!"

because i thought it would be of interest to sephardi lady, but i don't have her email address and i don't know how else to call her attention to it.

BrooklynWolf said...

Wow, this thread got more comments than my original post. But then again, this blog is more widely read than mine. :)

In any event, this is one issue that is still up in the air for us. We have discussed this matter with relatives who have accepted the responsibility for our children should anything (God forbid) happen to eeees and I. We haven't however, gotten around to actually "legalizing" it in a will, which is one of the things that we need to do.

It wasn't easy discussing this with said relatives, but they understood the need and gave us the peace of mind to know that we have someplace that will take our kids in if it's ever needed.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

OY! We're having the same problem. No religious family whatsoever, and most of our friends have families with 5+ kids and more on the way. I can't imagine having our 4 join theirs. We're adopting 2 from Ethiopia too, which complicates it even more. Not everyone is willing to take that on! We asked one single male friend of ours, who just had to say no. We understand. It's a lot to say yes too, if you're ever (g-d forbid) called to the plate. We've really been struggling with this. We are looking at moving to a larger community in a year or so and hoping to have more potential guardians in such a place. It really is an awful feeling not to have someone to ask. :(

Juggling Frogs said...

I guess I'm in the minority here. In our wills, we listed people to ask, in an order of prefrence. It is a sort of flowchart. Each level assumes that the potential guardian would be asked, with the potential of refusing.

We haven't told those who are in this list, because we didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings or impose obligations unnecessisarily.

Life circumstances change. There are a couple of relatives that would no longer be appropriate choices, but they were when we first made the wills. There are others who have grown up, become frum and now have a functioning family, who were teenagers when we wrote the wills.

If we ask someone and then change the order (or remove a name), someone could be insulted.

As others have stated, I doubt anyone knows what their real answer would be, in extreme circumstances. There may be very good reasons or extenuating circumstances for someone very close to us to refuse this offer.

Those circumstances can change over time.

I guess, codifiying a secret flowchart that we hope never is utilized, lets us modify it privately, and keeps the potential guardians' answers secret from us. (If they are ever asked, we won't be around to know the answers.)

If, (please Gd) we never implement any of this, no hard feelings are caused.

As my husband says, "We'll burn that bridge when we come to it."