One of the most important steps parents in Colorado and around the country take when developing an estate plan is choosing a guardian to care for their minor children. When parents pass away before their children reach the age of 18, guardians are called upon to take on the caretaker role and make important financial decisions. Parents who do not select a guardian for their children leave the issue up to the courts to decide, and they can never be sure that the judge making the decision will have the same values and priorities as they do.

There are actually two types of legal guardians that have very different duties, which is why attorneys with experience in this area may suggest appointing different people to fill the roles of guardian of the estate and guardian of the person. Guardians of the estate manage the child’s inheritance and are expected to submit detailed records to the court. This is a fiduciary relationship, which means that guardians of the estate are legally bound to make their decisions based on what is in the child’s best interests.

Guardians of the person take on the responsibilities of a deceased parent and see to the child’s care and upkeep. They are tasked with ensuring that the child’s shelter, education and health care needs are met. Family members or close personal friends are often selected to be guardians of the person while professionals like attorneys or trusted business associates may be trusted with guardian of the estate duties.

Attorneys familiar with guardianship may encourage parents to periodically review their guardian of the estate and guardian of the person choices. Guardians of the person may no longer be suitable for the role if they are overwhelmed by families of their own, have moved to a distant part of the country or have developed substance abuse problems. Guardians of the estate may no longer be able or willing to discharge their duties if they have retired, or once close business relationships have soured.