Must I appoint legal guardians for my minor children?
Updated: Jan 12
Yes, and here is WHY!
By Lucy d’Ambrumenil of Phoenix Wills, Singapore
Becoming a parent is undoubtedly one of life's greatest joys and privileges. However, it also comes with significant responsibilities. As parents, we understand that ensuring the well-being of your children is your utmost priority. One crucial aspect of this is appointing legal guardians for your minor children. In this blog post, we will explore the essential reasons why appointing legal guardians for your children in Singapore is an absolute must.
Understanding Legal Guardianship in Singapore
Legal guardianship is a formal process that designates individuals to care for your children in the unfortunate event that both parents are unable to do so. This could be due to circumstances such as incapacitation or death. The purpose of legal guardianship is to ensure the safety and well-being of your children. Let's delve into the key aspects of legal guardianship:
Why is it important to appoint legal guardians?
Any child under the age of 18 must have an adult who is responsible for them. But what happens if both parents die in an accident? If there is a Will, we hope that the nomination of a legal guardian is included. However, if there is no Will or if it hasn't been updated since the birth of your children, there are different implications.
If there is no evidence of appointed guardians as stated in a validly executed document, the State will take responsibility for your children until a suitable guardian is found. This means that if no suitable person is available or willing to take on the responsibility, the State remains in charge of your orphaned child or children until they are no longer a minor.
What is the difference between “Permanent” and “Temporary” Guardians?
Permanent Guardians are the people you nominate “in loco parentis” i.e. to act as the parent or parents, if both parents have passed away. It’s no issue to nominate permanent guardians who live outside of Singapore but in that situation, you will also need to appoint Temporary Guardians who look after the children until the permanent guardians are able to fly in.
We always advise that you nominate a main guardian as well as two to three back-ups. Properly drafted Wills and Guardianship Deeds should last you a lifetime (save one or two exceptions). Our aim is that you don’t have to come back and amend these; although we make the process pain free, we don’t want you to have to go through the exercise more than once.
This is particularly important with regards to the temporary guardians; Singapore is so transient and if your nominated temporary guardian or guardians are out of the country on holiday or leave Singapore altogether, there is no guardian and your children are not protected.
How can you appoint guardians?
The appointment of a guardian or guardians is usually made in a Will. However, it is also possible to make a “Deed of Appointment of Guardianship”. At Phoenix Wills, we recommend doing both for belt and braces.
One of the leading reasons that a Will fails is due to its whereabouts being unknown. By having a Deed of Appointment of Guardianship, as well as a Will, you can ensure that the authorities, the designated guardians, and anyone responsible for your children's care will know exactly who should step in during a crisis. The key to guardianship is to eliminate any uncertainty about who you, as parents, have chosen to take your place. If there is a dispute or lack of clarity, the courts may need to be involved, prolonging the process of moving your children from state care to the care of a trusted family member or friend.
The deed is a legal document that requires proper signing and witnessing, just like a Will. However, it does not cover the distribution of assets or the establishment of financial arrangements to provide for your children and their guardians. Therefore, we strongly recommend having both documents in place to ensure that your children are immediately taken into the care of the appointed guardians, and the necessary assets are made available for their upbringing and educational needs as soon as possible.
What happens if I haven’t appointed legal guardians for my children?
In Singapore, as well as most countries, if both parents have passed away or are incapacitated, and where no guardian has been legally nominated, the children become wards of the State. The Court then oversees the arrangements for their immediate care, which could mean placement in a state-run institution, a charitable home, or with foster parents.
The Court then invites applications from individuals who may be interested in becoming the legal guardians of the children. They carefully evaluate each application, conduct interviews, and ultimately award guardianship to the most suitable candidate. It's important to note that while many people choose Godparents with the intention of having them raise their children in such circumstances, Godparents actually do not have any legal status.
Unfortunately, this process can take time, and during this period, your children may be in the care of family members, if any are nearby. If there are no close relatives or if doubts arise about the competence or suitability of the relatives, the state has the legal right and obligation to place your children in a ‘safe environment’.
If members of both sides of the family apply for guardianship, there is a risk of major family conflict if they cannot agree. The Court will not award guardianship as long as a conflict persists. This can result in an unpleasant and prolonged situation that benefits no one, least of all the children. It is particularly concerning for families living overseas who are away from their support network.
I am a single parent – does this make any difference?
This depends on the status of the other parent. For example, if you are no longer together with the mother or father of your child, depending on the facts, you might still be advised to consider appointing a guardian. Either way, we can help advise on the best approach for you and your child.
What documents do I need?
At the very least, you should have a deed of appointment of guardianship to formally appoint the legal guardians of your choice. To address financial arrangements and provide for your children's upbringing and education, you should also have a Will drafted and signed. This is also an opportune time to review your insurance coverage and financial planning to ensure adequacy.
The decision of who to appoint as a legal guardian is undoubtedly a big one. However, the alternative of your children being placed in state care is a deeply unsettling reality. At Phoenix Wills, we are dedicated to simplifying the guardianship process. Our team of legally trained Will writers are both approachable and professional, and we offer a practical solution for parents navigating this often overwhelming terrain.
How Phoenix Wills can help
At Phoenix Wills, we strive to make the process of appointing legal guardians as straightforward and stress-free as possible. We begin with a comprehensive consultation, free of charge and without any obligation, to fully understand your unique needs and concerns as parents. We recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to Wills, Guardianship, or Estate Planning, especially for those living overseas from their home country.
During the consultation, we will review your current situation, including whether you have already made Guardianship arrangements and whether you have valid Wills in all relevant jurisdictions. From there, we will guide you through the crucial step of nominating legal guardians, both permanent and temporary. Additionally, we will address the financial considerations involved in securing the well-being of your children and their guardians.
We offer various options for working with us, which can be tailored to suit your individual preferences. You can choose to communicate via a Zoom call, have a face-to-face meeting in our office, or complete a questionnaire at your convenience and email it to us. We always meet to sign the documents at the conclusion of the process. It is really important that this signing of the original documents is done properly, as only the "wet ink" version of your Deed (and Will) will be accepted.
Practical Tips for Stress-Free Guardianship
In addition to the legal process of setting up the necessary documents, Phoenix Wills is committed to providing practical tips to help protect your family throughout and after this important estate planning step. Here are some recommendations:
• Foster open communication with potential guardians, ensuring alignment on values and parenting styles.
• Emphasize the importance of periodic reviews to accommodate life changes and evolving circumstances.
• Advocate for regular legal check-ups to ensure that guardianship provisions align with your current intentions.
• Integrate financial planning into the guardianship journey, emphasizing the need to secure the financial well-being of both your children and their guardians.
Who should I contact?
To learn more about appointing legal guardians for your children and taking this vital step in securing their future, please get in touch with our friendly team in Singapore. We are here to guide you through the process and ensure the protection of your children's well-being, no matter what challenges may arise. Your children deserve the very best, and appointing legal guardians is a fundamental part of fulfilling that commitment.
Contributed by Lucy d’Ambrumenil of Phoenix Wills, Singapore.
Phoenix Wills is a multi-jurisdictional Will Writing, Guardianship and Estate Planning Consultancy which helps families with ties or assets in multiple jurisdictions to sort out their affairs and protect their loved ones, should the worst happen.
Whatsapp: +65 8669 6345